Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Fences and Walls

– Posted in: Garden Design

Split rail fence along side garden mid June 2005Wide open spaces have an undeniable appeal of their own: a feeling of freedom, abundance, and endless possibilities. But in many cases—at least on a home-garden scale—the concepts of “expanse” and “garden” just don’t mesh. Even where space is abundant, dividing it into more-manageable areas with structures such as fences and walls may be the only practical way to approach the design process. And on small properties, especially those in urban areas and suburban developments, not having fences and walls may not even be an option: They’re simply a given part of living where folks need to stake their claim to some personal space. At some point in our gardening lives, most of us end up dealing with fences and walls in one form or another, either by choice or by inheriting them from the former owners of our current homes. So, by popular demand (and you two know who you are), December’s GBDW topic is fences and walls.

Fences can be fascinating, I think, because they have so many functions and meanings. Sometimes their primary purpose is to keep out unpleasant things, such as nosy neighbors, unwanted visitors, ugly views, annoying noises, pesky critters, or stem-snapping winds. In other cases, they keep in the things you want to protect: pets, kids, warmth, fragrance. Often, the essence of a fence depends on which side of it you’re on. Outside of a tall, solid fence, for instance, you may feel unwelcome, exposed, and excluded; inside of the same fence, a sense of shelter, safety, and coziness can prevail. A crisp-white picket fence evokes tradition and tidiness, while a long-weathered version of the same fence offers a softer sense of charm and relaxation. The kind of fence you choose can say a whole lot about the image you want to project to passersby.

Shadowbox fence behind courtyard garden early July 05With so much meaning at stake, selecting a new fence is a serious business. But it’s not all just about you, you know. There are also more mundane considerations: Local regulations may limit the height or placement; the neighborhood, as well as your own home, can influence the style and color; and your budget may be the deciding factor in the materials. It’s also important to remember that fences can cause as many problems as they solve. Most fences, for instance, need regular maintenance and occasional repair. Will you have the time to stain a wood fence every few years in return for a few more seasons of service from it, or will you let it weather and not mind possibly having to replace it sooner? Glorious stucco walls may need repainting every few years to keep their rich color, and even stone walls can require the occasional resetting of a few rocks.

Shadowbox and picket fences around kitchen garden June 22 07Fences and walls also have a big impact on the gardens inside them. Once you enclose a space, you need a way to get in and out, and where you have gates and openings, you need paths leading to and through them. Fences can shelter nearby plants from wind, which is great if you like to grow tall or delicate-stemmed plants but don’t like staking. However, the lack of air circulation can also be ideal for the development of disease problems that thrive with high humidity. Fences can greatly expand your plant options, because they’re ideal for supporting vines, climbers, and elegant espaliers, and their sheltering influence can create the warm microclimates so beloved by gardeners in permanent zonal denial. But at the same time, they can also cast a good bit of shade, instantly turning a full-sun bed into a full-shade border. For a great example of the dilemmas that fences can inspire for gardeners, check out the post Opportunity Cost by Kim over at A Study in Contrasts.

Inside the fence late June 07Do any of you have thoughts you’d like to share about fences and walls? Maybe you’re considering installing a new fence but aren’t sure what kind to choose; post pictures of your site and you’re likely to get lots of advice. Need to spruce up a fence that’s seen better days? Desperate for ideas on dealing with an ugly fence that’s part of your borrowed view? Looking to be inspired by seeing different fence and wall styles, or simply want to show off pretty pictures of gardens that include fences and walls? Post them on your own blog and leave a comment here to let us know, or feel free to talk to us right here. I’m thinking that this month’s topic is mostly fences and walls used to create enclosure, but if you want to talk about using plants, trellises, and other kinds of screening for the same purpose, or about gates and arbors, that’s fine too. We have those on the list for future workshop topics, though, so you could save them for later, if you wish.

Oops—almost forgot to announce that the book winner from November’s Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop is Lisa from Greenbow. Congratulations, Lisa!

Update: For summary of all of the posts relating to this topic, see Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – December Wrap-Up.

