What is a Pergola? Make use of vertical growing space


Systemic psychology claims that we create environments that then, in turn, shape us over time. What we choose to make as a living space then takes on a whole new meaning. Surround ourselves with beauty, tranquility, and order produces the same in our lives. For many of us, our garden is that space.

A pergola is a structure with no sides and a flat roof. The roof may be slatted, allowing the sun and air in, but adjustable to shut rain out. The sides may all be left open, occasionally covered with canvas, or used as a space to grow plants.

A pergola offers owners a unique opportunity to create a dedicated space reflective of who they are and want to be. In this piece, we provide you with some food for thought on using a pergola to create a unique environment that will feed your soul, using the open spaces to create vertical gardens.

In a previous article, 13 Perfect Garden Structure Ideas For Growing Vertically – Simplify Gardening, we shared 13 options for vertical gardens. It’s inspirational and very worth the read, but here we’re going to focus less on productivity and instead emphasize beauty and tranquility – food for the soul.

Pergolas are very easy to build from scratch DIY the video below is where I built one over a pathway in my vegetable garden. Check it out

Lattice Borders

A lattice combines three essential wellness elements; light, air, and color. Many lattice arrangements are available, including those attached to a planter, painted color lattices, geometrically designed lattices, and expandable lattices. The nice thing about creating a personal space is that you can do whatever you fancy.

When it comes to lattices, their cost is generally proportional to their quality. Untreated and unprotected wood rapidly deteriorates when exposed to nature.

However, not all woods are equal in this regard. Woods like ipe, loblolly pine (Pinus taeda), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), and European larch (Larix decidua) offer extended rot-resistance.

An alternative to a lattice is a trellis. Instead of creating a diamond or square mesh, a trellis consists of upright staves supported by two or three crossbeams – top, middle, and bottom, or just top and bottom.

The effect is different, and it still allows air and light through. You could create a matrix of hanging options by drilling angled holes in the staves and using short hardwood dowel sticks.

Vines on Lattices

Any one of the above could function as support for a vine. Check out our article on vine ideas – 25 Best Climbing Vines To Hide Ugly Spaces – Simplify Gardening. Brilliant.

My personal preference for a vine would be a grapevine. Having a space that is both beautiful and productive appeals to me. It all depends on your climate, but as you can see from the above article, there are a whole lot of options you could choose from.

Pots on Lattice

You can also use the lattice to hang small pots. Mixing and matching different colored small pots on a rustic lattice background is one option. Combining the color of the pots with clever plant options can further expand your creative genius.

The variations are innumerable, and you could have so much fun with this clean slate. Just imagine. Below we have listed some products that may be a good starting point for using pots on a lattice.

Wall of Green

Pergolas may be stand-alone or adjoining. Adjoining pergolas form part of a bigger structure like a pool-house or games room. Typically, owners of stand-alone pergolas may opt to create a wind barrier on one or two sides of the pergola.

Plant walls are a great option, and the combinations are countless. Ways to do it could be by using recycled pallets as I did for my compost bins. Then, once you have a frame, you can use any of the following options mentioned in my post How to Build a Plant Wall? Plus 25 Perfect Plants to Use. – Simplify Gardening

One way you can do this is by attaching interlacing pots. The design of the posts and the way they get connected to the wall allows water to cascade from one pot to the next, fed by gravity. The pots generally come in sets of three or five and interconnect with the rows above and below.

The final product is a wall covered by interlacing medium-sized pots ready to be filled with potting soil and plants of your choice.

Picture of Hanging Pots
Picture of a Patio Pole Planter

Picture of a Patio Shelf with Plants

Suspended Pots

The design of pergolas provides sturdy support for hanging baskets. Once again, your choices are many. If you’re a fan of macrame, you can create an intricate lattice of ropes from which to suspend your pots.

Pots that stack and hang are also available. Stackable pots combine intelligent modular design, usefulness, and aesthetic appeal to produce an ever-yielding garden tower of up to 40 plants on a single square foot of floor space.

The pots look like a three- or four-leaf clover with a hollow middle when viewed from the top. By threading the pots onto a chain or pole, you can hang the string of pots from the pergola’s structure, creating a tower of cascading pots.

Automating the tower with moisture level detectors and an automated small drip-feed could ensure optimal irrigation and nutrition levels. Use coconut coir as the growth medium.

