You know that expression “good fences make good neighbors”?
Well, I always thought of that turn of phrase as negative. That’s probably because Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall, made it seem so divisive and futile. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Good Reasons for Fences
There are many ways a good fence can enhance community. For example, think about a fence around a community garden that keeps roving animals out.
Or what about the fence that keeps your digging dog in so she can’t destroy your neighbors lovely pollinator friendly landscape? How about the cattle farmer keeping the cows out of the neighbor’s wheat fields?
When there are practical reasons for having a fence, then good fences can build community.
Also, think about gardening — especially food gardening. It’s difficult to grow delicious food without fencing to keep certain parties out of your garden (e.g. my dogs).Yet, growing food and other beneficial plants is a big way you can show all of your neighbors — here on planet earth — you care about them.
By gardening organically, encouraging pollinators, cultivating heirlooms, etc. you are working to make a beautiful, healthy, and sustainable environment that benefits us all directly and indirectly.
Also a fence doesn’t have to exclude your neighbors. Why not invite them over to help harvest abundant vegetables like squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, pole beans, strawberries, etc. and take home some for their table?
A fence installed for the right reasons can be a great way to make the phrase “good fences make good neighbors” a force for good things.
Be a Good Neighbor
Just remember, before you build a new fence, it’s always nice to talk to your neighbors first.
Explain your reasons for needing a fence. Give your neighbors a sense of what to expect in terms of aesthetic style, construction time frame, etc. By doing that, you can clear up any potential concerns before you create permanent barriers between you.
Also, keep in mind we all have different ideas of beauty. Your white picket fence dreams might be your modern décor loving neighbor’s worst nightmare. So, when you live in close contact with near neighbors, you may have to tone down your tastes a tad to keep the peace.
My Decorative and Useful Fence Projects
If you live in the country, where neighbors can’t even see your landscape, you have more leeway for decorative expression in your fencing style. Frankly, in a secluded setting like where I live, the only people you have to convince to trust your ideas are your family members!
Gothic Earthy Fence
For example, I put up this cost free fence entrance back in spring. I know not everyone loves the gothic earthy design ethic. But I’ve been dreaming of a fence like this for a while. The birds also love to perch on the irregular height posts.
This garden is where I grew squash and sesame this year. Plus we planted some apple trees that will be espaliered this winter. I’ll also be training fragrant roses over the sides of the fence. You can tour that garden with me below.
Gilligan’s Island Fence
Recently, I also finished my own Gilligan’s Island fence (as Matt calls it). It’s a five-sided fence made with bamboo that I harvested with a handsaw on our property.
Here’s a video tour of that project too.
To make it , I used inexpensive baling twine for my lashing. I also hammered in some used steel vineyard posts (donated to us from our friends at Round Peak Vineyards). They are placed about every 8 to 10 feet for added stability.
Work and Time Involved
I started my project with the longest side wall. This part took me about 4 hours including harvesting the bamboo growing about 1200 feet from the garden area.
My turkey Woodford who lives in the adjacent pasture entertained me with his feather display the entire time. That made it even lovelier to be outside on a sunny afternoon figuring out how to wattle, lash, and layout the bamboo.
Then I started work on the front entrance. This part took another a few hours spent over two afternoons.
Then it was on to the third side. Getting the bamboo posts in place for that short section took about 2.5 hours because I figured out some easy workflows for harvesting, stripping leaves, cutting segments to size, and lashing.
Despite being the shortest side, that was the point mostly likely to be tested by deer. So I had to make it taller and lash it at every joint.
Lashing is one of the more time consuming aspects of this process and the part I enjoy least. Rather than lash it all at once, and turn this into drudge work, I spent a few minutes each day chipping away at it until everything was tied in tightly.
The last two sides were easier because they were the same pattern on each side. They’ll also eventually be hidden behind plants, so I didn’t need to add any decorative elements. It took me three afternoons to harvest and install those two long sides. (I’m still working on lashing them for a few minutes each day. )
Then I installed an L-shaped bamboo bed and some border edging. I also put down mulch and added compost to the beds.
All in, I probably spent about 25 hours on this (including picking up mulch and compost). That could have been an epic weekend of stress and tedious work.
Spread out across mild weather afternoons, though, it was pure pleasure.
One of the things I really want Simplestead readers to take away from this post is that with a little bit of relaxing work, done over a period of weeks as your schedule allows, you can create unique garden spaces for your enjoyment.
But I also want you to know — you don’t have to spend a fortune to express your creativity in the garden.
Rather than making a plan and buying all your materials, start with the resources you already have. Then work forward to make your plans.
Here’s how I did that with this project.
Fence costs were less than $20 worth of baling twine. The bamboo was free. I just had to harvest it. I already had the twine, so my out of pocket costs were $0 to get started.
I originally wanted to make all the beds using retaining wall blocks. The cost would have been almost $600 (yikes!). So, Matt suggested I make the beds with bamboo. They look lovely!
In fact, they were so lovely, I was eager to make this look like a finished garden*. Rather than waiting for my compost to be ready and dragging out the wood chipper, I bought bagged mulch and compost for the beds and paths. That came to about $80.
(*Gardens are never finished, they’re always works in progress.)
Note: I also used some retaining wall blocks I already had to line the outer edge beds. The cost was originally about $85. If I didn’t already have those blocks though, I would have used bamboo instead.
I spent about $25 on heirloom seeds. That $25 seed investment will save me the equivalent of $10 a week for at least a year (compared to what I would’ve spent at the grocery store).
Personally I call that $495 in money saved. It’s also an investment in our health. Leafy greens contains loads of vitamins and phytonutrients that fight disease and improve our immune systems.
I had two Mirabelle plum trees and an edible crab apple planted in that area before the fence went up. They cost about $100 for the trees and mulch two years ago.
There’s also a hazelnut tree in that garden that some friends gave us for free. Additionally, I bought 4 blueberry plants for $50 to run along the left side border where the soil pH is a 4.8 naturally.
Those plants won’t be fully productive for a couple more years. But when they are, there will be fresh blueberries, homemade hazelnut butter, cider, and plum wine in our future!
Total costs to date (including materials I already had and used): $20 + $80 + $25 + $85 + $150 = $360 (spent over a 2+ year period).
When my budget allows, I’ll be putting some seating in that space. I also want to add some decorative pots and plant seasonally flowering bulbs.
I imagine those things will cost about $200. However, I’ve noticed that when I don’t rush to buy things, I often end up lucking into some of what I need for free. Or I come across a creative solution that costs less and works out even better (like bamboo beds instead of concrete blocks).
That leads me to the last big take away message I want to share.
This kind of extended process — without the big rush to get something done on an arbitrary deadline — allows spontaneity, enjoyment in doing, and creativity to flourish. And that ultimately saves you money and stress while making so-called “work” feel like lots of fun.
My dear decorative-fence-loving friends, that’s what I call Epicurean homesteading!
If you want additional, practical information about decorative fencing, please also check out this post I wrote for Morning Chores.