Fences and Gates for Gardens

FENCES

Fencing serves the same functions as walls do but is obviously less massive, less durable and much cheaper. Be careful to place your fence on your boundary in the interest of good neighbourly relations. Wood, metal and concrete are the usual materials. Plastic fencing is also available. It looks neat and urban; hurdles, the other extreme, look very rural. The environment and purpose of the fence should guide your choice of material. You could use trellis or netting as a temporary stop gap or plant support.

Fence and gate posts must be firmly mounted or they will quickly rot in damp earth. If you inherit a fence you like but which is not structurally sound, sink metal or concrete spur posts into concrete to splint the main posts.

When erecting a new fence, use wood posts if possible; concrete looks artificial and is heavy to handle. Oak posts are very durable but expensive. Treated larch is a good alternative. You need a line, spirit level, hammer, nails and a spade or post-hole borer. Position the posts carefully and, if possible, let them stand until concrete sets around the base before attaching the panels. If you do not want to use concrete, steel spike post holders are available.

If you use wooden fencing, choose the best quality you can afford and it must be well treated with preservative (ask for a non-creosote preservative if you want to plant close up to the fence). Well maintained by annual preservative treatments, your fence should last well.

GATES

The gate to your property is often the first thing a visitor will see, so make it attractive, durable and easy to open and close. Ask yourself whether the gates function to keep children or pets in, to provide privacy, whether it is for pedestrians or cars, do you prefer wood or metal? The style should complement the style of your house and the boundary – if you have a wood fence, it is sensible to have a wooden gate. Town gates tend to be more formal and of tighter construction than country ones but this is a matter of taste.

Gates and posts, if of wood, must be of well-treated timber. Gate posts, as fence posts, must be firmly set and made rigid by good ramming down of the infill material. Wooden gates should, as far as possible, be constructed with mortise-and-tenon joints fixed by wooden dowels. Ensure that hinges and latches are really strong and serviceable.

TERRACING

On a really steep site it may be advisable to terrace the land. Although this is a costly and laborious way of dealing with the landscape, it can be extremely effective and, on an awkward site, a good way of allowing light to reach lower windows. The depth of each ‘step’ in the terrace depends on the steepness of the slope- the steeper the deeper. It is best not to have too many little steps but fewer, wider steps in the terracing, linked, if necessary by stone steps to each level. One of the best terraced gardens in Britain is at Powis Castle in Wales where the terraces are wide enough to have paths and grass borders edged by balustrades, making the whole landscape look most spectacular. The average garden does not have enough room to construct such terracing, so we have to keep the levels in proportion, remembering the wider the level, the more spacious the appearance of the garden.

The materials used in terracing should match any other feature in the garden or incorporate the same materials that have been used elsewhere to give a unity to the whole design. A brick wall interspersed with the same stone used on an exterior boundary wall would look attractive and in keeping. The lines of a terrace can especially complement the angularity of modern architecture. Planting can soften up some of the harshness if you prefer. If you want the planting to be permanent rather than seasonal, then small shrubs and low-growing herbaceous plants are the order of the day, rather than bedding plants. A good way to lead the eye from level to level is to have plants hanging down over the edges of steps. Lawn and terracing look good together and grass carried right up to the foot of a terrace wall is a good contrast if the upper terraces are planted.

RETAINING WALLS

Dry-stone walling is an attractive natural way to retain a bank but it does have to be very carefully constructed and lean in sufficiently so that the pressures from further up the hill do not push it out. The plants that can clothe a retaining wall are much more varied than you might think. In the spring you have Alyssum, Arabis and Aubrietia but colourful displays can be continued into the summer with Saponaria, Dianthas (pinks), Campanula and into the autumn with Polygonum affine and Polygonum vacciniifolium. The latter can even be in flower on Christmas Day. Peat blocks can be used for retaining banks but should not be used if more than 2 or 3 layers of blocks are being contemplated as they would not hold a bank for many years. Peat banks are constructed on much gentler slopes and are mentioned here as they provide a very attractive feature and medium for growing peat and acid-loving plants, such as dwarf rhododendrons, primulas and heathers.

RAISED BEDS

These can be used in conjunction with terracing. Raised beds work much better than rockeries in most city gardens. Alpine and rockery plants look good in them and it is pleasant to be able to appreciate the delicate shape of such small flowers nearer to eye-level.

BEDS AND BORDERS

Any bed or border must have been well dug or well prepared and be totally free of any perennial weeds before a single plant can be planted.

There are three main types of general garden beds: a shrub border, a herbaceous perennial border or a mixture of the two. The last is perhaps the happiest compromise. Annuals which are hardy or half-hardy, provide glorious splashes of colour but are time-consuming and can be expensive. Use them with discretion.

A herbaceous perennial is a plant which lives for an indefinite period, producing woody stems during the spring and summer, dying down in the autumn, then reviving in the spring. They provide a spectacular display throughout the summer, especially if the planting is devised to be successive, but during the rest of the year look somewhat flat and lacking architectural interest.

Thus I prefer to mix them with shrubs. The table opposite gives a brief description of hardy herbaceous perennials with their requirements.

Don’t design your beds by individual specimens. If you have room for, say, 100 plants, then order 20-30 varieties only to enable you to have several of each, forming bold patches of colour and shape. The larger the border the greater the grouping.

In most gardens some planning is essential. In smaller gardens, include some plants that pay their rent twice with, say, spring flowers and autumn fruits, such as Berberis and Cotoneasters. The maintenance of mixed borders consists mainly of forking over in late winter or spring and top dressing with manure or compost if possible. If this can be done earlier in the year, a further top dressing of bark chippings can be applied in order to suppress weeds.

If perennial weeds persist, then apply selective weedkiller to the growing tips of the weeds, but extreme care should be taken not to get any on nearby plants. It should be remembered that herbaceous borders need to be lifted and divided every three to five years. This is a chore but a necessary one because perennials grow quickly. A shrub border, once planted, requires no replacement for several years.

03. May 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Fences and Gates for Gardens

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