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How To Build A Wattle Fence
by Carla Allen
by Carla Allen

Greetings from Nova Scotia!

Carla Allen has been gardening for the past 25 years, co-owned a nursery in southwestern Nova Scotia for 16 years.

Carla has an extensive image library and nurtures a network of horticulture in the region. She was the first president of the Yarmouth Garden Club.

August 24, 2003

Fencing plays a multi-faceted role in the garden - marking boundaries, providing support, creating privacy and keeping intruders out (be they two legged or four). There are hundreds of different styles of fencing with just as many materials available to build them with. Almost any of them would be suitable for a garden. A fence in a garden is looked upon as a blank canvas by those eager to line tall plants in front of it, or cover it with climbing vines!

One type of fence that holds great appeal to gardeners comfortable with rustic styles is the wattle fence. Webster's Dictionary defines wattle as having several meanings: 1. To bind with twigs; 2. To twist or interweave, one with another, as twigs; to form a network with; to plat; as, to wattle branches; 3. To form, by interweaving or platting twigs.

If there's one thing gardeners are likely to have, especially on larger properties, it's twigs and branches. By thinning and/or clearing unwanted growth in the yard you could end up with enough material to make your own wattle fence. Young woody material suitable for wattle fence building includes alders, briars, willow, ash, maple, practically anything that is small enough to be bent to some degree. The beauty of building a wattle fence is the speed with which it can be built and the fact that all you need is branches, an ax, a mallet to drive the poles in the ground and a hand pruner.

For example, we built a wattle fence recently from alders to act as a decorative, yet functional support for sugar snap peas and climbing nasturtiums. Our material included 12 lengths of alder, approx. 5' high by two inches in diameter for use as poles, plus at least 20 - 15' lengths of supple, thinner alder branches. Total completion time for this 15 foot span was 2 ½ hours.

The poles were sharpened on one end and driven into the ground with a mallet, approximately 2 feet apart in a straight line behind where the peas were to be planted. This proved to be the hardest part of the matter how soft the ground appears to be when the pole is first driven in, a rock is inevitably encountered after a few hits with the mallet. No matter. Just drive them in as far as you least 8". The deeper the better. You'll find later as you begin to weave the long branches between the poles the fence becomes more stable and panel-like. Once the poles have all been driven in, take a long branch and hold it up against the complete length of the poles. Cut off what will stick out over the end. Settle the branch down over the poles, but carefully arrange this branch so that it passes in front of one pole, but behind the next, through the entire series of poles. Once you've adjusted it, gently push the length of this branch down evenly to the ground. Take another branch and repeat the process, but position it opposite of the first one. For the pole which you went in front of before, you'll now go behind it with this branch and vice versa. The trickiest part is to make sure you are alternating conscientiously. As you push each branch down to join the previous, your fence begins to gain height. You can ‘build' it as tall as you want by simply sliding more branches down, weaving them between the poles. Be sure to push each branch down snugly with its predecessor, for if you don't, there will be gaps in your fence.

Wattle fences are supposed to be rustic and full of character, so don't worry how the finished product looks. They can be built on any scale and smaller ones would be especially attractive as short panels in the flower garden.


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