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It's all in the Fence

I find that lately I've been spending a lot of time thinking about fences. Actually, that's a bit of an understatement. I've ben thinking about them fairly constantly since I bought my house in August 2012, and here I am writing about it in October 2013.

You see, currently there is no fence to my property - but I intend to put one up.

I first really wanted a fence just after I moved in, as I began working on the garden. Being a very self-concious person, I was struggling a little with the fact that everything I did in my garden - which faces on to the street - is in the plain view of all my neighbours, and anyone who happens to be walking or driving past. There's a lot of dogs in my neighbourhood, so quite a lot of walking past goes on on a regular basis. What's more, I'd inadvertently managed to move into what is these days a rarity (and something I was unfamiliar with): a friendly neighbourhood. So not only were people walking past and having a good gawk at what I was doing, they'd often stop and have a chat about it as well. Don't get me wrong, I'm generally a friendly person. But I'm from the wrong generation to be conditioned to what was historically a common practice.

Nowadays, I find I'm in two minds about my future fence. The problem is, I've gotten used to seeing people and chatting with them as they walk past. I'm also quite proud of my garden, and quietly pleased to know it' s regularly admired. Now, closing it off means that I'll lose both of these things.

Except I really need a fence. There's some small argument for the fact that having the property fully fenced will increase its value for resale. But far more importantly - and more immediately - the garden needs it: given the direction in which it opens, the entire garden is regularly pummelled by the wind. Admittedly nothing would have saved the flowers on my olive tree from the tornado passing through last year (I was looking so looking forward to my first crop as well! Instead Nature laughed and I ended up with a sole olive on my young tree!), but the placement of the fence would have ensured that my baby lemon tree was protected from the fearsome buffeting of the full force of the regular wind. The poor thing had barely recovered from weeks of potted neglect before finally being planted, when several major storms kicked up and stripped it of all of its leaves. Again. I'm not yet sure whether it will recover or not - but a fence would give me slightly happier odds.

I've quite enjoyed figuring out what sort of fence I'm going to have. The astonishing thing about fences is the variety available. Fences are about the most commonplace and easily-visible example that I can think of when arguing for the innateness of human creativity. The sheer potential is enormous: give ten people the same starting materials, and watch what happens.

The first builds a six foot high fence, boards neatly butting up against one another, posts concealed.

The second builds almost the same fence, but overlaps the boards and leaves the posts exposed, capping them with pointed caps to turn them into features. Then he stains it all dark brown.

The third decides they don't really want a fence, but instead makes a set of raised planters, some compost bins, and builds a swing suspended from an established tree for the kids.

The fourth builds a six foot high fence with the boards overlapping slightly - but alternates what side of the railings each board is on, and then caps it off with a flat plank along the top for a neat finish.

The fifth builds a fence identical to the first person - except that she read somewhere that to stop the boards warping and pushing each other out, a gap should be left between them. To be on the safe side, and to make it a feature, she's left a space of 3cm.

The sixth doesn't want just any old fence, so he spends three times as long as the rest placing the boards on a diagonal, carefully alternating directions between panels to create a zigzag effect. And because he read the same article as the fifth, there's a 2cm gap between each board.

The sevent threally wanted a white picket fence, so she's cut all the planks to three and a half feet, put points on the ends, capped all of the posts with a banister-like round, and painted the whole thing a neat semi-gloss white.

The eighth makes a fence the same as the first, but only four foot high. Then they go out and get trellising, and top it up to six foot, before staining the lot dark green.

The ninth uses the same alternating pattern as the fourth, but rotated through ninety degrees to the boards are in parrallel to the ground. Because their house is decidedly retro, they then alternate between white and dark brown paint.

The tenth is simply overwhelmed by the possibilities, and the pile of wood sits in the garage for three years while they think about it. Then they build a four foot fence with a 1cm gap between each board, with two feet of Venetian slats on top, and feature posts in between capped with points. And stain it all peacock blue.

Fences are wonderfully public statements, there for anyone's consideration. They can really add - or detract - to the appearance of a property. Some leave you contemplating how well they go with the house, some leave you wondering when the owner might perhaps repair them, and some leave you wondering what on earth they were thinking. We all have our own preferences of course, and as an observation on human nature I bet that even just reading my list of ten hypothetical examples, you've already decided which one you like best, and probably also which you think is the "worst" example - whether for aesthetic or structural reasons. Or maybe you've read through them all and not seen an option that appeals - thought to yourself, perhaps "that's not what I would do, if it were my fence I would...".

Having read a bit about fences, and done a lot more fence-spotting (not always the safest activity while driving), I've managed to settle on the style of fence I'm having. I'm sure that, reading about it, you'll agree that it's by far the best possible fence, and will hopefully prove to be a stunning specimen of fencedom. I'm going to have a six foot high fence, built with decking timber to create a wide horizontal Venetial slat look: the boards about three and a half inches wide, with a one and a half to two inch gap in between. This will not only create the shelter that my garden so desperately needs, it will still allow enough - but not too much - breeze to blow through, thus creating the optimum airflow for my plants. It'll be capped flat along the top the whole way around, and the gates - one at the back and one at the front - will have a pagoda-type frame to give me a nice space to fit in some more climbing plants. The whole lot will be stained a warm honey-brown, to contrast with the deck and raised planters I already have (all au naturel), and better offset the plants.

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