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.
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.
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.
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?
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.