Common features include:

  • Each well-engineered pot snugly fits slots into the one below, building a tower of three or four-sided layers with ample space for root vegetables like carrots.
  • Strong enough to stack eight high.
  • In the middle of the pot, space allows threading the pots onto a chain or pipe for easy hanging.
  • Included is a stoneware catch-tray if you wish to stack the pots on the floor
  • Water drainage slots prevent any water logging and allow gravity-fed tiered watering
  • This is a brilliant, cost-effective solution to growing various plants in small spaces in your pergola.
picture of a 3-tier Cedar Wood Planter
Picture of a 5 tier vertical planter

Using Natural Elements

Depending on the aesthetic effect you wish to create, adding natural elements may help you improve the sense of being grounded. Wicker baskets, wooden crates, and bamboo fitting can all add to a sense of well-being.

Vertical Raised Beds

Vertically raised garden beds made of wood are another option. These are available in several formats. Options include static 3-tier versions with sufficient space to allow light to come through or A-frame models that are fitted with castors so that you can move them effortlessly.

They are typically made of durable cedar wood and fitted with removable plastic buckets to preserve the wood further. Some versions are equipped with irrigations systems to make your life easier. Others are less rustic and look more like a furniture piece with the sides of the A-frame neatly enclosed in cedar.

A-frames are handy because they allow sun-loving plants to be planted on one side and those that prefer shade on the other. Their wooden planters are pretty large so that you can create a cascade of colors or crops.

Pavilion Trestles

Another attractive option is using pavilion-shaped trestles and filling the shelves with quirky pots of all shapes and sizes. This creates real flexibility and the option to rearrange your display as and when you want to. Check out the Bamboo option above.

Picture of a garden arch

Garden Arches

By adding a garden arch, you could create additional vertical garden space. Often metal arch structures are used for vines, but there are myriad other ways to use garden arches to make both an impression and a sense of being enveloped in tranquility.

Suppose you’re up for a long-term project to create an arch through tree shaping. Tree-shaping is an art form that uses the natural tendency of live trees to adapt to their environment. It always amazes me to see how trees and bushes adapt to the localized wind direction. Some bushes, growing in high wind conditions along the coast, seem to grow horizontally.

The fact is that garden arches create real opportunities for vertical gardening. While lush vine covering is attractive, creative options include making colorful displays of various plants using wall hanging pouches.

Picture of Hydroponics Tower
Picture of Piped Hydroponics

Stackable Hydroponic Pots

Not all hydroponic systems need to be in a controlled environment. Using various configurations of either stackable pots or slotted towers, you can grow multiple crops or flowers. With castor wheels attached, you can move these as the need arises.

Slotted Tower

The slotted tower system makes use of a vertical pipe with staggered slots and gravitational cascading nutrient-laden water. In the slots, you fit pods of growth-medium in which the seedlings can grow. Most systems have comprehensive instructions.

At the bottom of the tower, a reservoir holds the water, and a pump is circulating the water. Water needs to be topped up every two weeks and supplemented with the provided nutrients every month.

Stackable Pots

I like this option of creating a vertical growing space under a pergola. It’s functional and allows you to grow various crops, making a cascading sense of abundance.

Using a mix of coconut coir and potting soil as a growth medium and fitting the posts with moisture sensors, you could create a simple drip irrigation system to ensure optimal hydration and nutrient feed.

The pots are composed of thick, high-quality polypropylene materials that won’t fade or crack with continuous use. You can stack two, three, or four tiers. This planter can be used on a cylindrical rod or hung with chains.

Vertical stacking maximizes space, allowing you to grow many healthy plants on a single square foot. By combining both free-standing and hanging containers, space can be double-utilized.

The water filtration system flows from top to bottom and can effectively save and retain moisture. Meanwhile, the bottom dish prevents rings from forming on the pergola floor.

Hydroponic Channels

The search for more effective ways of growing plants has produced some innovative ideas. Often tested by laboratories and hobbyists, the most effective innovations then become part of scaled operations.

One such innovation widely adopted is the horizontal piping system. Insert evenly spaced growth media baskets and plugs into the PVC pipe. The plant roots hang into intermittently circulated water, just enough to keep them wet and fed. Because the pipes are slightly angled, water can circulate using gravitation.

Aquaponic farmers commonly adopt this system, pumping the water from fish tanks through the piping system and back to the fish tanks. The nutrients produced by the fish feed the plants, and the plants purify the water for the fish.

Using a similarly small-scale system under your pergola, you could grow and learn for later personal expansion.

Conclusion on what is a Pergola and how to make use of vertical growing space

In my mind, a pergola is a space of tranquility. Using the vertical spaces available, you could bring colors, tastes, shapes, and smells in. Layers of color and the satisfaction of nurturing life, an opportunity to ground yourself – all these are essential for well-being. Please take the opportunity and make it happen.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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