Georgia Gardener Newsletter Design Tip: November 15 2007

The Garden Fence

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A picket fence fits charmingly into this cottage garden

The great American Poet Laureate, Robert Frost once wrote "Good fences make good neighbors." Good fences, with the right "dressing" can also make for excellent garden features. No longer does the fence that separates neighbors have to be a stark and sudden end to the garden.

Match the Fence to the Garden and the House

There are numerous styles of fences (wooden privacy, open wrought iron, split rail, picket, etc.) and I think it's important to match the style of the fence to the style of the garden. A formal wrought iron fence might look out of place in a woodland garden or around the perimeter of a cottage garden. Yet, it would look right at home around a formal English or rose garden.

Also, keep in mind the style of your home. Somehow a formal brick home with a split rail fence next to it just seems odd. However if placed further away from the home and in a less formal area, the split rail fence would blend just fine.

Use Landscaping to Soften the Fence

A fence that has only grass next to it will often look larger and draw more attention to itself than a fence that has been "softened" with plantings. Besides, it's difficult to mow right up to the edge of a fence.

This fence with only grass on either side sticks out like sore thumb.

When contemplating a border to soften the face of a fence, remember the size of a fence and try to "scale" the landscaping to fit it. A 6-foot privacy fence that only has a bed of pansies in front of it will still look as strange as if it only had grass. In this case, a border that contains shrubs that are at least 4 feet tall mixed with smaller shrubs, perennials, annuals and perhaps a small tree over 6 feet will definitely draw your eye away from the fence and to the floral display.

If your intent is to hide the fence altogether, don't plant a row of one type of plant - mix it up. Plant a grouping of larger shrubs against the fence for a short distance and then change the plant type to something that has different foliage or flowers. Most likely, the larger plants you choose to be directly in front of the fence will be evergreen. Those in front can be either evergreen, deciduous or a mix of both. Finally, plant perennials or annuals at the forward edge of the border once again mixing up the plant types to avoid the "lined up like soldiers" look.

Decorative fences that are used to separate garden areas and aren't necessarily meant to mark property boundaries or provide privacy should at least be partly visible. This applies to fences like picket or split rail.

This lovely picket fence with its staggered heights should be partially visible to enhance the plantings in front.
This hand-made fence using small branches is perfect for this casual perennial and annual garden.

Don't Forget the Vines

When landscaping to soften or hide a fence, don't forget to use any number of gorgeous vines that are available from most nurseries. Just make sure to provide them with ample room to cover the fence, be visible and not overtake any nearby trees or shrubs. Likewise, if you have a fence that traverses a narrow area such that it's not possible to plant a border of shrubs, then vines are an excellent choice as they take up very little "foot space" at the base of a fence.

Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is a wonderful evergreen flowering vine to cover less-than-attractive or tightly placed fences.

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