The shady vine pergola is my favourite place to sit in the back garden.
Or, I should say, it was until recently.
Storm Jake hit us on the first Wednesday in March causing the pergola to sink to its knees. This was a wild wolf of a wind, it huffed and puffed in gusts well in excess of 50 mph throughout the day, I hardly dared venture out. Little by little the pergola sank neatly to one end until it came to rest on the two big pots of Chionochloa conspicua sitting on the steps behind it. Ever the hero in a gardening crisis, Hitesh helped me prop things up when he returned home from work that evening and we sorted out the tangled mess of metal and woody top growth the following weekend.
As it turned out this was to be the first of two rounds with the pergola on dark and stormy nights. Precisely a week later another storm howled through the garden casting the now freestanding corners aside. From the bedroom window the patio looked like a bowling alley.
Admittedly, the pretty pergola’s demise has been on the cards for a while. Last year we added a parasol to help support the weakening central boss of the pagoda style roof and kept our fingers crossed that it would see the summer out. It worked a treat, kept the rain off and bought us time. In the late autumn 2015 a local metalworker was found to supply a more robust replacement by Easter 2016 – in time to salvage the climbers before they came into leaf.
All things considered, we are far from saddened or surprised. The powder-coated tubular steel structure had given nearly ten years’ sterling service. Designed to support the weight of a flimsy canvass cover, not to be heavily draped with unruly vines, it did remarkably well. Thanks to the shade their large leaves cast, this was our haven on an otherwise inhospitable southerly facing sun-baked terrace.
At the end of the second year, when the canopy with which it came showed signs of deteriorating beyond repair, two sets of grape vines and actinidias were planted to succeed the cover. As the vigorous vines grew, the shade grew denser. To my delight with the shade came caps of moss shortly followed by wild orchids, their lance-shaped, spotted leaves were just peeping through in mid-March. That was when the apologetic metal worker got back to me to say the order couldn’t be filled until Whitsun … at the earliest.
To avoid playing skittles throughout the spring we cancelled the order and hit the garden centres.
It took three of us a full day to install the new one. The calibre of the metalwork is very similar to the old one, with a gauge of 1mm (where 3mm would be optimum). Kits like this that are all about convenience and cost-effectiveness, they’re manufactured to be boxed, shipped, then loaded into cars at the garden centre. Everything is configured into boot-friendly lengths and sizes – inevitably, rot sets in where lengths are joined together on assembly. In their defence, manufacturers do recommend dismantling metal pergolas at the end of the season. However, going through the specifications for a bespoke frame suggested other ways to prolong a shop-bought pergola’s life. These include light welds to weak spots such as fixture plates and bolt heads, plus, a cap of lead flashing at the apex where the roof struts meet and are bolted together. Ideally, sanding back the paintwork followed by repainting it using a zinc based primer, then topcoat would better protect against rust. With all this in mind, and much of it yet to do, I was rather bemused by the inclusion of a nail polish sized pot of touch-up paint.
Funnily enough, the new canopy is of a much higher quality fabric than the original. Of course, that makes it heavier too, perhaps at least equal in weight to the vines. Given time and a bit of retraining the mature vines will recover the roof. Meanwhile, we’ll use a parasol to shade the table and consign the superior canopy to the store cupboard.
Remarkably, all but one of the two pot grown Actinidia deliciosa ‘Jenny’ has survived. Hope is on the horizon.