What Is The Difference Between a Pergola, an Arbor, a Trellis, and a Gazebo?

pic of a pergola built in loveland, co

When planning to spruce up your backyard, you first need to understand the various landscaping features and options available. After all, you cannot design an eye-catching landscape if you do not know what is possible. To this end, you ought to understand the various decorative architectural features used in landscaping and how they affect your landscaping design. 

While the terms are often-times used interchangeably, pergolas, arbors, and trellises, and gazebos are different in design and purpose. What’s more confusing is their immense similarities in appearance. Do an image search of these terms, and you might end more confused than before. The architectural elements borrow a lot from each other on the design front, making them appear quite similar. You might choose a landscaping design that incorporates one or several of these structures. 

With that in mind, you need to ensure that you understand the design of all these landscaping features. A proper understanding will help you create a relaxing, beautiful, charming, and even functional space in your backyard. 

Herein, we will explore the difference between pergolas, arbors, and trellises, and gazebos to help you understand these options. Crucially, I will help you gain a better understanding of how these features are used and their impact on your landscape.

What is a Pergola?… and how is it different?

Pergolas are sizeable wooden shade structures that traditionally consisted of permanent columns affixed into the ground supporting an openwork lattice or slated roof or a solid roof. This is different from arbors, which use a latticework sidewall to support vines and other climbing vegetation. And unlike gazeboes that have a full roof, pergolas have simplified roofs.

In the past, pergolas were defined as free-standing structures used to provide a shaded seating area in a backyard. The classical definition also incorporated the use of vegetation to add to the shade. This is especially true when the structure was draped with climbing plants forming an “outdoor room.” As such, pergolas are designed and custom-built to meet the needs of a particular homeowner. 

Traditionally, these architectural elements were used to shelter a secluded hideaway at the end of a garden path, the modern interpretation of pergolas has seen them used as an attached extension of a house. The use of pergolas in manner is popular among homeowners looking to add some shade into their patios. The pergolas are used to cover the patio, oftentimes without the addition of foliage. In fact, it is common for many people to use the term “patio cover” interchangeably with the term “pergolas.”

When used a patio cover, pergolas offer protection to your outdoor living spaces such as the patio. To further improve protection from the sun, many homeowners are adding a retractable canopy to their pergolas covering patios. They also tend to be easier to construct as the feature will use the pre-existing walls instead of constructing new ones.

What is a Trellis?… and how is it different?

The trellis is, in many regards, the most misunderstood architectural element in landscaping among the populous. For some, any pergola that is covered with flora is a trellis. For others, the terms trellis and arbor mean the same thing. In reality, however, a trellis is a landscaping feature constructed of a flat latticework consisting of a tighter weave. 

Typically, this is a single-sided feature. Another distinctive character of the trellis is the non-permanency of the design. Most trellises are not permanently affixed to the ground and can be moved around with relative ease. The trellis is also unique among the landscaping architectural element in that it is the only feature not to have a roofing structure when installed vertically.

As you can appreciate, the trellis is a unique feature in its own right. While it might serve the same purpose of supporting flowering foliage and vines as many arbors and pergolas do, it does, nonetheless, meet the goal in a unique way. For instance, when used vertically, its main function is to provide shade and divide spaces. On the other hand, when used horizontally, it is used purely for shading purposes. 

As for supporting climbing vegetation, the feature provides support to climbing plants, enabling them to grow higher, longer, and fuller. While having a tightly weaved lattice, trellises allow some sunlight to penetrate through. Additionally, they do not shelter the foliage from the rain.

What is an Arbor?… and how is it different?

As an architectural element, arbores are typically open structures that consist of two lattice wall joined by an arched or squared top. The side walls sport a design very similar to a trellis, although with a looser lattice framework. Overall, however, an arbor must have a roof designed to support vines and climbing plants. Sometimes, it includes an actual gate where it makes sense to have one.

An arbor is typically designed to be an entryway or passageway covered with climbing foliage. As such, many homeowners use the structure to define the entryway into parts of the garden. It is also used to divide and define two distinct areas in your garden. Some landscaping designs use an arbor to protect garden beds from being trampled. 

Owing to the modern interpretation of what an arbor is, many homeowners are adding seating facilities (usually an L-shaped bench) in the “tunnel” of their arbors. In this use of an arbor, the structure is used to provide a vegetated shading area. Others still replace the lattice framework roof with a solid roof for improved weather protection.

Undoubtedly, however, this feature adds an element of character and mystic to any backyard. Moreover, given its versatility, you can incorporate an arbor into your landscape design, even when you have limited space. 

What is a Gazebo?… and how is it different?

Perhaps gazebos are the most famous of all garden architectural elements. Gazebos have come to symbolize prestige and luxury, thereby giving this feature considerable notoriety among the general public. So, what are they?

Gazebos are free-standing structures with an octagon shape and, in some cases, and oval shape. Like the pergola, the gazebo has columned side-walls, which can be screened from insects to provide an “enclosed” garden space. Otherwise, the upper wall is left open, giving the structure an airy feel. Most modern gazebos will have a built-in floor. Alternatively, the entire structure is built in a concrete base giving it a sturdy raised floor.

The structure must also have a solid pitched roof to be considered a gazebo. As mentioned above, pergolas can have a solid roof or a latticework or slated roof. Although not always, gazebos also have a decorative tiny done – cupola – topping the roof.

Inside the gazebos is a shaded area for seating. Many homeowners will add built-in benches for seating. However, some will leave the space open, which makes more versatility in terms of space usage. Owing to the unique design of the space, gazebos are ideally suited to host a large gathering outdoors.

While you can use them to fill large empty spaces in your backyard and to infuse some character to your backyard, gazebos are expensive to build. Additionally, in many cases, you will need a permit to install a gazebo.

The Final Word

As you can appreciate, backyard features come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, the different architectural elements thrive in performing different functions. Some are best suited for supporting vines other climbing vegetation, while are best suited to provide shade.

When designing your landscape and installing these features, ensure the features complement each other, and the overall design of your landscape. 

Finally, ensure each element is high-quality, durable, and suitable for your intended purposes. Otherwise, the features will not yield the desired positive effects.

For help with your backyard oasis give us a call today at 970-663-2868 or email us here. To learn more about our patio cover and pergola building services click here.