30 July, 2011

Growing Shade. Vines on the Pergola.

The story 2009 through to 2015 and continuing.

Great beauty is one thing.  But the Iron Pergola along the north side of the house also has a practical use.  It provides important climate control.  Maximum warm sun into the house in winter is important. Summer provides a fierce challenge, so shade and shelter is necessary.

Getting quick growth is what we want and grapevines will do what we need.  "Ornamental" grapes are beautiful, provide autumn colour, but don't drop great wet dollops of fruit onto the terrace, nor do they attract the wasps.
The problem here is as always.  It's the ground.  Gravel is tough for any plant, especially establishing.   Cold winters and hot desert summers don't help.  Luckily we had the big digger so it only took a few minutes to get some big holes and then each had about half a trailer load of 'superdirt'ei
Vines on pergola.  December 2009.  Compost to replace the gravel
Largely the vines are selected for autumn colour.     There are five plants:
Three:        Vitis Amuriensis
One:           Vitis vinifera 'purpurea'  (Claret vine Tienturier grape)
One:           Vitis coignetiae.  (Japanese Crimson Glory Vine)

Planting was quick.
Vines on pergola.  27th December 2009
Growth was even better. Two months and about one meter.  Notice the second vine from the right (Claret Vine) is showing autumn colour already in February.  It's only going to go better as autumn comes on.  Notice the irrigation pipe for the drippers.  Later in the year a new sprinkler system for the lawn will do that job.
Vines on pergola.  21st February 2010.
By May 2010 the vines were well up over the pergola.  About two meters of growth in less than five months.  Notice the autumn colours.
Grape vines on pergola.  15th May 2010
Next summer the vine will be well along the pergola.  And providing lots of shade.
Grape vines on pergola.  May 2010.

When the leaves went, I trimmed all the side branches at the base of each vine right off.  Might not be the best thing for rapid growth.  Any leaf assists the plant growth.  But I also seek the vine to have a large standard trunk, with no leaves, right up to the canopy overhead.  I want all the leaves to be overhead on the canopy.  So it's a risk.

One clearly dumb thing I did though was to accidently snip the leader of the middle vine.  At about a meter from the ground.  A seasons growth lost.
Grape vines on pergola.  July 2010

30th December 2010.  One year after planting
Vine growth took off vigourously during late spring and early summer.
19th March 2011.  End of the summer growth and Autumn colour well begun.
Over the summer the prime task was to prune the wild laterals and ensure there was a sensible pattern of growth over the framework.  We did not want to end up with a nest of spaghetti.  Attention in the first year would make maintaining the vines in very easy future years.
10th April 2011.  Autumn leaf colour on an Autumn misty morning.
24th July 2011.  Winter Frost.  Vines trimmed back.  Ready for the next year.
The growth difference between varieties is quite marked. 
2011.  High Summer.  Vitis Amuriensis on left.  Vitis vinifera 'purpurea', Claret vine Tienturier grape on the right.
The Vitis Amuriensis on the left above is quite vigorous.  Vitis vinifera 'purpurea', Claret vine Tienturier grape, on the center right above has been quite disappointing.   The Claret vine is about to go.
Vitis coignetiae, Japanese Crimson Glory Vine on the left
The Vitis coignetiae, Japanese Crimson Glory Vine, on the left, has also been disappointing.
Colour has not been very interesting.  Leaves are often torn, grainy and unattractive, and the habit of the plant is scrappy with lots of gaps between leaf cover.  This one is about to go as well.
Grape vines for pergola.  12th April 2012.
In July 2012 plants two and four, (counting from the left) were removed completely.  Leaving only three vines, all Vitis Amuriensis.
Vines for pergola.  January 2012.  Doggie gets in the frame.
Grape vines for pergola.  9th April 2012.  Nice Autumn colour.
The 20 mm rods along which the branches are trained are about 700 mm apart.  Which may be too much of a gap.  See the photo above.

