A pergola can be the perfect addition to your garden, either attached to your house or as a garden island. There are many ideas to decorate your pergola, whether it’s small or large, whether it’s over a patio, a BBQ pit, or a coffee table. In this guide from The Porch Specialist, we’ll share with you some of the best design ideas for your pergola.

A Brief History of Pergola Design

The first recorded use of a pergola was for shade, by an Egyptian official in 1400bc. Using Pergolas for shade remains popular in the UK today, with many using them as full or partial covers. Later, in the 17th century, wealthy Romans built stone pergolas in their villas, growing vines along the pillars. 

The modern day pergola dates back to the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century, where solid wooden structures were used to grow wisteria, as part of stunning garden designs. Today, pergolas are commonly used as outdoor rooms, often over patios or decking. A pergola could house everything from an outdoor cooking grill area to a dining room to a cosy living space.

Painting Your Pergola

a paintbrush on a table

A painted pergola can either blend with the colour of your house or provide a visual centrepiece to your garden. When attached directly to your house, painting your pergola can unify the two, giving a cohesive look moving down into your garden. If your pergola is an island in your garden, or even if you are just looking for a more vibrant look outside your house, you can paint your pergola in a range of bright colours. A pastel blue, chartreuse, or rustic brown could set your garden apart. To paint a wooden pergola, you would first need to wash and sand your wood, apply a priming layer, then paint with a weatherproof wood paint.

Installing Lights

open porch lighting ideas with string garland lights

If using your pergola in the evening, whether for a dinner party or just for a nightcap, you will need proper lighting in your garden, and there are several great options to weave lights into your pergola. Fairy lights are easy to attach to the rafters and weave throughout, offering an attractive coverage of light through your pergola. 

Another idea would be to hang paper lanterns from the rafters of your pergola, and put battery LED lights inside. This would be easier for a garden island as it wouldn’t require connecting to mains power. An alternative to fairy lights are beautiful lighting curtains, where trails of fairy lights drop down from the rafters. If you would rather use a couple of larger lights than fairy lights, suspended pendant lights can give bright, attention grabbing lights to your pergola, perfect to hang over a dining table. 

If your pergola is attached to your house, an idea may be to install lights on the outer walls of your house, giving you a sturdy source of light and leaving your pergola to be decorated however you choose.


Pergola curtains can bring shade and privacy to your outdoor spaces. They also protect you from the wind, allowing you to enjoy the sun for more of the year. They can bring a mediterranean vibe to your garden, particularly in soft white fabrics. You can either buy curtain kits to install, or make them yourself, attaching to the eaves of your pergola. 

It’s important to make sure that the fabric you use is waterproof, as otherwise your curtains will be compromised the first time it rains. You can either buy waterproof fabric or spray fabric with waterproofing spray. Another thing to consider is installing weighted curtains, to help avoid your curtains blowing in the wind.

Thatch Roofs

A thatched roof is a great idea to give your pergola a natural shaded look. While traditional thatching is available, it is easier and more stylish to use screens of materials like reed, bamboo, or willow over your pergola. The benefits of a thatch screen is that it will allow some light through, giving you a shaded but not dark space. 

All of these woods can be bought together as sheets, giving a great look, although they are not considered to be especially long lasting, starting to visually wear after a few summers. For a more rugged look, consider a thatch of driftwood, which doesn’t provide quite as thorough a shade cover, but can give a unique DIY aesthetic to your garden.

Climbing Plants and Plant Roofs

Evoke the gardens of renaissance Italy with climbing plants on your pergola. Like the villas of the seventeenth century, grapevines make a great choice for climbing plants, and are suited to the climate of southern England. Clematis can offer colour throughout the year to your pergola, with spring, summer, and evergreen clematis available. 

Alternatively, you could conjure the gardens of the early twentieth century by using wisteria, which offers a leafy canopy and beautiful fragrant flowers. To assist in the growth of climbing plants, it can be worth installing both trellis panels on your posts, and netting between the rafters. Climbing plants are fast growing, but if you are looking for a more immediate covering there are artificial plants available, allowing you to quickly cover your posts or create a green pergola roof.

Hanging Plants

A great way to add colour and life to your pergola is through the installation of hanging plants. Rather than growing vines, you can simply buy and install a plant basket to the rafters of your pergola. As these plants will be at eye level it’s a great idea to choose a plant that looks good from the side, such as fuschias or geraniums. Like climbing plants, artificial hanging baskets are available in a range of styles and colours.

What’s Best For Your Pergola?

The design ideas best suited to your pergola will depend on what you are looking to use it for. If your pergola is a dining space attached to your house, you may want to paint it, install hanging baskets, and use one or two suspended pendant bulbs to properly light it in the evening. If you are looking for a relaxation space in your garden, you may want to leave the wood unpainted, install curtains, and decorate it with fairy lights and a green roof. A pergola is a versatile addition to your garden, and the ways you decorate it can make it a vastly different space.

Bespoke Pergola Kits From The Porch Specialist

The Porch Specialist produces bespoke, high quality wooden pergola kits, in a choice of green oak or Douglas-fir timber. We work with our customers to design their dream pergola, tailored to the specifications of their garden. We hand craft kits from our detailed blueprints, manufacturing to exacting standards by utilising decades of experience and state of the art technology. We then ship our kits across the UK, where they can be easily constructed in your backyard with our step by step instructions.

If you are looking for a beautiful wooden pergola, custom built to your needs, contact The Porch Specialist today for a no obligation free quote.

Leave a Reply