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    pergolas vs gazebos: which is right for your yard?

    Pergolas vs. Gazebos: Which is Right for Your Yard?

    If you’re trying to decide between a pergola or gazebo for your yard, read on to learn about the differences, benefits and which one is right for you

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      Welcome to our guide comparing pergolas and gazebos! When it comes to enhancing your outdoor space, these hardscape structures offer unique features and design possibilities. In this guide, we will explore the characteristics, functions, maintenance requirements, and considerations for choosing between pergolas and gazebos. Whether you’re looking to create a seamless flow, add a focal point, or provide shade and shelter, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive in and discover which option is right for you!

      What is a Pergola? 

      Pergolas are hardscapes that can be freestanding or attached to a building. They consist of vertical posts that support crossbeams, which can be left open or covered with a canopy or vines for shade. (Be sure to check the weight-bearing capacity of the structure before hanging objects from it).Pergolas lend themselves to creating seamless flow through areas and spaces and extend the space of a home or structure

      With pergola designs, homeowners often choose from thoughtful details that complement their individual style and architecture, such as rafter tails (rafter tails are the exposed exterior portion of a building’s structural truss that protrudes beyond the structure’s perimeter wall). The rafter tail is usually detailed—often scrolled or ornate—and can significantly contribute to the overall style and aesthetic appeal of the pergola.

      A pergola is a versatile hardscape structure that can be freestanding or attached to a building, consisting of vertical posts that support crossbeams for shade or decorative purposes.

      What is a Gazebo?

      Gazebos are freestanding roofed structures with open sides found in backyards, gardens and parks throughout the country. Gazebos, also summerhouses, kiosks and pavilions are outdoor hardscapes (non-living elements in landscaping that include pergolas, arbors, deck and patios). They’re usually surrounded by softscape, which includes the organic elements of a garden or lawn, such as trees, grass, bushes and flowers.

      Gazebos have long been used across cultures. Pyramids are usually top-of-mind when thinking of ancient Egypt, but gazebos were ubiquitous in royal Egyptian gardens, particularly adjacent to water, where cool breezes could flow through the open sides of the sandstone and wooden structures. The Romans and Greeks utilized temple-like gazebos extensively and expanded the use of construction materials to include marble. According to Architecture Lab, it was the Romans and Greeks that first made gazebos for use in public spaces.

      Gazebos are distinctive elements in gardens or on decks, offering a dramatic constructed space.

      Gazebos in Western Europe were widespread as early as the Middle Ages, but gazebos in the U.S. didn’t become popular until the middle of the 18th century when a wealthy middle class signaled affluence with garden gazebos, from which they could escape both sun and rain. American president Thomas Jefferson wrote about gazebos, which he referred to as pavilions, and seemed to value their stateliness, comfort and protection at his primary home, Monticello.

      Pergolas vs. Gazebos: Key Differences 

      The main difference between a gazebo and a pergola is the amount of covering they provide. A gazebo is a structure that typically provides full coverage from the elements and is often used as an outdoor living space.

      A pergola, on the other hand, is a structure that provides partial cover and is often used for decorative purposes. Gazebos are usually made of wood, metal or vinyl, while pergolas are made from wood, metal or vinyl latticework. Both can be made from fiberglass. Gazebos provide more coverage and protection from the elements, while pergolas are better for design purposes.


      Because pergolas and gazebos play different roles in the garden or yard, understanding what purpose you have for your outdoor design can assist you in your choice between the two structures.

      Pergolas are an impressive choice if you want to create an outdoor room that provides shade, for entertaining or relaxing, as well as support for lighting and outdoor heating. They can be a focal point for outdoor dining or lounging areas, though their distinctive nature means they can overwhelm a yard or garden if they’re not designed or chosen for the right space.

      Gazebos are usually used as a distinctive element in a garden or on a deck and offer dramatic constructed space. Although they can also serve as a support for climbing plants, which add vertical interest to the garden, they have their own large visual impact, so avoid complicating the design with too many visual accessories, whether they be softscape or hard. 


      Both pergolas and gazebos require some maintenance to keep them looking their best, particularly if they’re made of wood, which can be an insect and hard-weather-damage magnet. Pergolas with a canopy or vines will require regular cleaning and pruning to prevent debris from accumulating and to keep the plants from overtaking the structure. Gazebos with climbing plants will also need pruning to keep them from getting too bushy.

      back patio with white pergola
      Homeowners often choose thoughtful details for their pergolas, such as tails, to complement their individual style and architecture.

