The Met Office forecasts that 2023 will be the tenth year in a row that average temperatures will reach at least one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels – and that this year will see temperatures higher than 2022 due to the end of a ‘La Nina’ climate pattern. , which had a temporary effect. Cooling effect. In the same way that we now use sunscreen instead of tanning oil, perhaps al fresco dining, reading and relaxing are best enjoyed outside under a dense green canopy that casts some shade and provides protection.
Pergolas and walkways are often associated with summer dining in the Mediterranean or the spacious grounds of grand country hotels – such as the Grade I-listed garden at the Endsley Hotel in Devon, where a tunnel of pink walkways provides a shaded promenade on sunny days.
But pergolas of all sizes and sophistications, such as patios and terraces, can form an attractive visual link between house and garden while performing a useful function. A wooden, metal or even partly stone frame is created within which leafy and flowering climbing plants are trained. Wood is the preferred material because the metal can absorb the sun’s heat, burning the climbers’ tiny tendrils.
The key to success lies in choosing plants that suit your ambition and circumstances. Deciduous climbers provide shade in the summer while letting in light during the winter months, when warmth and brightness are encouraged. Grapevines have long been trained on horizontal frames: they are fast-growing and the twisted stems of mature specimens provide structural winter interest once the generously proportioned leaves fall.
The vines that produce dessert grapes have the appeal of abundant foliage and a delicious crop in late summer. The sunnier and warmer your location is, the better because it requires well-drained soil and regular watering at first. The RHS ran a trial for the Garden Merit Award in 2021, working with Sarah Bell of Sunnybank Vine Nursery in Herefordshire, to select the best grapes for outdoor dining.
Vitis Reliance is a white or blush seedless cultivar described in his report as “vigorous, robust and reliable, with good disease resistance and nice large leaves”. For a hardy, early-ripening black grape, Vitis Sovereign Coronation would be a sound choice. On a more challenging site, l
For example, located further north or at a higher elevation, Bill recommends Vitis Lakemont.
Climbing vines with persistence and pruning is a commitment, but not necessarily a long task. Train the trunk to the height of the pergola, supporting it with a permanent framing frame over the top. Bell says gardeners need to “be patient in their training. Resist fruiting too early because you want to get a good framework. Typically you do spur pruning in winter. Growth comes out of its ‘spurs’ in early summer.”
Prune so that the buds are spaced apart and prune to maintain borders. Inspiration for vine training can be found by strolling under the wide vine walkway in the Edwardian formal garden at Powys Castle in Wales.
Wisteria is a luxurious and altogether more fragrant option, as its long, drooping flower clusters look gorgeous draped over a pergola. The scented flowers are mostly pale lilac but pastel pink, white and dark purple forms are also available. Flowers appear between April and June, followed by an abundance of pinnate leaves.
Wisteria is tough and powerful: China’s tree-lined forests and riverbanks are covered in purple canopies of Wisteria sinensis that grow at least 20 meters tall, suffocating trees and sturdy bamboo stands. In cultivation, it is limited by available space and annual winter and summer pruning. It was introduced to the United Kingdom in 1816, and has maintained its popularity ever since. Choose a sunny side, as you will get fewer flowers in partial shade and will need moist, well-drained soil. Be patient and attentive as they take root and settle down.
Tom Coward, head gardener at Gravetye Manor in West Sussex, the former home of Victorian gardener William Robinson, oversaw the renovation of a pergola clad in stunning wisteria. He grows Japanese wisteria, Wisteria floribunda Shiro noda, one of the newest sweet-smelling white plants, appreciating “its color and the fact that it never freezes, because of its lateness,” he says. “It works very well with Lupinus Noble Maiden planted underneath it, such as stalagmites and stalactites.” Lupines also have the advantage of protecting bare wisteria stems.
One word of caution: “Wisteria often looks older than it is,” says Coward, “because its only ambition in life is to take over the entire world—which is why careful pruning is essential.”
Fiona Butcher of Cumbria Wisteria takes a no-nonsense approach: “It’s basically safe to cut off anything you don’t want. ‘The more you cut the more flowers there will be,’ she says. Allow the plant to grow along the trellis, smoothing out the winding tendrils before tying them off with elastic string. After a few years, when the wisteria covers the structure, cut all the new growth back to two or three buds.
Butcher recommends floribunda varieties as being best suited for a pergola. Her top picks are Wisteria floribunda Kuchi-beni, with light pink flowers, dark purple Yae-Kokuryu, light blue Lawrence and Multijuga due to their long racemes.
But if you’re not yet ready to commit to all that pruning, you can always have tea and enjoy the shade at one of the cottage hotels.
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