rainy day thoughts on fences

approx 5-foot section of fence to the left of the gabion planter is the wobbly portion. it picks up strength again heading into the corner

Having inherited a boundary fence in the back garden, I think about it quite a bit. It’s been an insistent presence since we moved in, devoid as the space was of anything but fence, grass and bark mulch. Fences in front yards are not standard in this coastal Oregon neighborhood — though I want one in the front too, maybe a low cattle panel fence for Billie, who is irrepressibly social. Coming from LA, front and back fences are a given (unless you’re in an HOA, I suppose.) Children, pets, fast cars, security were all practical considerations for the front and back fences in LA.

The backyard fence in LA was promoted to powder-coated metal several years ago. We worked on it with the adjoining neighbor, and everyone loves it. No rotting, no painting!

But a fence alone is not enough for garden makers. We are inclined to obscure boundaries and fences to increase the sensation of being in a boundless world apart. I did this in Zone 10 and came to bitterly regret the root intrusion, excessive debris and loss of sun for the plants that needed it, like agaves.


Here in Oregon I painted the fence black and considered the job done. A “double blind” screening approach — a fence for security and privacy and then strategic planting to hide the fence — wasn’t a priority. This choice still puzzles me slightly. Neighboring houses loom over the fence from the south and east. Have my privacy requirements changed over the years? Possibly. (I do know that as an “older” woman, I don’t feel the insistent intrusion of prying eyes anymore, a huge relief.) Not knowing this climate zone well was another reason for resisting the urge to plant large, permanent stuff to hide the fence. Time and space were also considerations. I’m feeling the pressure of time and the garden definitely feels the pressure of space. And I see a lot more sky and flying geese overhead in this stripped-down approach.


For the moment, I like the austerity of the stark fence, and the boom-and-bust cycle of the garden that grows within it.

I’ve really enjoyed becoming acquainted with herbaceous plants like Pycnanthemum muticum in the Oregon garden

During the ice storm, after watching the fence uncharacteristically sway in the wind, I reflexively began to “test” the fence, like the raptors in Jurassic Park, though not to escape but for strength. Sure enough, a short stretch of the back fence has become dangerously wobbly. I grab it daily now and give it a gentle tug to check on durability vs. potential calamity. Shouldn’t we do something rather than wait for it to fall down? I asked Marty this morning. Sure, let’s sink a post when the ground dries…and in this temperate rain forest, we’re talking maybe June.

mountain mint and joe-pye weed

One of the byproducts of eliminating from consideration woody plants for concealment and structure is the freedom to focus on all the herbaceous, moisture-loving plants I couldn’t grow in zone 10. And so far these herbaceous plants seem able to withstand whatever the weather throws at them — and the weather has been so inventive the past couple years, hasn’t it?

Hesperis in spring is something I look forward to seeing again in 2024

But if that small portion of wobbly fence fails, I know that will be psychologically alarming. And dangerous for Billie. So maybe we can get a supportive post up in the coming weeks, notwithstanding very wet ground and a couple more atmospheric rivers heading this way. And I know that fence will continue to be on my mind until it either fails or is mended.

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8 Responses to rainy day thoughts on fences

  1. Elaine says:

    Definitely the downside of wooden fences, especially in a wet climate, is the quickness with which they rot even if the posts are treated. Unfortunately, if one section is rotting it probably means the rest aren’t far behind. I like the black. It goes with everything and it recedes. I hope the upcoming atmospheric rivers are kinder to you this time around.

  2. Denise says:

    Elaine, so true, in this climate it’s just a matter of time, a very short interval of time…

  3. ks says:

    Where you are now I would suppose the maximum sun possible would be a big consideration-it is for me too but in a hotter summer climate one does need shade. I’ve eliminated all backyard trees that came with this house except for one Crape Myrtle-it shades my west facing patio in the afternoon . The damn fence though is such an eyesore in winter I’m thinking through planting some evergreen stuff that will break it up a little more.

  4. Kris P says:

    I expect Billie “needs” a fence to maximize her freedom to rummage about in the back garden without restraint. But, if you get around to redesigning it one day, maybe you can create one with windows or breaks that let in more light while keeping Billie safe. Our property is an anomaly in LA in that we have a fence only on one side, which is suspect was the result of a dispute between a former owner and a neighbor over boundary lines. (The neighbor is still bitter about it even through it occurred 15-20+ years ago). For some reason, one small section of fence was built at a right angle from that fence to separate our north side garden into 2 segments. I periodically think about taking it down but it screens off the spa, which is something our insurer expects so I expect it’ll stay.

  5. Erik says:

    Hi Denise, regarding the fence. If you have a wobbly section, and you aren’t sure that it will make it through to June, you may want to brace the fence temporarily until you can get a more permanent fix in place. Nothing more discouraging than a section of fence that has fallen over onto some treasured plant/s. A brace may not be the most beautiful thing to look at for the next several months but it could also save you some money and heartache. just a suggestion.
    Best, Erik

  6. Denise says:

    @Kathy, somehow I’ve gotten over the fenced-as-eyesore POV — I’m fine with it as is, which might be a case of taking the easy way out 😉
    @Kris, the fence would do better with the high winds if the spacing between boards was wider, and that’s something we’ll do when repairing it, so it acts less as a sail to the wind.
    @Erik, wise words! We did just that this morning when we awoke to a very blustery day and the wobble turned into a full-scale shimmy. Marty braced it horizontally into adjacent stable portions of fence. Thanks for the suggestion, we appreciate it!

  7. Ah, I currently hate my fence. I’m doing everything I can to plant things so I don’t have to look at it. I like that metal fence you had – and also I really like the black paint on the fence! I’ve wanted to paint mine, but there is a lot of it. How long does the paint last?

    *Beautiful Hesperis – it looks so lush and pristene!

  8. Jerry says:

    I think the neighbors make a big difference too on what we do with our fences. Currently, we’re doing everything we can to grow a large evergreen something or other between us and the neighbors. They have become increasingly noisy and messy over time and I definitely feel exposed. It wasn’t such a priority when they didn’t occupy that part of their yard.

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