A pergola in the backyard is the ultimate ornamentation: it is very Italian and very chic, ideal for the proud gardener who wants to show off his home landscape. The problem is that many people seem to forget what a pergola is designed to do. So many of them simply sit there, totally out of context with the rest of the garden, as if randomly dropped by a tornado. And they are completely void of vegetation.
It is worth remembering that the pergola is an old Italian tradition and it wasn’t a decoration per se, it had a use. To escape the heat, a structure was built with open sides to allow air circulation and an open roof made of crossbeams and/or lattice over which grape vines were grown, not only to keep the sun out, but to cool the air through transpiration. Hot air was able to escape upwards, while the cool air created by leaf transpiration sank to the people relaxing or working below. And the difference is considerable: the temperature under a covered pergola vegetation can be up to 8˚ F (5˚ C) cooler than in the blazing sun just outside. Pergolas, it turns out, were the original air conditioners!
The modern pergola can easily become a backyard air conditioner again. Just plant climbing vines (they don’t have to be grapes … although that would be so cool!) and let them cover the roof of the pergola. Soon the space below will be the best place in your garden to hang a hammock!