There would be full coverage if I allowed shoots and vine branches to cross and criss cross between.  But that ends in an untidy mess, and does not look good in winter.  So I am thinking of putting in three more rods between which means they will be about 350mm apart.  A vine branch along each rod will give very solid shade with it's leaves.

Winter 2012.  Three new rods added giving a new spacing of about 350 mm.
I will have to develop new branches along each new rod.  But given the vigour of the grapevine that will not be hard to do.  We will see how that develops.
March 2013.  Success with extra cover.
It worked.  There is a very good shade cover now.  Some of the new rods have yet to have a vine branch along their full length.  But we will get there.
The leaves will fall in May.  Plenty of sun will come in the winter.
April 2013.  Technicolour grapevines.  But why are they different colours.  Read below.
You can see in the photo above that there are different autumn colours on the pergola.  You might think it's because of different plants.  Or even soil.  But there are only three grape plants.  And the one in the middle grows left and right.  But left branches are pink and right branches are crimson.  Explain that to me.  Because I can't explain it.   

Winter sunrise.  August 2013
Winter August 2013.  Vines pruned right back.
Every year after the leaves fall the summer growth is pruned back.  Leaving only the trunks and main branches.
June 2014.  After the leaves fall.  Before the laterals are pruned
June 2014.  After the winter prune of the laterals.
The vines have grown well in four and a half years.   Eventually they will have trunks thicker than the leg of a human.  Which is the reason that they have been planted well away from the pillars.  They will become very large and will need the room.
June 2014.  the post is 50mm x 50mm
June 2014.  Thickness at four and half years
April 2015.  This summer has been very hot and there has been a drought.  But the vines have continued to increase coverage and now I can now saw coverage is complete.  April here is Autumn, and the colour is just amazing.
April 2015.  Coverage is good.
We live in the South Pacific and the light here is bright and the air is so clear it will burn your skin in minutes.  But this is enough coverage to give protection and we can live outside underneath.
April 2015

You will notice in the photo below the shade on the side of the house.  This means the summer heat and sunshine doesn't come into the house.  When the leave fall in the winter the sun will come inside, and in winter that is just what we want.
April 2015
April 2015
Before the sun came on in that morning the colour was quite surreal.   Quite appropriate for April 25th.  Anzac Day in New Zealand.  100 years after Gallipoli.
Every day several people around the world google the words "Grape Vine for Pergola"  or similar, and then end up reading this post.  I am most interested to hear what people think and how their own projects progress.  And I can answer questions.

Use the comments link below.

To be continued.  


  1. The vine should hunt for water. And I've seen some in France that've trunks twice as big as a persons leg growing on nothing but rock.
    I do like the narrowness of those uprights. I could never have sold that to a client as part of a design though. It really is something that needs to be seen to be understood, but the shot of the mountain through them is truly lovely.
    Is there a slight 'S' twist on the cross pieces or is that the angle of the camera.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. a. The vines will grow well here. Even though the ground is nothing but 100 meters deep of river pebbles. We are in the middle of vineyards on the same ground that grow very good Pinot Noir. Although more irrigated than I would like. These vines originally had drippers. But now have the sprinklers that make the green lawn possible.
    b. The posts are truely innovative here. Most local pergolas are made of massive timbers. If you google a french pergola you will often find massive vines attached to a construction that is made of just a few bits of angle iron. The look being sought is of a canopy above. In a year or two the summer leaves will roof above. But the horizontal barriers around are to be minimal.
    c. That slight S is there and we call it a wave. HaHa. We were going to have an arch but the wife of the steelworker pointed out that implied a passage - you went through an arch to get somewhere. And that was not how we really were going to live with this. Actually the direction of travel is across the pergola. Not down it's length. (other that when we loll about with a glass of said Pinot)
    d. That mountain is our special thing. There is a whole post with just photos of it. Mt Difficulty.

