Gardening Tips for Fences, walls and hedges
An effective way to separate the ornamental area of your garden from the more productive growing areas is to use some form of walling or fencing.
Many people who visit the gardens of stately homes are as impressed by the orderly kitchen gardens, surrounded by the traditional high brick walls, as they are by the sometimes spectacular groupings of flowers and shrubs. Such gardens are fast disappearing and, unfortunately, are something that is impossible to achieve intoday. However, there was considerable wisdom behind these ‘walled’ gardens and the idea can be at least partially applied to present-day fruit and vegetable gardens.
Far from being purely aesthetic, screening can serve several practical purposes. One of the most important, even with only the very lightest forms of fencing, is that it provides the invaluable third dimension of vertical space, giving you an ‘instant’ site for cordon, espalier and fan-trained top fruit, and trailing and climbing vegetables.
A solid fence or wall with a south aspect can provide warmth and, too, much needed by some of the more tender fruits such as peaches, nectarines and figs, and vegetables like aubergines, sweet peppers and tomatoes.
Another great attribute of any type of fence or screen is that it acts as a windbreak. This is especially beneficial on exposed sites, since few plants flourish if continually subjected to battering by strong winds. In coastal areas, the wind often carries with it an additional hazard in the form of salt. This salt is injurious to most edible crops, but the presence of a suitable screen will filter it out.
Fencing can also be used as a security precaution, deterring any would-be thieves or vandals from stealing your produce and also helping to keep out domestic pets and wild animals such as rabbits or, in some rural areas, deer. Any of these might do quite serious damage to fruit and vegetables.
Types of screening
Screens for enclosing a kitchen garden can be divided into two types: living and non-living (artificial). The first category covers hedges and some trees, which mainly constitute windbreaks. The second includes a range of man-made walling and fencing and these are available in many different materials to suit varying needs and pockets.
To these two main classes may be added fencings which are a combination of living and artificial, such as a metal chain-link fence on which loganberries are trained or a post-and-wire fence that supports espalier or cordon apple trees. One of the advantages of this last type is that they are productive, they occupy much less space than the bush or standard forms of apple and, because usually there are less plants per unit length, their roots are less invasive and they do not absorb moisture and nutrients in the same way that a hedge does.
As a division between the ornamental area and the vegetable area of a garden, possibly a hedge is intrinsically more picturesque. However, the point remains that it is competing with your crops for life-giving materials. Other major disadvantages are that if you use a hedge, rather than an artificial screen as a divider, you lose more space because it is not possible to plant right up against it and, equally important, it does require a fair amount of attention. Trimming, feeding, mulching, watering and root-pruning are not particularly difficult tasks, but they can be time-consuming. Points in a hedge’s favour are its comparative longevity, and also cost. Given reasonable care a hedge will remain standing longer than most metal or wooden fences, and possibly even longer than a brick or stone wall. Although not as cheap as a simple wire-netting fence, the cost of a hedge compares extremely favourably with both the timber close-boarded type fence and with either brick or stone walls.
Wood is used for a large proportion of garden fences. The best types are cedar, pine, larch, oak, hazelwood and osier, or willow.
The more common type of timber fence consists of wood panels, supported by upright posts driven into the ground. The posts are usually fitted with sloping ‘caps’, a little bigger than the posts themselves, so that any rain runs down the sloping surfaces and falls clear of the post. Likewise, the panels usually have some sort of rail at the top, which serves a similar function.
The supporting posts are usually also timber but, for more exposed positions, it is possible to obtain stronger concrete posts which do not rot below ground level. Alternatively, some firms supply short concrete stub posts. These are cemented in the hole first and then the rather more pleasing timber post is bolted to it at a level where there is no fear of corrosion.
A further means of avoiding this risk is to use hollow steel post supports. These are pointed at the lower end to enable them to be tapped into the ground without the necessity for a hole or concreting in. The post is then simply inserted into this support and bolted to it. Both stub posts and steel supports can also be used to re-strengthen old posts that have rotted—and both also save on timber, a costly commodity these days. Despite these alternatives, however, a large proportion of fences are made entirely of wood.
A fence is only as strong as its post and the manner in which it is fixed in the ground. The length of post below ground level will vary with the height of the fence, but 60 cm (2 ft) should be regarded as a minimum. Posts for taller fences should be set 1 m (3 ft) into the ground.
Wooden post ends should be thoroughly painted with a special horticultural preservative solution and the wood panels similarly treated, paying special attention to any sawn edges. It is also important for any nails used in the construction of timber fencing to be galvanised. Never use creosote as a preservative on fencing enclosing a kitchen garden as the fumes from it can prove harmful to any plants growing close by.