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Carol December 2, 2007, 10:38 am

I can’t wait to read what people write about fences and walls. I have a privacy fence that I’ve written about before on my blog, but more because the neighborhood association doesn’t like it, not from the standpoint of what it does to define my garden.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Hey, Carol. It seems to me that already-written posts are just as valuable as fresh ones, and many of us newer bloggers and readers may have missed them. So if you or anyone else want to add links to archived posts relating to garden fences and walls, we’d love to read them.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 2, 2007, 3:50 pm

I think a garden without a fence is missing something. Gardens seem to cry out for some kind of enclosure or boundary. So many home owners associations around where I live ban fences. They seem to think that it looks better to have lawn endlessly meandering behind houses. To me it looks exposed & formless. I’m looking forward to posts about gardeners & their fences.

I too think that some sort of enclosure–even the merest suggestion of a screen or fence–really gives a garden a different feel.

Angela (Cottage Magpie) December 7, 2007, 4:04 pm

Can I just say I love this workshop series? It’s so cool! I’ve just posted a little round-up on cottage-style fences for the front garden, and I’m hoping to post another couple of articles before the end of the month. Should I re-comment when I post those?
~Angela 🙂

Glad you’re enjoying it, Angela, and thanks ever so much for participating! Yes, please do comment with links to your posts, so I can make sure I catch them all in the wrap-up. Thanks!

Frances December 7, 2007, 5:34 pm

I second the love of the workshop. One of the first things we did when buying our current home was have fencing put in for multiple reasons. But the nicest one was for a background to plant against. Wood fences are also handy for nailing wreaths, sculpture and birdfeeders/houses. For south facing fences and walls there is the bonus of cheating that zone 7 into thinking it is an 8.

Thanks, Frances! If you have photos and/or posts about your garden fence at your blog, we’d love some links so we can see them.

Frances December 8, 2007, 11:44 am

Hot off the presses, the second post of today, December 8 is about the walls and fences in my garden. I had already done today’s post when I read you reply saying I could join in so it is not the first post. This is still a little baffling to me.

You’re doing just fine, Frances. For the convenience of those who’d like to visit you, here’s a direct link to your post about walls and fences. Thanks for contributing!

Frances December 8, 2007, 3:04 pm

I am working on a post for the path and walkways to add soon. Is it too late?

Nope, not too late at all! If you (or anyone else) leaves me a note, I’ll add your links to the appropriate topics.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter December 9, 2007, 2:23 pm

I put up my post requesting advice on my fence problems. Any help would be great!

A super post–hope you get lots of useful advice!

David December 11, 2007, 7:11 pm

I recently replaced my old fence with a new one, and expanded my borders. You can see before and after pictures at

Welcome, David, and thanks for sharing the link. A great post!

Pam/Digging December 12, 2007, 6:15 am

Nancy, here’s my post on fences.

Thanks for putting that post together, Pam, and telling the story behind your fence and gates.

Heirloom Gardener December 15, 2007, 10:21 am

Here are two posts about how I used fences to create two garden rooms in my suburban garden.

The first is about using a fence to create a Children’s Garden in my backyard:

The second is about using a fence and wall to transform our small side yard into a Cutting Garden:

I love Gardening Gone Wild and hope that you enjoy these posts.

Wonderful! Double thanks for the two links.

Michelle Derviss December 18, 2007, 11:13 pm

I’ve posted a short essay along with a half dozen fence photographs.
Most of the fences are not your typical garden variety ( Ha ! couldn’t resist the pun ! ) but all function in the same capacity of what we have all come to think of as a fence.

As always, I enjoy these charrettes !
Great idea .


Thanks for the link, Michelle: what a great gallery of out-of-the-ordinary fences. The metal ones are particularly dramatic and look perfectly suited to the spaces. (Just FYI, I wanted to leave a comment on your blog, but since that feature is disabled for non-Blogger/Google users, this one will have to do.)