  3. I am here to thankyou for becoming the most recent follower on News From Italy, I hope you will find it of interest.
    I am returning the compliment as I can see that I am going to enjoy following your blog. It was very interesting to follow the development of your Pergola in this post.

  4. Greetings from Washington state, USA (known as the Pacific Northwest). I had a good chuckle when I got to your last paragraph because I found this post via Google, "training ornamental grapes on pergola" and it's the best one I've found yet - packed with info, thanks.

    My pergola receives full southern, sunny exposure (although we rarely exceed 85F any day in summer). Still, we were desperate for a bit of shade on the brick patio and for the walkway leading away from the house to the carport. I've had huge success with the V. coignetiae, a rampant grower with gorgeous flaming orange-red fall color, and I don't seem to have the issues that plague yours ... also, leaves as big as salad plates! On the other hand, I ripped out the V. purpurea just like you did - pretty, but what a wuss [weakling]. I've finally got something at that post that I think will be a winner. Do you know the V. 'Roger's Red'? Had to mail order it from California in a tiny 4-inch pot, but I am at year three with it & it has risen above the pergola and is traveling along the cross rails. True to its name, it is a brilliant magenta-red extravaganza in the fall.

    I enjoyed this first visit to your blog and I admire your horticultural tenacity! Think I'll be off now to peruse some of your other posts. I've always had a desire to visit NZ (I have a thing for native NZ plants), so this way I can live vicariously for awhile.


    1. Thanks Sweetpea. Great to hear from you and thanks for the compliment.
      Interesting to hear about the varieties and differing progress. And different from mine. I now have the three plants. All the same variety, from the same source, planted at the same time, and treated equally. But growing at quite different rates. ????? Maybe thats the way it always is ?

  5. My pergola is being built even as I type this from my office. My wife and I are drawn to the idea of growing grapes for the table here in Eastern Pennsylvania, US. Thanks for the reminder that there would be fruit and bird droppings, along with bees if we did that.
    I think we'll stick with non-fruit bearing vines. Another article suggests growing carefully chosen perennials for long-term satisfaction, alongside some fast-growing annuals for instant gratification.
    Will consider ornamental grapes but will limit our choices to native Pennsylvanian vines for ease of care.

  6. Hi. We're going install something similar to shade a north-facing living area in Melbourne. I was interested in the comments about not needing huge posts to support the vines. Can you provide some information about the pergola itself? For example, what are the dimensions of the uprights; what sort of metal; what are the 350mm spaced rods made from? Great looking house in a lovely setting. Thanks, Dave

  7. Thanks. The vertical posts and the two long beams are 50x50 steel. The cross bars are 50x25 set vertically - and you might notice there is a small wave shape rolled into them. All are galvanised steel box. section. Real steel, not bent sheet like some of the tin shed girders.
    The rods are 25mm solid round 'rods'
    All is welded together, not bolted. So it's one piece and quite rigid.
    The posts are all 4 meters apart. Lengthwise and across. Thus all spans are 4 meters. Where the big doors are there is one post out of place to accommodate and the span is 6 meters. No bowing or sag at all.
    I would think if one swung on the bars you could bend them a bit. But for box section spans that has now chance.
    It can move and drum if you hit it hard. But it does not move one bit even in heavy winds.
    Enjoy. You see the pictures and it works well by not obscuring any of our great views and sun.

  8. Well done, Kerry! It's nice to catch up on the growing vines...they should be very long lived...and oh so beautiful in Fall.


  9. Loved your photos and commentory. Thanks for sharing. I hope to create this stunning affect.

    1. Thank you Jill. Hope you are successful.

  10. Why did you plant so far out from the posts?

  11. First reason was that the posts were set in concrete. So there was a need to have some room for them to grow.
    Secondly, there is some future proofing. Eventually these vine trunks will be huge. I envisage 100mm in diameter. So enough room will be needed eventually.
    Another future proofing thing I have been careful about is to train the vines so they will have room for future expansion. It would have been tempting to spiral the vine up the posts for example. But I have seen quite vigorous vines spiraled up a wire at an Australian winery. At only four years the vine was growing around the wire and was being severely cut into by the wire. So the vine has been trained so that it does not constrict itself in future.

