Garden Life

A private affair
Kiran Narain

Pergolas can be used to give a cloistered effect to a part of the garden
Pergolas can be used to give a cloistered effect to a part of the garden

A pergola is a covered walk formed by climbing plants trained over posts or trelliswork. Introduced in Italy, this garden feature became popular among the British garden-lovers, who in turn introduced it to the gardens wherever they went.

Since it is only a pathway, the feature can be used effectively only with a purpose such as leading to some interesting part of the garden like the rose garden, lily-pool or the ladie’s garden. Or it can effectively be used to give a cloistered effect to a part of the garden, where privacy is required.

Various types of materials are suitable for the pergola construction, varying from rustic poles to stone or brick masonry. While choosing the material, it should be kept in mind that since it will have to hold the weight of climbing plants like jasmine, rose, honeysuckle, vine etc, the structure should be strong enough to bear the weight.

Garden-lovers find wrought iron arches more convenient and neater than the traditional wooden or stone and brick pergolas. In case of wooden and iron pillars, treatment with preservatives like bitumen is recommended at the time of installation.

Preferably the material chosen for the pergola should harmonise with the other garden features as well as the main house. An example of that would be Luyten’s masterful pergola at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The pergola comprises sandstone beams with stylised elephant trunks. From the side, it stands like a row of elephants like outside a South Indian temple.

Depending on the space available, the pergola should be ideally six to eight feet wide and seven to eight feet high to allow a smooth passage. It is not advisable to erect pergolas over grass pathways because soon the turf will turn worn-out and unpleasantly moist. Large flat stones placed at convenient intervals can be used for the path if a substantial path is not being laid down.

While for pergolas in colder climates honeysuckle, roses, vines (for their greenery and autumn colours), and wisteria may be the obvious choice, in the plains of northern India jasmines and climbing roses, passiflora, derdendron splenders and only grapevine are popular.

Banksian roses (white, yellow, mauve and peach) are more prolific but bloom only once or at the most twice a year. However, rose climbers like Marechal Neil (fragrant yellow), Mt lincon (red), ice-berg (white), and summer-snow (white) blossom more frequently.

Instead of having numerous small individual beds for each climber going up every pillar, a good idea would be to have a mixed border going parallel with the pergola. It can be planted with different seasonal flowers as well as some dwarf perennials of beauty.