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Do Fence Me In
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

December 29, 2002

Good fences make good neighbours. They also add immeasurably to the overall ambience of your estate. Mind you, there is nothing like constructing a fence to introduce some neighbourhood tensions if the groundwork isn't well laid before starting. I recently read that adversity introduces a person to themself. If you just haul off and erect a barrier adversity might pop over for a visit.

So, before starting your project, take a look at your survey and make sure you know where the property lines are. This can save you a fair bit of inconvenience, especially if you are building alongside city-owned land. It can be quite surprising to new homeowners just how far in from the street municipal property goes. A good rule of thumb is to find the water-stops (those round bits of steel sticking up in your front yard) along the boulevard and play connect-the-dots with them. This usually shows where your bit of this good earth starts. Mind you, there will always be exceptions to the rule so it's best to check with the city or your municipality. They are quite helpful. While we're calling official folk, this is a very good time to call up the utility companies and ask them for locates. Locate, with apologies to my grammarian Lenore Rathbun, is now a noun that means someone will come out and "locate" the buried lines, wires, etc. They will usually mark this with spray paint on the grass or a directional arrow on the sidewalk. Don't rely on your memory. (And, if you are contractor, don't rely on the homeowner. We have cut through more than one irrigation line with the master of the estate standing beside us pointing to the remembered route a foot or so to the right.)

Before leaving the municipal offices, it is also a good idea to ask about restrictions about heights, materials used, setbacks from property lines, etc. Dot the i's and cross the t's before you start.

Next, visit the neighbours. Generally, a good fence benefits them as well. As in our case, you may be able to make the exercise a joint project. For example, our property makes contact with no less than eight other properties. (It's not as grandiose as it sounds; there appears to have been some creative severing done in the past.)

The choice of fencing styles and materials can be overwhelming at first. Sometimes, the realities of the site make the choice obvious. Although we may not like it, we do need to keep in mind the character of the neighbourhood. For example, the newer subdivisions seem to automatically demand some form of board fence. It would take an exceptional piece of design work to make a four foot high stone wall fit into the overall scheme. If you have an aversion to the ubiquitous pressure-treated cordon, consider a hedge instead.

Make use of the technologies available to you. You can scan a photo of your property into a computer and marry it up with a design programme. Using the pre-programmed icons, you can "draw" in various fences and select one. Or, go low-tech. Make some photocopies of the photograph and, using some pencil crayons, draw in your options.

The next decision is whether it is a DIY project or a job for the professionals. Most fences, although placing heavy demands on the physical aspect, do not require degrees in rocketry. They are relatively straightforward affairs. The tools required are usually minimal and, if necessary, are easily rented. Posthole augers, tampers and even little tractors can be had for surprisingly low costs.

Once you get started, the number one rule is prepare well. Make sure the base is properly finished before laying down the starter course of a block wall. Postholes must dug to the proper depth before setting in the post. Shrub beds must be properly prepared before planting the hedging materials. Do a "proper" job.


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