  12. Hello, thank you so much for posting all of this information. It is helpful. I am thinking of planting an ornamental grape vine for shade as well, but I am concerned about the grape issue. I have heard that grapes in our area attract the wild turkeys, which we don't want in our yard. Does the v. amuriensis produce grapes? Do the grapes drop on the ground and get squashed underfoot or attract animals? Also do the vines attract bees or other insects as I am hoping to eat out under the vines and don't want to be bothered by excessive insects. Thank you for your time. Blessings, Hope

  13. You will have no problem with the actual gapes, or attracting birds and insects.
    The v. Amuriensis does produce a very small grape, it doesn't amount to much at all, nor does it drop on your living area.

  14. I am so amazed by your lovely detailed site of the ornamental vine. Looks stunning and I love all of your stages of growth. I have recently built my pergola to shade us and my ferns in Diggers Rest, Victoria, Australia. I am finding it very hard to get the vine, Vitis Amuriensis for your showing of coverage and vigor from your site. About to for settle for Vitis Vinifera. Will keep you posted. Thank you for creating this and inspiring me!! Keep you posted. Do you have a pic of the 2015 foliage at all?

  15. G'day

    We unfortunately lost during renovations a beautiful,old ornamental grapevine that had covered our pergola. It was a big vine with trunk about 100mm in diameter.

    We feel its loss and would like to replace it quickly if possible with an advanced vine ... If such things as advanced vines are available and exist within a reasonable distance from Melbourne (Australia). We would be grateful for any guidance.


  16. Anonymous15 June, 2016

    I often see the initial planting pictures followed by 10 yr old pictures leading one to believe that the results are quick and easy. Thank you for showing an appropriate timeline and work from step 1 to step beautiful!

  17. I loved this information and the beautiful pictures. I may have missed it above, but which were the most vigorous and successful of the varieties? Which would you recommend. I m located in the Southern Highlands south west of Sydney. Thanks for taking the time to answer.


    1. Hi Kell. You sure did miss quite a lot. Look around the 2011 -12 posts. Everything before the quotation below. I must say the vigour varies a lot between varieties, probably depending on soil and environment.
      "In July 2012 plants two and four, (counting from the left) were removed completely. Leaving only three vines, all Vitis Amuriensis"

  18. Hi, thanks for the information on your blog. We are about to plant ornamental grape vine cuttings I took last year (from a heritage pub in outback SA) while travelling around Australia. They travelled several months across the outback to Cairns (in a plastic container with only sawdust which I kept damp) and down to the Northern Rivers of NSW, got potted on last year and are doing well. They coloured up beautifully, even though we are on the edge of sub tropical. Now some twelve months later after a house build, plus a pergola, I am ready to plant them so it was encouraging to see how well yours have done and the speed of coverage. From my original 6 small cuttings (3 old wood, 3 newer wood - hedging my bets) I have 5 survivors, so I am confident that they will do well here. I plan to run sheep wire over the top for support and plant three vines. Again thanks for the great photos.

  19. Hi, I love your pergola design and you're so lucky to have that beautiful borrowed landscape. I'm keen to know what length you used for the upright posts, how deep they're buried and what height difference there is between the house-side and garden-side uprights to accommodate the s-curve in the cross pieces. Many thanks. Michael. Kyneton, Victoria, Australia

  20. The rows of posts are 4000mm apart. Solid sort of grade. 50x50 galvanised steel posts and beams. The cross pieces are 50x25. Posts are set about 500 into the ground. Height difference is a mere 100mm. The posts are about 2700 - 2800 but the important thing is they are carefully matched to the line of the roof at the spouting.
    Good luck with the pergola

  21. Thanks so much. That's so helpful. Enjoy your upcoming summer shade!

  22. Are you able to give a desciption on how to train your vines so they grow so neatly? This is the best example i've found on the internet and i'd like to replicate something similar but i'm usnsure as to how to train or prune the vine

    1. If you read the post through carefully and carefully examine the photos I don't think of what else I can say except to 1. Have confidence. 2. Have a plan of where you want it to go. 3. Be bossy - don't let it grow in directions it wants to go. Put it where you want it to be.
      When you look at the vine photos, note the date, ( and note this is the southern hemisphere New Zealand. The seasons are 6 months opposite to the northern hemisphere.

