Plants to Seamlessly Integrate a Pergola Into Your Garden

These plants will make your pergola feel less like a man-made structure plopped in your garden.

Closeup of patio outdoor spring flower garden in backyard porch of home, zen with pergola canopy wooden gazebo, plants

 krblokhin / Getty Images.

A pergola or porch structure can really enhance the amenity of your garden. But man-made structures can sometimes feel a little jarring in a garden landscape—unless you integrate plenty of plants on and around them.

As a permaculture designer, I always encourage people to understand how they can obtain an edible yield in their gardens. Obtaining a yield, as I often explain, does not have to come at the expense of aesthetics. Edible planting is not only useful, but it can also be beautiful. And that is certainly true when it comes to edible climbing plants. 

Here are some climbers or vines that you could grow up a pergola or porch:
  • Grapevines – (Usually USDA zones 6-10)
  • Riverbank grapes (USDA zones 2-6)
  • Kiwi (USDA zones 6-9)
  • Blackberries (USDA zones 5-9) — Thornless blackberries may be best, and these can be trained up and over a garden structure. Many cane fruits can also be trained up the side of the structure. 
  • Hardy Kiwi (USDA zones 4-8)
  • Passionfruit (USDA zones 9-12)
  • Passiflora mollisima (Banana passionfruit) (USDA zones 5-9)
  • Passiflora incarnata (Maypops) (USDA zones 7-11)
  • Hops (USDA zones 5-7)
  • Apios americana (USDA zones 3-7)
  • Climbing nasturtiums (Perennial in USDA zones 8-11, grown as an annual elsewhere)
  • Malabar spinach (Perennial USDA zones 9-11)
  • Chocolate vine (USDA zones 4-8)
  • Loofah (USDA zones 10-12)
  • Chayote (USDA zones 9-12)
  • Cordon tomatoes
  • Pumpkins/ Squash 
  • Cucumbers
  • Melons
  • Cucamelons
  • Pole beans
  • Runner beans
  • Purple hyacinth beans
  • Garden peas

It definitely makes sense to grow edibles against and over a structure where possible since this is one more way to obtain a yield and make the most of all the space available to you on your property. 

Ornamental Climbers

You do not just have to grow edibles. To make sure you have plenty of wildlife around to help you with your garden endeavors, you should make sure to have plenty of attractive climbers and vines which appeal to them as well as you. 

Some great options to consider include:

  • Aristolochia
  • Bignonia
  • Campsis radicans
  • Celastrus scandens (Native bittersweet, not oriental bittersweet)
  • Clematis ssp.
  • Climbing or rambling roses
  • Ivy (Take care, however, as some can be invasive in some areas, choosing a native ivy is usually best.)
  • Lonicera (Native Honeysuckles)
  • Mikania scandens
  • Parthenocissus
  • Wisteria (N American native Wistera fructescens not the Chinese wisteria which can be invasive.)
  • Garrya elliptica
  • Hydrangea anomala
  • Jasmine
  • Star Jasmine (Trachylospermum jasminoides)

Quick growing vines can be great for covering a pergola or porch. But it is important to think about which may take over and be invasive in your area. However, even invasive vines can be useful. Kudzu, for example, should not be introduced, but, as a quiet aside, if you find some it is worth noting that this is an edible vine. So to keep it from spreading, eat as much of it as you can.

The list above is by no means meant to be exhaustive. But perhaps it will give you some design inspiration for your garden structure. 

Remember: A pergola or porch can be far more than a structure to sit or eat beneath. It can and should be an integral part of your garden. Use the right plants on and around it, and it will blend in and create the perfect bridge between your garden and your home—and be a wonderful place to spend time throughout the year. 

Elizabeth Waddington, May 2021
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