Horridculture – On The Fence

P90522Where I lived in town, the backyard was surrounded on three sides by fences, with the house on the only unfenced fourth side. These were the sort of fences that were common in suburban neighborhoods. They kept children and dogs in or out of adjacent gardens, and probably provided some sense of privacy, although I never understood why we all needed such privacy there.

I mean, if I really wanted significant privacy, I would not have lived in town, where the homes and gardens were all so close together. I enjoyed living there, and I enjoyed my neighbors. We could hear some of each others conversations and televisions, but no one seemed to mind. It was worth living in such an excellent neighborhood so close to everything we could want in town.

Years ago, suburban fences were not too obtrusive. They were only about four feet high. Some of the older homes were still outfitted with picket fences that were only about three feet high. We could still talk to neighbors over them, and sometimes pass over a bag of extra fruit or vegetables, or even flowers, from the garden. Dogs and young children were effectively contained.

Then everyone became obsessed with privacy. At the same time, many of us added onto our homes or replaced them with new homes that occupied more of the allowable space within their compact formerly suburban, but now urban parcels. Smaller remaining garden spaces became more shaded by bigger houses and taller fences. Gardening, as we once knew it, became passe.

What are all these big fences for? What are they keeping out? . . . or . . . What are they keeping in? Why do so many who want so much privacy live so close to so many who crave the same?!

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Fake Six on Saturday

P90824K‘Six on Saturday’ is a weekly tradition for many of us who enjoy sharing six horticulturally oriented pictures on Saturday. I just did it earlier this morning.

This is not ‘Six on Saturday’. It is just one picture of six arborvitae. What’s worse is that there is an indistinguishable seventh at the far end of the row. It blends into the sixth in this picture. There are seven barberry between them, with the seventh beyond the last arborvitae. This picture was taken more than a week ago, so most of the amaryllis are done blooming now.

This row of arborvitae and barberry was installed early last winter, after a grungy hedge of photinia was removed. It would have been nice to salvage the photinia, but they were such a mess that the process would have taken more than two years, and even then, would have been patchy.

These arborvitaes will not grow into a contiguous hedge like the photinia were, but already soften the otherwise uninviting visual impact of the plain and uniform fence behind. They will grow taller and broader, but will never get so big that they will be difficult to maintain. It should be easy enough to get behind them to prune away parts that get too close to the fence.

I happen to be pleased that we were able to incorporate this sort of formality into an otherwise completely informal landscape. The irregularity of the terrain, as well as the randomness of the big forest trees that were here before landscapes were installed, make such formality nearly impossible. Even if it were easier, formality is not exactly fashionable in landscape design.

Despite their imposed formality and exotic origins, both the arborvitae and the barberry are remarkably compatible with the native flora of the surrounding forest landscape.

Docile Annual And Perennial Vines

90710Most of the familiar vines really are exploitative bullies. They shade the same trees and shrubs that they climb for support. Some will even strangle and kill those who make it possible to get where they want to be. If they do not find trees or shrubs to victimize, they are likely to climb walls and ruin the paint, stucco or siding. Their aggressive nature can be a problem in landscape situations.

Fortunately, there are several vines that are not so aggressive or destructive, such as mandevilla, lilac vine, star jasmine and Carolina jessamine. Other vines that are even more complaisant are light duty perennials and annuals that might grow like weeds while the weather is warm, but then do not have enough time to grow too big or do much damage before they die back through winter.

If flashy color is not important, vining vegetable plants such as pole beans, cucumbers and peas, can cover fences very nicely. On flat fence surfaces, such vines will climb string strung in a vertical zigzag pattern between a horizontal row of protruding nails at the top, and another similar row at the bottom. Unsightly cyclone fences are even better, but will need be harvested from both sides.

Although it is too late to sow beans and cucumbers, a new phase of peas can be sown in mid summer for production in autumn. Fragrant and subtly colorful sweet peas, which are grown for their flowers rather than as vegetable plants, take considerably more effort here. They get started in autumn for the following spring. Trailing nasturtium can get sown at any time, for summer or winter.

As the name implies, perennial pea is a perennial that can get almost rampant, but dies back by autumn.

Passion fruit vine can either be a perennial that dies back to the ground in winter, only to regenerate the following spring, or a somewhat woody vine with wiry stems that survive for several years. Those that retain their vines through winter can get cumbersomely big, or can alternatively be cut back severely late in winter, to behave almost like more docile types that die back for the winter.

