Gazebos provide a sheltered space to gaze out over the landscape.

Difference Between Gazebos & Pergolas

by Denise Schoonhoven

People with patios put in pergolas. Those with gardens go for gazebos. The patio-pergola, garden-gazebo word association is a simple way to remember the major difference between two attractive types of outdoor structures. Both bring decorative charm to the landscape and offer varying levels of protection from the elements. Construction style and where they sit on your property – over the patio or out in the garden – define what you call these additions to your outside living space.

1. Gazebos

While it's possible the word gazebo originated from English landowners who stood on the platform protected by a roof to “gaze” out over their property, it's the structure itself that has become the focus of gazing in modern landscape architecture. Positioned as the focal point in a garden, drawing the eye to its decorative structure, gazebos are typically freestanding structures. The classic style is octagonal, but contemporary versions can be round or rectangular. The lower third of the walls are solid or made of railings with the upper portion between the support posts left open for, yes, gazing out into the garden. The roof is solid to protect from precipitation and provide deep shade on hot, sunny days. In areas where flying, biting insects are a problem, gazebos may be screened, creating a sweet spot for tea parties and playtime in the fresh air.

2. Pergolas

Patios aren't the only places these trellis-topped shade structures make an appearance in the landscape. Pergolas are also perfect for covering wood decks. For a new deck installation with a pergola, longer beams and posts are incorporated into the design to support both the solid deck surface below and the canopy above. A retrofit pergola over a patio or deck requires the installation of sturdy posts, deeply anchored to support the overhead beams and slats. Pergolas are firmly attached to the house with heavy-duty hardware, giving stability to the structure and creating a pleasing visual transition between the home's exterior and outdoor living space. An arbor-like walkway covered by a trellis held up with posts may also be referred to as a pergola.

3. Landscaping Overhead Structures

A perfectly proportioned gazebo gracefully perched at the edge of a vast lawn overlooking the sea may be picturesque perfection, but in an urban setting the structure is more likely to be tucked into the corner of a hedged or fenced yard. Leave a wide swath of lawn or decorative hardscape in front of the gazebo to give a sense of spaciousness. Low-growing evergreen shrubs and flowering perennials planted at the sides of a gazebo or pergola add texture and color to the setting without blocking the views out into the garden. The posts and trellis-style roof of a pergola are natural supports for climbing vines like clematis (Clematis spp.), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8.

4. Sharing the Shade

Overhead shade structures expand your living space into the outdoors. The dappled shade under a pergola offers cool comfort for kids to play away from the direct rays of a blazing sun and a healthy hangout for teens. A gazebo offers a quiet, calming retreat from the hustle and bustle of juggling everyday responsibilities. Both types of structures are welcoming spaces when you entertain. Gazebos lend themselves to coffee and conversation with a friend or two. Pergolas are perfect for parties or a more formal outdoor dinner party. String lights or paper lanterns attached to pergola rafters provide festive illumination after the sun has set.

About the Author

Denise Schoonhoven has worked in the fields of acoustics, biomedical products, electric cable heating and marketing communications. She studied at Newbold College and Middlesex Polytechnic in the UK, and Walla Walla University. A writer since 2008, Schoonhoven is a seasoned business traveler, solo tourist, gardener and home renovator.

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