Four years ago we built a patio and pergola in our backyard to act as the central gathering space in the garden. It’s time for an update on those projects and to share some lessons learned.

Patio and pergola freshly completed in 2008

What comes to mind first is finishing the patio in 97 degree heat. Wish I could go back in time to say “Damn girl, take it easy! Finish it over a few cool mornings and save yourself some sunburned skin.” Live and learn.

Backyard circa 2008

On the patio, we left 2″ gaps between our large pavers and planted them sparsely with carpet thyme. The hope was that the thyme would fill in all the gaps over the years to create a nice, evergreen carpet. Four years later, the carpet thyme has still not spread into all the gaps in the pavers.

Patio in 2012 with carpet thyme

Bare soil is an open invitation for weeds, making the patio a bit of a maintenance nightmare. If we stay on top of it, weeding every month, the patio stays looking nice. Lesson learned: either spend $100 bucks on enough carpet thyme starts to fill in all the gaps or just leave sand between the pavers for a clean look.

Pergola in 2012 covered with hardy kiwi vines

The pergola was planted on opposite ends with both male and female hardy kiwi vines, as they need cross pollination to produce fruit. Four years later, the deciduous kiwi vines cover the entire canopy of the pergola providing shade in the hot summer and sun in the winter.

Hardy kiwi fruits ripening

It is the perfect structure to support the vigorous vines because you can admire the plant in all seasons. The green leaves are a cooling image on hot days when you’re taking refuge under their shade. You can watch the baby kiwi fruits develop and easily harvest them. In the fall, the leaves turn a brilliant gold before falling.

Mini globe outdoor lights hanging from the pergola

Additionally, the cedar used to construct the pergola has held up beautifully over time. The naturally rot-resistant wood has faded with age giving it the appearance of always having been there. We hang our clothes line from it to dry laundry on hot days and string outdoor lights form it for garden parties.

Patio and pergola in 2012: the heart of our garden

The patio and pergola were built a few months apart, but it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Not only does it function as a comfortable place for us to relax and entertain, but it also supports vertical food production. We find ourselves out there all year round, whenever there is a break in Portland showers.

Backyard 2012

If there were a “heart” to our garden, this space is it – the perfect vantage point to admire the garden from. Where is the heart of your garden? Is there a quiet place of refuge or perhaps a larger area for dining al fresco? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

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Written by Renee Wilkinson