Michelle Derviss December 20, 2007, 7:44 pm

Thanks for the heads up about not being able to leave a comment.
I went into my blog account and revised that option.
Now hopefully non Blogger-Google users can leave a comment.

Happy holidazes

IronBelly December 25, 2007, 5:01 pm

I generally disagree with the positive premise about fences. Perhaps it is an underlying bias developed while growing up as an Iowa farm boy, but I generally see fences as a negative in the garden.

Yes, certainly there are some exceptions. And yes, sometimes they are required. However, the general impression imparted is confinement, and exclusion. I see glorified livestock pens – a gilded cage, as it were – not the espoused warm & fuzzy enclosure.

I much prefer to utilize only strategically placed sections of fencing; which satisfy the goals of most (not all) fence installations while avoiding the restrictive component of the cattle stockade look.

Thanks for stopping by, Dan, and for sharing another outlook on the subject. It’s not surprising that growing up in rural Iowa would provide a different perspective from growing up in a suburban development in Pennsylvania.

Heirloom Gardener December 26, 2007, 6:55 pm


As per your comment, here’s the link to my post on our garden’s deer fence:

-Heirloom Gardener

Thanks so much; it’s a terrific idea for anyone with deer problems.

Heirloom Gardener December 26, 2007, 11:28 pm


I’m not sure this qualifies as a wall, but thought you might find this amusing:

-Heirloom Gardener

Great, thanks! Since you’ve shared your stone wall, I’ll share mine too:
Hardly a glorious landscape feature, but it does provide a use for all those pesky little rocks.

Carol December 28, 2007, 1:15 pm

Nan… here’s my post for this month’s topic

I’ve decided not to include my previous posts on fences as they are more about neighborhood associations on power trips!

Happy New Year and thanks for putting this all together,
Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Thanks back to you for the link to your post, Carol!

Kathy December 29, 2007, 9:32 pm

I decided to post on an unconventional use for fencing. I tend to use shrubs to provide a sense of enclosure. The only true fencing we have is meant to enclose chickens–and it often doesn’t do that. I could write about that, but it wouldn’t be filed under design, but humor–or aggravation!

It’s brilliant, Kathy. Check it out, everyone!

Karen Arms December 30, 2007, 8:33 am

Design Workshops are a brilliant idea. Here is my minor contribution on fences and walls.

Great! Thanks for joining in, Karen.

Jim January 1, 2008, 1:41 pm

Here’s how I handled a blank wall:

Click on Monet’s and my espaliers.

Great, Jim–many thanks! I added your link to the wrap-up post, too.

Atlanta Fence May 3, 2008, 10:48 pm

How about this unique idea for a fence, found just outside Atlanta.

Anne Knapp February 22, 2009, 1:57 am

I have solid cedar fence- got it due to kids and pets and in the interest of being a good neighbor. But guess what? Deer don’t like to jump over what they can’t see thru! All my neighbors without fences are crying about deer damage and we are untouched (and the dog’s been gone for 10 years). Now if it would do something to prevent raccoons and herons and kingfishers snacking on my pond fish- that would be wonderful!

That’s great news about the fence deterring deer, Anne. The other critters – well, they’re another matter!

Eliza Cranston December 28, 2015, 9:14 am

I agree that “fences and walls. . . have a big impact on the gardens inside them.” I want to add a fence to my yard in order to protect my garden from deer and other pests that eat my plants. I didn’t think, however, about the benefits of preventing wind and air circulation. What fence material do you think is best for these purposes?

Fences Auckland June 12, 2017, 5:29 am

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Taylor Bishop October 16, 2017, 8:58 am

Thanks for the interesting read about fences. I actually didn’t know that there could be different regulations for fences depending on where you live. My brother has been thinking of getting a fence, so it sounds like it could be worth it for him to research and learn more about these regulations so that he knows what to expect if he does decide to get one in the future.

Spencer October 24, 2018, 5:23 am

Wonderful inspirational ideas for dressing up walls and fences. I’ve done some of these and have always wanted to try a mirror in the garden but just haven’t had the right spot.

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