  23. Hi! Does the Vitis Amuriensis have grapes? It seems online info that it does. I am looking to grow in Oakland CA and want no grapes or very few since over a concrete patio. But we want the shade and shelter from neighbor's window.

    1. You need not have any worry about grapes. They exist but are the size of pinheads. They want attach birds etc and won't drop slushy stuff on your path. cheers Kerry

  24. Do you find that the vines try to grow onto your roof and therefore need lots of pruning? We've just removed a wisteria that gave wonderful shade but needed to be cut back from growing onto the roof 3 times within the space of a few months.

  25. Do you have any issues with the vine, once established, growing so rapidly that it needs to be trimmed regularly to stop it growing onto your roof?

  26. It sure grows like crazy. But in summer once or twice I prune it away from the roof once or twice. About 10 minutes. In winter it gets cut right back. Well illustrated in the photos. That's about 2-3 hours, but only once a year.

  27. Great info. We are in Cowra, NSW and want to do a similar pergola with ornamental grape. Any new photos to post?

  28. I have followed the amazing journey of your stunning pergola with so much interest- it’s incredible and you’re very generous to share so much detailed information about how you’ve achieved it. We live in a seaside location in Hobart, Tasmania and are, after 4 years of planning and renovating getting close (this summer) planting our pergola. I would be so grateful for your guidance on sourcing Vitis Amuriensis as I’m having such trouble finding this variety. Would you mind advising where In NZ you were able to purchase this variety. (I’ve had a large hedge of NZ puma established for a couple of years now and they’re loving our location. Kind regards sues

    1. I also haven't been able to get Vitis Amuriensis - my local nursery said it was protected and were not able to get it in from SA (I'm in VIC). I'm going to go with the Vitis Vinifera, which seems to be widely available, and see how that works.

  29. Really hard to say Susan about where to find this in New Zealand as it seems to be the commonest variety available. That is if I see an ornamental grapevine in any nursery it's likely to amuriensis.
    If you want it shipped try who seem to have lots - and other ornamentals. I am not sure about the biosecurity issues and you would have to check if Australia will let in that plant.

    1. I think we are due for a few updated photos.

  30. Its great blog and you have shared wonderful idea of growing ornamental grapes. Will waiting for your next post. Thanks...

  31. Hi - Just wondering if I snip the ornamental grapes off the vine will this promote more vigorous growing of the vine? I'm trying to achieve what you have - we are into year three so far!

  32. Hi there, thanks so much for your informative blog. Based on this, I planted 4 amuriensis vines to grow over a pergola and then onto stainless wire across our courtyard in Hawke's Bay last autumn. Its now spring, and they are doing quite well. I have a question though - the vines have a lot of flowers and bud fruit on them. Should I prune these off to encourage the vine to concentrate on the leaders? Many thanks again

  33. Good question and I don't know the answer. My impression however is that it may help a little bit, but as the fruit don't really develop any size at all, it might not be that much help. I have tended to prune just a few branching shoots mainly for shape, so as to let the leaders run. I have had side shoots that I let run, so that when I did the winter prune and measured them, were found to have grown 6 meters in a season. So pruning some shoots like that will help maybe more.
    But only prune the shoots, if you are already getting the shade you want.

  34. Thanks so much for your post. I was so happy to see how you pruned the vine by cutting off the lateral branches. Great information and commentary. Wendy


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