Fences come in all shapes and sizes, yet in one way or another they all serve the same purpose: to separate one area from another. At Glen Villa, my garden in Quebec, the oldest fence separates a former farm field from a driveway.
An equally practical but more decorative fence is the one I designed to protect shrubs from the deer that are such a plague in country gardens. I found the style so effective that I’ve used it in fences in the upper and lower fields, the Asian meadow and the Upper Room.
A totally impractical but decorative fence in the Asian Meadow uses ornamental Chinese tiles inset into a low wooden fence to delineate the edge of the meadow and separate it from a picnic area.
One of the most attractive deer fences I’ve seen is the one below, spotted in the Bridge Garden on Long Island. The casual arrangement of long sticks is a variation of a Japanese style.
Compare it, for example, to this more formal fence at the Morikami Japanese Garden in Florida.
Some fences are purely practical but even practical fences needn’t be unattractive. I saw the one below at Madoo, the Long Island garden of the late Robert Dash, and while its material is utilitarian, its colour lightens the surroundings and adds interest to the plants at its base.
Some fences make strong visual statements. At Veddw, the Welsh garden created by Anne Wareham and Charles Hawes, an opening into a farm field needed to be fenced. The ground on one side was much higher than the ground on the other, and the land sloped markedly from end to end. They solved this problem with imagination, and at low cost, by using slats of varying heights.
A similarly imaginative fence is at The Grove, the garden of the late David Hicks, where the silhouettes of famous landmarks decorate one side of a very plain fence.
For a fence that illustrates the interests of the gardener, one designed by Christine Facer Hoffman, a medical scientist turned garden designer, tops my list. Ms Facer Hoffman’s dog is named Pi and this fence makes his name a reality… it is an endless sequence of numbers listing the decimal points of pi. The fence is also practical, keeping gravel out of the vegetable garden.
It’s easy to install a low-cost utilitarian fence, but how much more interesting it is to design one that suits the situation, the interests and the aesthetics of the garden owner. A wonderfully contemporary fence at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve combines open and closed spaces, a principle that informs many garden designs. At first glance, the fence is a solid barrier.
But as you walk alongside it, the fence opens to allow flowers to peep through.
Designing a fence like this takes skill and imagination. Add the wonderfully toned plants and you have a winner.