Horridculture – High Fences

P90522There is no doubt that fences are useful for a variety of functions. They exclude deer from the garden. They confine livestock. For suburban homes, they enclose a relatively safe space for children and pets. Fences should be designed according to their intended functions. Those designed to exclude deer might be as simple as coarse mesh on posts. Those enclosing backyards might be more refined and compatible with the landscape.
Over the years, conformity to modern suburban and urban landscapes, as well as modern architecture and lifestyles, has changed the standards of how fences are designed. Low picket fences do not adequately obscure the scenery that adjacent and often dissimilar landscapes contribute to a view. Where common vegetable gardens might have been, most of us want private outdoor rooms, with a distinct style of landscape.
It seems that everyone wants privacy nowadays. Those who have no need for privacy will get it anyway because no one will build fences that will not provide it. In the 1950, fences were commonly four feet high, and not every backyard had them. By the 1970s, they were more commonly six feet high, and standard for almost every backyard. Now, fences are expected, and many are seven feet high or higher, with lattice on top!
Modern architecture and lifestyles are part of the justification for such tall fences. Low profile older homes on formerly suburban lots are commonly replaced with two or more larger homes on smaller subdivided city lots. They are much closer to each other than the older homes were, with only narrow spaces between upstairs windows, where even eight foot high fences will not provide privacy.
So, not only do much larger homes on much smaller parcels mean that there is much less space for gardening, but taller two story (or taller) homes with weirdly high fences mean that more of the very limited space available for gardening is shaded!

Mower

P80411After all the years it was out there, someone, somewhere must have gotten good pictures of it. I never did. Nor did anyone I know. It was something of a famous landmark in Santa Clara.

First, I should explain these pictures that my niece sent from here Mid City Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles. As you can see, this is a well kept middle aged home with minimal setback from the sidewalk. It is in a delightfully tree shaded neighborhood of comparable homes.

What are those black and white silhouettes of city skylines on those two plastic panels in front, you ask? They are a fence. Seriously. There are several similar panels around the perimeter of the front yard, at the edge of the sidewalk, and up the sides. They depict a variety of familiar landmarks, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Space Needle, the Eiffel Tower, the Tower Bridge and so on. They are all jumbled together so that landmarks from cities that are thousands of miles apart can share the same skyline. Mount Rushmore is depicted on the gate, adjacent to a city skyline that features both the Gateway Arch and the Sydney Opera House. Someone actually paid a lot of money to get this fence constructed and installed around the front garden of their otherwise well tended home. But wait; there’s more.

The picture below shows what lurks behind the fence. It was actually worse before the fence was built, when it was in full view. As tacky as the fence is, at least it obscures it. ‘It’ is a fountain; but not just any fountain. This picture does not do it justice. It really should be viewed at night, when it lights up with disco lights and emits eerily illuminated water vapor. It sometimes plays music. Yes, someone really though it was a good idea to put this in the front yard, where, before the fence was built, it was visible to anyone in the vicinity.P80411+

Now, getting back to the mower. It did not work. It probably worked at one time. It was an old mower, from before the mid-1960s or so. The person who owned it apparently did not like using it, but did not want to get rid of it either.

He had it bronzed. Yup. Bronzed. The front garden of his mid-1950s tract home in Santa Clara was paved with exposed aggregate concrete, with a big pedestal in the middle, on which, the bronzed mower was proudly displayed. The concrete was of exceptional quality, and would have made a nice patio if it had a bit of landscaping around it. Instead, it was surrounded by only a simple but tasteful low iron fence with tan slumpstone pillars. The fence surrounded the perimeter of the front garden, at the edge of the sidewalk and up the sides. There was no plant material in the front garden. None.

The mower debuted sometime about 1970. The kids of my generation do not remember it not being there, so it was there as long as any of us can remember. Some of our parents believe it might have been there as early as 1964. The home and paved front yard were always impeccably maintained.

Tacky? Yes, of course.

Crazy? Maybe.

It gets worse.

In about 1995, the home sold. It actually sold rather quickly because it was in such good condition. Everyone thought that whomever purchased it would remove all the pavement and the mower, and landscape the front garden. But no. They moved in, painted the home a different color, and maintained the front garden as it had always been maintained. What is the point of living in such a nice home in such a nice neighborhood with such nice soil and in one of the best climates on in the World if the garden is paved?!

Only a few years ago, the home was sold a second time, and those who purchased it finally removed all the concrete and bronzed mower, and outfitted the home with a simple but presentable landscape that is more compatible with the rest of the neighborhood.

The funny thing is that everyone in that neighborhood had lived with the bronzed mower for so long that it was somewhat saddening to see it go! We all knew why it needed to go, and that the home looks so much better without it, but it was familiar. It was cool in a weird sort of way. It was defiant. It certainly was unique. It was environmentally responsible, and about as drought tolerant as it gets.

It is still impossible to imagine that the black and white plastic ‘city skyline’ fence and steamy disco fountain within will ever be so appreciated; but who knows?