More Garden Structures: How To Use Pergolas And Gazebos

March 8, 2024

Would your garden benefit from a pergola or gazebo to sit in? What’s the difference? We gardeners like to discuss garden work, but enjoying your efforts counts too, so this is about appreciating our garden accomplishments and relaxing in the garden.

Here is what each one, pergola or gazebo, can give us, what’s more important to you? (These are traditional definitions, look at the products on sale today with moveable roofs and screens, they will serve to blur the distinctions considerably for those of us who want everything!)

The Meaning Of The Terms And How We Got Them


A pergola is an open-air structure, that provides shade, creates an area to walk or sit under, and a vertical and horizontal space to grow vining plants. The term comes from the Latin word pergul, which refers to projecting an eave, which produces a roof or arbor. It’s an old term, we find it used in the 1640’s.


A gazebo refers to a roofed structure to sit in that allows a long view. This name is a little newer and started as a sort of joke! They started with gaze or look and added a Latin suffix, ebo for I shall. (Not hilarious? It’s garden humor.)

The name goes back to the 18th century but the structure has been around since the early days of civilization. Gardens are as old as the end of the hunter-gatherer period and we have always liked to use them to appreciate our accomplishments.

Pergola’s Vs Arbors The Basic Distinctions

pergola on the left a gazebo on the right

Pergola On The Left

A pergola is traditionally made with a roof of wooden slats and allows dappled sunlight. Often used as a framework for vining plants it may permit very light through. The upright posts are wood or stone. The traditional pergola creates a rustic or at least naturalistic feature. Expect to use them in the garden, near the house, beside the pool or wherever you find a view you love.

Gazebo On The Right

The essential point of a gazebo is a solid roof, making it a place to sit in both sun and rain. Usually made of wood and often with a raised floor. Expect many but not all, to be in the Victorian style above. You will also find some that have the classical look of a Greek or Roman temple. Like the pergola, expect many contemporary offerings to have a variety of features.

For example, newer, metal versions of the pergola now have moveable louvers on the top.

Your Choice, Solid Roof, Domestic or Rustic Architecture, Raised Floor

We started by discussing garden gates and portals and now we are considering how to spend more time using the outdoor spaces we have created!

Here is some more detail about how you can go about creating the best environment to use your garden. I hope they give you some ideas you can use.

Pergola Inspiration

Stroll Under this Pergola

Who would not want a stroll under this bougainvillea-enclosed pergola? It’s not just a place to sit, the pergola can take you along otherwise bare or hot paths to where you need to go.

bougainvillea vines growing up the columns

Bougainvillea is planted next to the columns of these two pergolas, then green hedges enclose them.

A view from the top, grape vines

Here is a view from the top. How would you like to sit under this pergola with juicy grapes to eat?

pergola ready for lunch

This traditional style pergola provides dappled shade just beyond the covered porch for al fresco meals. Pergolas are popular because, with their flat sides, they can extend the house’s outdoor living space.

Pergola planted inside and out

This long pergola has a lot to offer. A long walk in dappled shade, vines covering the top, and colorful plantings inside and out. It could easily accommodate benches to sit on or a long dining table.

Pool side pergola

This poolside pergola provides a shady spot to lounge and with clean lines, there are no leaves to drop in the pool.

This pergola is a green bower for dinner

But, this pergola has grown into a green bower to have dinner under. The heavy structure of the pergola supports a green surrounding and even a string of lights for late-night meals.

Some Gazebo Inspiration

classic Victorian Gazebo

Finding a society without its own version of the garden gazebo is hard to do. We have images of Egyptian free-standing garden houses built 5000 years ago. Chinese and Japanese ideas traveled to Europe during the early days of the China trade, English, French, and Italian gardeners had their own versions. Some were miniature versions of the main house. Also, like garden gates they are most effective if they reflect the architecture of the whole property.

Above is a grand version of the classic Victorian gazebo, this one is preserved in a public park, ready for the band to play! (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A gazebo makes a garden destination

This gazebo is a destination in the garden. When you see it you are drawn to it, walk under the roses, step inside, and take a seat.

a romantic water view gazebo

This is a romantic garden room with a view, as small buildings allow us to indulge our fantasies.

Gazebo in Singapore Botanical Garden

This pretty version is located in the Singapore Botanical Garden, but it would fit in any garden with a view.

A Gazebo in the Maldives

Here is a version of the Gazebo garden house built in the Maldives. The variety helps us appreciate how ubiquitous is the desire to be in the garden.

New Views Of Garden Buildings

The concept of the garden room has been with us for a long time, but today’s technology allows us to produce versions that suit the particular needs of every family and keep us outdoors for longer. This also blurs the lines of the original definitions.

two pergola roofs

The modern aluminum version on the left may lack the rustic charm of the wood version on the right but it does offer moveable louvers to keep out the rain!

pergola with moveable screens

This version adds moveable screens and some offer sliding glass panels to form a completely enclosed garden house. You will not grow vines on this one.

is this a gazebo?

Is this still a gazebo? The table is set for dinner but it is almost a greenhouse, again we are blurring the lines but it presents us with another completely enclosed garden house!


Today’s garden houses can be designed to suit any desires we have. We can survey our garden, have a dinner party, and find a quiet place to read or write. There are many ways to design them. Make yours large, small, elegant, or rustic, ornate, or plain, and customize it with the features you like the most.

It is a new garden question we need to ask. And is a little like the old question about the right plant-right place, these are larger projects and we need to evaluate how we plan to use them when we finish.

Costs And Project Planning

You can hire a professional, buy a kit to assemble, or design your own from scratch. Many flat-backed pergola structures are suitable for use next to the house. The lowest-cost option is usually a simple version of a pergola.

Our popular Florida solution is a screened room attached to the house enclosing a pool, possibly a garden, and with shady spaces included.

inside pool
The Pool is waiting

Resources You Can Use

Add A Garden Gate or Portal’

‘How to Use The New USDA Hardiness Zone Map’St

‘Structures in Landscape Design’