Good Neighbors Make Good Fences

Is privacy really worth big fences?

Good old fashioned suburbia will never bee the same. Bigger modern homes on smaller modern parcels leave little space for gardening and trees. What is not shaded by the taller homes is shaded by the taller fences, which are ‘needed’ for privacy since the homes are closer together. Building codes in most municipalities limit the height of fences, but lattice screens are often added on top for extra height.

Because lumber is not of the quality that it was when shorter light duty redwood fences were built decades ago, relatively expensive modern fences do not last nearly as long. They might last longer if they would get repaired instead of replaced when only the posts rot. Green technology seemed to work better before it became trendy.

Ironically, no one wants these bigger and bolder fences that are closer to home to be so prominent in the landscape. We try to obscure them with vines that can tear them apart, or shrubbery that can push them over. Watering these vines and shrubs accelerates rot in the posts.

Shrubbery intended to obscure a fence should not be so voracious that it wants to displace the same fence that it is intended to obscure. Some types of pittosporum work nicely because they support themselves without leaning against other features in their surroundings too much, even if they eventually get quite large. However, they do get quite thick, and can obscure a fence so well that no one would miss the fence if it were to get pushed over! A good hedge without a fence is sometimes a better option.

Many types of vines can be kept much closer to a fence than shrubbery can, but most tend to be more destructive. Star jasmine works nicely if allowed to climb a trellis directly in front of the fence, but should not be allowed to get between planks in the fence, or to get too intertwined in lattice. If it gets too fluffy, it can be shorn back like a light hedge.

Clinging vines like creeping fig can be very appealing on fences, and can be shorn like hedges, but will eventually necessitate the replacement of the fences that they climb. For those who appreciate such a tailored appearance, replacement of the affected fences every few years is a fair compromise.

Grapes And Vines Of Wrath

70531thumbAnyone can plant a grapevine. With a bit of work, almost anyone can make a grapevine grow. Most who put forth the effort can figure out how to prune and cultivate a grapevine. Yet, grapevines so often get very out of control. They easily escape confinement, overwhelm nearby plants, climb into trees and overburden their trellises or arbors. It is easy to forget how aggressive they can be.

The primary problem with aggressive vines is that they require pruning for confinement. The most aggressive vines need the most aggressive pruning. Grapevines can actually be quite docile if pruned properly. Chinese wisteria and red trumpet vine need even more aggressive pruning, and will never be completely tamed. It is important to know the personality of each vine in the garden.

The secondary problem with aggressive vines is they are expected to conform to unrealistic confinement. Small trellises that are lower than about eight feet, including common gate arbors, spires and obelisks, are really only big enough to accommodate docile small vines like clematis (hybrid), American wisteria, well pruned mandevilla and vining annuals like morning glory and pole bean.

Chinese wisteria, large types of bougainvillea and other big and heavy vines need big and stout trellises or arbors. Lattice will not do. Chinese wisteria becomes entangled with lattice, and then crushes it as the vines expand. Bougainvillea does the same to a lesser extent, but then pulls the lattice apart as the intertwined vines sag from the increasing weight of foliage and growing vines.

Clinging vines like creeping fig and Boston ivy present another problem. They are not interested in trellises or arbors. They do not grab onto support by twining stems or tendrils. They instead cling directly to surfaces with specialized aerial roots that damage paint, stucco or even bare wood fences. Clinging vines should therefore only be allowed to climb surfaces that they will not ruin, such as concrete walls. They are better vines for freeway soundwalls than for home gardens.