What Is a Pergola?

Patio Wood Pergola

What is a pergola? There is a lot of confusion around the word pergola, but it can easily be defined. A pergola is a structure made of four sturdy supports, with a lattice or cross-hatched roof. It is not covered entirely, so rain or sunshine can still fall through it, but it can provide shade from the hottest of the afternoon’s rays.

This standard definition still leaves a lot of leeway for a pergola. A pergola can be made of cedar, composite vinyl, or even stone. It can support growing plants, have curtains added for privacy, or be attached to a home. Sometimes the top is just wooden beams, sometimes it’s latticework, or sometimes even a fancy canvas looped between the beams. But no matter the variation in top materials, its top is always flat. Pergolas can be included in a fence, out secluded in the woods, or in a park-like setting.

Pergolas as a design feature have been popular for thousands of years. It is no coincidence that pergolas look similar to Greek or Italian architecture. They have been constructed all over the Mediterranean as a restful garden structure, and provide great shade in sunny climates. Various styles of pergolas can be found in famous gardens all over the world.

Why People Build Pergolas

People build pergolas for a variety of reasons, depending on the size of their yard, their entertainment needs, their budgets, or their desire for privacy. At Long Fence, we are committed to helping you enjoy your yard again. Since 1945, we have worked with a variety of commercial and residential projects, building and designing pergolas that enhance their gardens.


A pergola offers a beautiful chance to extend your living space into the backyard. Whether it’s freestanding or attached to the home, a pergola can create a second living room to relax or entertain guests in. You might use it as a way to define an outdoor kitchen, or to house a hot tub. And you have to admit, soaking in a hot tub under the stars is a pretty amazing way to end a long day.


According to experts, a well-landscaped yard can add 5-12% more value to a home, depending on your neighborhood. If built along the sunny exterior of a home, a pergola could also help reduce the cooling costs of a home. Think of the pergola like an investment that you also get to enjoy every summer evening. At Long Fence, we have a variety of pergola and trellis styles that can fit into any budget because we know that backyard investments shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg.


If it feels like the neighborhood can see everything in your yard, a pergola is a great way to regain some privacy. You can add curtains, drapes, or lattice work to enhance your privacy, or soften the pergola’s beams with climbing vines. Obstruct the direct line of sight into your pool or hot tub area by erecting a pergola for privateness. By creating your own hideaway in your backyard, you can fall in love with your home all over again.


An essential part of landscaping design, hardscaping adds to the architectural design of a beautifully designed yard. A pergola provides a great backdrop for plants like bushes, climbing vines, or flowers. Because it’s designed to last for decades, a well-designed pergola can become the focal point of many family gatherings and pictures for years to come.


If your backyard becomes unbearable in the hot afternoon sun, a pergola can fix that! It can reduce the afternoon sun shining into your home and help you save on energy costs. If your pergola is a freestanding structure, you can encourage climbing vines like clematis, wisteria, bougainvillea, or roses to create an inviting shady spot to sit in. And while you sit in shade, the pergola’s open design means that you can still feel the cool breeze.

Trellises, Arbors, Gazebos and More

Often, several outdoor structures are referred to interchangeably, causing a fair share of confusion. These structures, namely gazebos, solariums, arbors, trellises, and pergolas, while similar in some respects, are different in design, structure, and function. Understanding these distinctions can help you make informed decisions for your backyard landscaping plans.

A gazebo, for instance, is a stand-alone structure that typically has a solid, closed roof, setting it apart from a pergola, which has an open, usually slatted roof. Gazebos are usually circular or octagonal and provide complete shade and protection from most weather elements, unlike pergolas that allow sunlight and rain to seep through their beams.

Then, there’s the solarium, which bears some similarity to a gazebo, but with one clear distinction. The solarium’s roof is constructed from glass, allowing maximum sunlight to filter through, thereby providing a warm, sunny spot even in colder seasons. Conversely, pergolas are typically constructed from wood, metal, or vinyl and offer a degree of shade without completely blocking the sun.

It’s worth noting that both gazebos and solariums can be enclosed structures, with walls providing added protection against wind, insects, and prying eyes. Pergolas are never enclosed, retaining an open-air feel that allows free air movement, enhancing the feeling of being directly connected to the natural surroundings.

Arbors, another outdoor structure, often get mistaken for pergolas due to their visual similarities. However, an arbor can be thought of more as a ‘doorway’ or a ‘gateway’ leading into a garden or yard. They are typically smaller in size, and are often adorned with gates, plants, or fences. Unlike the larger, more expansive pergola which is used to cover larger areas, an arbor serves as a charming entrance or focal point in a garden.

Finally, the trellis is another structure often confused with a pergola and an arbor. The distinguishing feature of a trellis is its latticework, which can be employed as a simple architectural element against a wall, or as a space divider for outdoor areas. Trellises, like pergolas and arbors, can also serve as a support for climbing plants, further adding to the confusion. However, it’s crucial to remember that a trellis is generally less substantial and more flexible in terms of its placement and function than a pergola, which is a more solid, anchored structure.

In conclusion, while these outdoor structures all provide a framework for enhancing outdoor spaces, their specific design and functionality distinguish them from one another. It’s these very differences that allow for diverse and creative outdoor landscaping opportunities.

How to Customize Your Backyard Design

At Long Fence, we offer a variety of styles to suit whatever dream backyard you have in mind. We can customize pergolas to match an existing fence or new fence, and add elements like benches or built-in seating. A pergola can be used on its own, as a freestanding structure, or built against a home. We build pergolas, trellises, and arbors out of low maintenance vinyl, or classic red cedar.

Ultimately, we build pergolas, trellises, and fences that add value to your home, joy to your life, and peace and quiet to your backyard. Give us a call for a free estimate today!

Read More:

The Benefits of Installing a Patio Gazebo

Four Ways to Use Backyard Gazebos on Your Property

Screened Gazebo: Perfect for the Charmed Life