Saturday, January 26, 2008


The old saying is "Good Fences Make Good Neighbours". If you are considering building a fence in order to enjoy the privacy they provide you should strongly consider building a 'Natural Fence'. A natural fence can provide many of the benefits of your more traditional fencing styles, provided you are willing to spend the extra time and effort necessary to keep your natural fence healthy and strong. Watering, fertilizing, and trimming a large natural fence can be a considerable expense, but one that can be well worth the effort, especially in this era of increased environmental sensibility. Eco considerations aside, no matter how well crafted your traditional wooden fence is, it will pale in comparison to the beauty of a well-maintained natural fence.

A natural fence can also provide some significant benefits that may not be immediately apparent. For starters, a natural fence can be a great way to get around local bylaws regarding the height of a fence. Many municipalities have specific laws regarding the height of fences which are usually limited to something close to 6 feet. Something as simple as a raised back deck on your neighbours lot can result in a complete lack of privacy in your own back yard. These bylaws can sometimes be effectively neutralized by building a natural fence from a plant variety that upon full maturity can greatly exceed the maximum heights allowed for a traditional fence.

Traditional fences may provide a degree of privacy but lack any real ability to limit noise from your neighbours yard or a nearby roadway. A thick natural fence is far better at noise and even wind reduction. Consider that noise is often the #1 cause of neighbourhood conflic. It only makes sense to consider planting a natural fence in your yard.

One common concern is the length of time it may take for a natural fence to reach maturity. A traditional fence provides almost immediate privacy, while a natural fence can take many seasons to be an effective barrier. This does not have to be the case provided you choose the right varieties. There are a number of plant varieties that grow very quickly, in some cases as much as 3-4 feet in a single season. Another common concern is hardiness, especially in cold or dought-prone climates. Once again, some careful consideration when choosing the composition of your natural fence can overcome these challenges.

There are a number of plants you can consider when planning your natural fence and I encourage you to discuss your intentions in depth with an employee at your local nursery in order to guarantee success. Soil conditions, drainage, sun/shade, and zone are all going to be involved in your natural fence choices and it is important that none of these factors are overlooked. I'm going to discuss two of my personal favourites here, both are quite hardy and can thrive anywhere in the United States and in most of Canada.

Leyland Cypress - It is claimed the Leyland Cypress was a "genetic accident" that originated in Wales, when two separate Cypress species (Nooka and Monterey) were cross pollinated. The Leyland Cypress can thrive in zones 6-10, which makes it suitable for planting pretty much anywhere in the continental United States and many parts of Canada. You can confirm your local zone by checking out these maps of Canada and the USA. What makes the Leyland Cypress such a great building block for a natural fence is the incredible growth rate and immense mature height. The Leyland will grow 3-4 feet per season and can reach a maximum height well over 50 feet if not pruned. Since the Leyland is an evergreen it provides year round color to your garden. The Leyland is also very thick and bushy, making a series of mature Leylands more of a barrier then a fence. A word of warning, failure to prune a Leyland during the early stages will result in an out of control plant, and as much as you want privacy, I'm sure most folks don't want a 100 foot high wall of green (well perhaps you do) and this is a real possibility. There have been more then a few examples of out of control Leylands being the center of neighbourhood tension, including instances where Leylands are planted out of spite and allowed to grow out of control. Some other great alternatives to the Leyland include the Arizona Cypress and Japanese Cedar, neither being as fast growing or able to reach the heights of a mature Leyland.

Bamboo - There are dozens of varieties of Bamboo but I'm going to focus in specifically on a few that are cold hardy and thus can survive in even some of the coldest climates. Macon Rivercane is a bamboo that is native to North America and can survive winter temperatures as cold as -32 celcius. It is characterized by very tight branches which makes it a great choice for a natural fence. Bashania is not as cold tolerant, but still able to withstand winters as cold as -26 celcius, making it suitable for much of the USA and Southern Ontario or British Columbia. If you are considering a bamboo fence and live where it snows you should investigate cold-hardy varieties including Chusquea, Fargesia and Hibanobambusa.

If you decide to build a natural fence I can't recommend enough the importance of making friends with folks at your local independent nursery. While their prices may be higher then big box stores you will be able to ask questions and get advice from trained experts instead of high-school kids making minimum wage.

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Anonymous said...

I'm new here @ and wanna say hi to all the guys/gals of this board!

Anonymous said...

My stupid neighbour destroyed the beautiful 15 year old clematis vine that grew on our common fence because the stem was on his side, now we have no privacy. ( I tacked up a hideous blind that I found on the side of the road so they couldn't gawk at us anymore) He has done many other things too but that is for another time...

SlicKitty said...

I have a "fence" of bamboo that was already here when I moved in and I think it's extremely important that you notify your readers that many species of bamboo area "spreading", which might sound great...but they can also invade the foundation of your home.
It's impossible to contain, as well.

Careful about recommending bamboo.

Anonymous said...

Also, regarding the bamboo, many towns also have laws against the planting of bamboo for that reason. so it may be against the law to plant.