The Walled Garden

I’ve been enamored with the idea of a walled garden forever. Okay… not actually forever. It’s only been since my first trip to France (over 20 years ago) when I saw how beautiful they could be.

Before that, walls around yards defined property lines, increased privacy, and gave cats a place to sit. And that was about it!

Thankfully, American ideas about walls and fences have changed with the gardening boom and the evolution of the outdoor room. Fenced yards everywhere are now becoming enclosed oases for dining, socializing, and growing more of life’s necessities at home.

But what do you do when you don’t have existing walls to work with? How do you handle large, wide open spaces that have no structure? And what if you don’t have a big budget for buying traditional fence panels or installing stone walls?

You can use plants and decorative details to allude to the feeling of spacious enclosure.

I know that term “spacious enclosure” seems incongruous. But you need reference points to experience the size of a place. A house without rooms may be large, but it doesn’t feel spacious. It feels empty.

Walls, ceilings, the layout of doors and windows, furniture, and other decorative details are what convey the sense of size. The same is true in the landscape.

Anything that simulates that sense of “spacious enclosure” can make a large garden feel intimate or a small garden expansive.

In our case, a few rolls of deer fencing, wooden posts, fast growing kiwi vines, and a painted portion of a fence panel gave my vegetable garden the privacy, protection from wildlife, and presence we wanted.

Though the actual garden is nearly a quarter of an acre, it now seems to recede into the landscape until you open the gate and step inside. Plus the same kiwi wall that gives the vegetable garden its secret garden feeling acts as a backdrop to our outdoor dining room.

Walled gardens also create a sense of timelessness. It’s as if the garden has been there forever even when it’s brand new or newly renovated. At home, you can create that sense of age and presence with decorative touches that require less work and are more affordable than stone masonry.

We used a bed made of local granite blocks, filled with fast growing herbs, some gravel, and a border of collected stones set the tone at the main entrance to the vegetable garden.

At the bottom entrance to the garden, where we once had a drainage problem, a knee wall made of concrete blocks and some cast concrete planters enclose the spice area, creating a garden within a garden.

Foraged materials and strategic mowing can also simulate the sensation of enclosure and add inexpensive charm to an otherwise unruly area.

A few rusty fence posts and bit of rope, framing plants, create the rough impression of wall art for free.

A stand of tall hollyhocks hides my compost bin almost as well as a wall.

In my Simplestead experimental garden, the space is comparable to a small backyard in the suburbs. There, I used a long, relatively wide path banked by tall wheat draw the eye to a decorative wall made of a dog fennel wattle and a pallet.

The wall hides a duck area, complete with a mini pond, duck house, and a run. Then beyond that another wall made of salvaged blocks and landscape timbers, topped with watering cans turned into planters, encloses a small flower garden. (The wood posts along the right side will eventually be covered with espaliered apples.)

Our porch too acts as a wall leading into a small stand of semi-dwarf fruit trees.

We need boundaries to enhance our experience and enjoyment of the various parts and places of our lives. However, not all boundaries need to be permanent and unmovable like stone. They can be flexible and seasonal, changing as we need them to.

For me, creating the illusion of garden rooms within the larger context of our landscape also gives shape to my writing life. These spaces invite me away from my computer and out into a relationship co-creating with nature. That gives my homestead life the sensation of being both more expansive and more intimate and cozy at once.

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