How to Build a Pergola

A sense of height is important even in a small garden. Small trees, wall shrubs and climbers can provide the necessary verticals, but if these are in short supply an arch or pergola may be the answer. Alternatively, if a pergola or arch seems inappropriate, similar construction techniques can be used to create a welcoming, intimate arbour.
Traditionally, and especially in cottage gardens, pergolas and arches have been made from rustic poles, but where they adjoin the house or link the home with patio, timber is better.
Their visual effect is to take the eye to further down the garden and rustic arches and pergolas look particularly attractive covered with roses or other climbers. You can be creative with the designs, but the same few basic joints shown here are all that you will need.


  1. To fix horizontal poles to vertical ones, saw a notch of a suitable size for the horizontal piece to fit snugly.
  2. If you have to join two horizontal pieces, saw two opposing and matching notches so that one sits over the other, and secure them.
  3. To fix cross-pieces to horizontals or uprights, remove a V-shaped notch using a chisel if necessary to achieve a snug fit, then nail into place with rust-proof nails.
  4. Use halving joints where two pieces cross. Make two saw cuts half way through the pole, then remove the waste timber with a chisel. Secure the joint with a nail. For extra strength, paint the joint with woodworking adhesive first.
  5. Bird’s mouth joints are useful for connecting horizontal or diagonal pieces to uprights. Cut out a V-shaped notch about 3 cm/1 in deep, and saw the other piece to match. Use a chisel to achieve a good fit.
  6. Try out the assembly on the ground, then insert the uprights in prepared holes and make sure these are secure before adding any horizontal or top pieces. Most pieces can be nailed together, but screw any sections subject to stress.