GARDEN THERAPY: Good Fences Make …

Thumbnail Mel Bellar (1)By Mel Bellar

“Good neighbors” is one common way to complete that phrase. It could also end with “good feelings,” “good views,” “good vibes” or “good investments!” Fences have all sorts of uses and psychological impacts, ranging from the very innocuous post and welded wire ag fence to the very loaded 10´ stockade intended to obliterate the view of your neighbors’ well-lit trampoline and enthusiastic jumpers. This is an imaginary scenario, so I hope it doesn’t resemble some reality too close to home! I have personally known more than a handful of people who have had major disputes with and resulting alienation from their neighbors over the erection of a fence. A beautiful and thoughtful fence, however, can be a really good thing, creating a lovely and practical element that helps clarify a boundary and can add impactful vertical architecture to the garden. Yet, fences are emotional and complicated.

The practical aspects of fences are very clear; the most obvious is to keep something in or out, like animals (dogs, cattle and horses in; deer, rabbits and elephants out.) The other common application is to provide privacy and/or screening. We want to do our nude sunbathing without attracting attention and we don’t want to look at the neighbor’s (or our own) propane tanks. Also, fences can provide direction and suggest that a boundary should not be breached even if the fence could easily be traversed. I have a simple full-rail cedar fence around part of my garden, just because I like the way it frames the garden, adds a structural element that divides the spaces and allows me to use it as trellising for growing vines.

After determining the need and purpose of a fence, the style, construction technique and maintenance considerations have to be determined. Cost is also a MAJOR consideration because fencing is expensive. The most common materials are wood, metal, wire and vinyl. I am personally a wood and sometimes a wire guy, as I like to keep the materials natural and to maintain our “sense of place.” I use as much of Dick Liddle’s locally milled rough-hewn hemlock in a project as possible. It ages to a beautiful natural gray color and never requires any maintenance if you like that look. It is also a very cost-effective choice and a pleasant experience to purchase.

Fence styles range from simple and rustic to modern and ornate, but basically Mel Photo 1it comes down to having vertical and/or horizontal lines and the variations of their thickness, spacing and height. Image 1 shows some of the many iterations a client and I went through to find the right solution for their dog fence.

There were various reasons for rejecting choices, some structural and some stylistic. We wanted simplicity and functionality with as little visual mass as possible while still maintaining strength. Ultimately Image 2 was the final design.Mel;s photo 2

Angles add an interesting and stabilizing element in fences and gates. The stabilizing aspect of the angle pieces above were necessary to support the posts against the tension of the cabling and to provide an open feel. Angles in gates are exemplified in the Andes Rail Trail entrance.Mel's photo 3

The following illustrates how much difference the spacing of the planks can make. When using the same sized boards, larger spacing gives the fence more of a picket feel, whereas closer together it seems more like a stockade. I originally designed this as the “picket version” for a village project, but on site it didn’t provide enough privacy, so we are going with the “stockade” version.picket-stockade

Regardless of the style of the fence, they nearly always need posts. The two most disturbing things I see in fences are leaning posts and sagging rails. The rule of thumb for secure posts is to have 1/3 of the post under the ground to support the two thirds above. For instance, if you want to have 4 feet of post above the ground it would be best to have 2 feet below the ground. Similarly, if you want to have 6 feet above you should ideally have 3 feet below. Imagine how tough that is in our rocky landscape!

If you are using wood posts, I highly recommend using pressure-treated wood and filling the holes with Sacrete. If I want to make the posts look nicer, I sometimes put a 3/4˝ to 1˝ veneer on the post to have them match the rails or pickets, but this is generally not necessary and a little fussy for a fence. Use heavier wood to have sturdy posts and rails. I use 6 by 5’s when possible for the posts and 2 by 6’s for the stringers or rails just to have some extra weight and limit possible sagging or warping. We certainly don’t want any sagging or warping!~

Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener