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Plants for the Pergola

Adding romance to the garden

A pergola, covered with old-fashioned climbing roses, fragrant honeysuckle, clematis, wisteria or laburnum, turns an ordinary garden into a highly romantic one. If the pergola frames a lovely view, so much the better.

There are many distinctive and unusual climbers that provide colour and interest for the pergola from spring through to the first frosts of winter.

The plants you choose should be vigorous and hardy, but not too vigorous or they will take up more than their share of space. If the pergola is fairly long you can provide interest season by season, rather than restricting yourself to summer-flowering plants. Clematis species are perfect for a pergola and flower from April through to October. They grow in shade or sun but their roots should be in the shade.

Sweet pea is a favourite for the pergola. Another annual for a display in pastel shades is morning glory (Ipomoea).

A spring display

Wisteria and labur­num, both fully hardy, flower in late spring and make a marvellous pergola display. The bare trunks and branches at the sides can be concealed by other plants, like ivies or clema­tis. Both like full sun and grow in most soils.

Honeysuckle is anoth­er excellent plant for a per­gola. The best variety to choose is Lonicera japonica ‘Belgica’, which flowers in May and June, the red-purple blooms fading to a yellow-buff colour.

The climber Akebia quinata bears red-purple, scented flowers in April, followed by purple fruit.

Summer flowers

Actinidia arguta and A. chinensis (Chinese goose­berry or kiwi fruit) are very vigorous twining climbers, with large, dark green leaves and white flowers. They like partial shade and well-drained, moist soil.

Polygonum bald-schaanicum, the Russian vine, grows surprisingly quickly. It is deciduous and hardy, producing masses of small white flowers in late summer. It grows in sun or shade and is a useful plant for damp situations.

Hops are fast-growing herbaceous perennials, native to Britain, and look interesting and unusual on a pergola with their large, toothed, lobed leaves.



Although the main purpose of a pergola is to display beautiful climbing plants, it is also important that the structure itself looks good. In the winter the plants, shorn of leaves, will reveal the pergola in all its glory. Red brick looks mellow and warm, while wooden posts and beams have a rustic appeal. Painted wood can be difficult to maintain, especially if you are growing a lot of roses, although white trellis-work is very elegant.

From summer to autumn

Cobaea scandens, the cup and saucer plant, flow­ers from late summer until October in mild areas.

Ivies are useful for covering pillars and posts and, as evergreens, provide interest during the winter. They do well in shade.

Ornamental vines can be grown in mild areas for  their decorative leaves. Vitis amurensis has dark green, lobed leaves which turn crimson and purple in the autumn.


Carefully tie all climbers to the posts of the pergola, to provide support and prevent wind damage. Training also ensures that the plants grow where you want them to. Use garden twine or special clips, which hold without cutting into the stems. Train vigorous clematis types across the top of the pergola and down the other side.

Popular Varieties of Plants for the Pergola




Height  (m)

‘Gloire de Dijon’



‘Zephirine Drouhin’



‘Felicite et Perpetue’



‘Lawrence Johnstone’



‘Dorothy Perkins’



‘Danse du Feu’




Spring-flowering types:

C. armandii is a frost-hardy evergreen species with delicate single white flowers.

C. alpina ‘Pamela Jackman’ has long, cup-shaped single mid-blue flowers from April to June.

Useful for covering the posts of the pergola. It is fully hardy.

C. montana species produce single pale pink flowers.

C. macropetala ‘Maidwell Hall’ is blue; ‘Markham’s Pink’ a flesh-coloured pink.

Summer-flowering types:

‘Beauty of Worcester’ has deep blue double flowers.

‘Nelly Moser’ bears mauve-pink single flowers, each petal streaked with lilac.

‘Mrs Cholmondeley’ has large, pale blue single flowers.

‘Jackmanii Superba’ produces large, dark purple single flowers in abundance.

‘Hagley Hybrid’, with single shell-pink flowers, is also prolific, as is the dusky red ‘Madame Edouard Andre’.

Autumn-flowering types:

Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’ has wine-coloured flowers. ‘Bill Mackenzie’ blooms in yellow. ‘Huldine’ has white flowers tinged with pink.


Planting for the Pergola

Near a post, dig a hole big enough to take the root ball without cramping the roots.

Cover the plant base with leaves, bark chip or straw. Mulch with leaf-mould in spring.

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