      Additionally, both structures will need to be checked for any damage or wear and tear, especially after harsh weather. Arbors Direct lays out the specifics for its low-maintenance fiberglass pergolas: 


      Three months and every year after installation, inspect the hardware assembly connections on top of each column to ensure hardware assembly is properly tightened. There should be “no-play” in the assembly meaning nuts should be tight and secure, ensuring the plates are snug allowing no movement in the columns. Inspect all other hardware connections on the pergola annually to ensure tight connections.


      Immediately and every year after installation, inspect the engineered coating on the entire structure. Touch-up any nicks or scratches in the coating that may have occurred during shipping or installation with the provided touch-up coating that comes with the company’s pergolas. Fiberglass components should remain completely covered by at least two coats of suitable exterior paint. Inspect the entire structure at least every year, if not quarterly, especially after periods of high winds, inclement weather and even yard maintenance.

      Cleaning a fiberglass pergola or gazebo is relatively simple, but follow a few guidelines. Arbors Direct compares cleaning fiberglass garden structures to washing vehicles, as the same basic rules apply.

      Never use: 

      • abrasive materials, including rags or cloths. 
      • harsh chemicals. 
      • pressure washers. 

      Do use: 

      • a low-pressure garden hose. 
      • non-abrasive, pH balanced soap. 
      • a soft cloth. 
      • common sense (and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines).  

      Style and Aesthetics 

      First, think about the overall style and aesthetic of your home and garden. Pergolas tend to have a more formal, classic look that works well with traditional or Mediterranean-style architecture. Gazebos are the stuff of movies and garden parties. For older homeowners, a gazebo reminiscent of the gauzy summer night in “Sound of Music” hits home, or for younger homeowners, the gazebo lit for prom in ““Twilight” makes the magic. 

      figerglass white pergola over hot tub with floral around
      Pergolas are an impressive choice for creating outdoor rooms, providing shade, and serving as a focal point for entertaining or relaxing areas.


      Another consideration is the type of plants you plan to grow on your structure. Because homeowners have so many choices, plants offer a way to customize any chosen structure. Pergolas can support a wide range of climbing plants, from roses and wisteria to grapes and kiwi. However, some plants may be too heavy or aggressive for a pergola, so it’s important to do your research and choose the right plants for your structure. Gazebos can usually handle the heavier climbing vines and flowers, but given the size of the structure, work to avoid these gazebo gardening goofs. 


      Finally, think about the level of privacy and shade you want in your outdoor space. Pergolas with a canopy or curtains can provide a more private and shaded area for lounging or dining, while gazebos are a large-and-in-charge hardscape that makes their own statement. By their very design, they imbue privacy, but can be dressed up with curtains and plants to create a more private feel.

      Which is Right for You?

      When deciding between a pergola and a gazebo for your outdoor space, it’s important to consider which option is right for you. Think about your specific needs and preferences, such as the desired function, maintenance requirements, style and aesthetics, the type of plants you plan to grow, and the level of privacy and shade you desire.

      Whether you choose a pergola or a gazebo, both can enhance the value and functionality of your outdoor space, depending on your specific needs and preferences.

      Pergolas are ideal for creating outdoor rooms and can provide shade and a focal point for entertaining or relaxing. On the other hand, gazebos offer a dramatic space, perfect for garden parties or gatherings.

      Consider the maintenance involved, as both structures require regular cleaning and inspection. Ultimately, the choice between a pergola and a gazebo depends on your individual taste and how you envision utilizing your outdoor space.


      What is the difference between a pergola and a gazebo?

      A pergola provides partial cover and is mainly used for decorative purposes, while a gazebo is a structure that offers full coverage and is often used as an outdoor living space.

      Which is more expensive, a pergola or a gazebo?

      Generally, gazebos are more expensive due to their complexity and the materials required for construction.

      What are some popular plants to grow on a pergola?

      Popular choices include roses, wisteria, grapes, and kiwi, but it’s important to choose plants that are not too heavy or aggressive for the structure.

      How do I maintain a pergola or gazebo?

      Regular cleaning and pruning are necessary, and for wooden structures, checking for damage or wear and tear after harsh weather is important.

      Can a gazebo add value to my property?

      Yes, a well-designed gazebo can increase the value of your home, especially in areas with favorable weather conditions.

      How do I choose between a pergola and a gazebo?

      Consider your specific needs, such as the desired function, style, and level of coverage, to determine which structure aligns better with your preferences and outdoor space.

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