Garden Bloggers Design Workshop—Fences and Walls

Entry to my front garden via the driveway

The folks at Gardening Gone Wild have selected fences and walls for this month’s design workshop. My garden is not blessed with any walls, but I can show you my front-garden fence, which, being in the front yard, makes it a little unusual. Many newer subdivisions regulate front fences out of existence, but happily my 1950s neighborhood in central Austin is subject to no restrictive neighborhood covenants, beyond city code.

Looking back at the driveway entry from inside the garden

Even before we moved in, I knew I wanted a fenced front garden. A fence! Great for leaning on while chatting with a neighbor. Perfect for framing a view. And there’s no easier or faster way to create a sense of enclosure, safety, and privacy, even if the fence, like mine, is see-through.

A see-through fence is friendly, not standoffish. Plants can poke through it and lean over the top, offering their flowers, texture, or scent to passersby. Rather than hiding the garden, it merely frames it.

It arouses curiosity. What’s inside?

This is the street-side entry, which frames the view of the front door.

I used to have red gates on both the driveway and front entries, partly to keep my young children and my dog inside and partly because I just thought a gate would be nice to have. They matched this one, though not the double-door style—just a single, swinging gate. But after a while they began to sag, and as I nearly always left them open anyway, I just took them off and never regretted it. I prefer the openness of gateless entries in front.

I kept this gate, at the entrance to the back yard, because for many years it kept our dog secure. Now that she’s gone, we leave one side open during the day, but I like being able to close it up at night. Being divided, each side isn’t so wide and heavy as the old front gates, and it hasn’t sagged.

Construction of a fence like this is pretty straightforward: posts set in concrete (watch out for water lines and buried cables!), horizontal boards nailed on, and 2×4 wire stapled on. I saw this fence in front of a house in another neighborhood and fell in love with the design. So I left a note at the door telling the owners how much I liked it and asking for the name of the carpenter. A few weeks later they called me, explaining that it was their second home and they’d been away, but generously sharing the guy’s name. I promptly called him and hired him to make the same fence for me.

I checked the setback on my survey to make sure it was OK, then had him build it right along the sidewalk and the driveway. Since then, I’ve thought maybe I should have set it back a little and just planted outside the fence, but it’s worked out fine. After it was done, he stained it opaque gray. Six years later, it’s due for a restain.

In the back yard, I have the board privacy fence that everyone in Austin has. Mine has a nice lattice on top, which provides a little extra height and privacy and dresses it up a bit. It’s nice for growing vines along, like this crossvine. I know some people like the openness of a chain-link fence or no fence at all between them and their neighbors. But in small yards like mine, with houses built quite close together, I’m grateful for this inherited fence and the private space it creates. I’ve planted all along its length with a mix of evergreen and deciduous shrubs to soften and green up the boundary.

That’s it for fences in my garden. However, I wanted to show this new fence in the side yard of a remodeled ranch house in my neighborhood. This contemporary, horizontal-slat design is popping up all over Austin, and I admire the look. Although this one is a bit tall—I prefer four or five feet—I like its openness and quasi-Asian feel. Like my front fence, it lets in air, light, and views, yet provides some screening too.

So, are you in the “Don’t fence me in” or the “Good fences make good neighbors” camp? As for me, definitely the latter. If you’d like to read more about fences in other people’s gardens, check out Gardening Gone Wild’s December Design Workshop.

All material © 2006-2007 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

15 Responses

  1. Frances says:

    Pam..That was a great story about your fences. I especially like the open look of the front fence with the wire. You can barely see the wire but it serves its purpose well. Do you have the critter problem, rabbits, groundhogs, wild hogs, armadillos, that we had while we lived outside of Houston? The wild hogs ran in packs! The red gate is inspired artistry.

    No critters here beyond the occasional possum. We’re inside the boundary created by the MoPac highway, so even deer are not a problem, at least not yet. Thank heavens for no wild hogs! —Pam

  2. Nan Ondra says:

    Thanks, Pam, for sharing the story behind your front-yard fence. I love the style of the gate, too. You have such an amazing eye for proportion and detail. And that horizontal-slat fence is quite interesting; I’ve not seen one of those before.

    Thanks for the compliment, Nan. I can’t take credit for the gate design though, as I simply had my fence maker replicate the original that I saw and liked. —Pam

  3. Robin says:

    I like your front fence better without the gate too. I like fences and wish now that we had done that when we first moved in. I’m not sure if it’s the weather or wind here but most wood fences look tacky after a while and we didn’t like the look or the expense. The privacy would sure be nice though.

    I know, Robin. I wasn’t sold on board privacy fences either when I first moved to Texas. We didn’t have them in S.C., where I grew up, but on the other hand everyone there had huge yards and less need of privacy. With a small lot, a good fence is a must, in my opinion. —Pam

  4. What a great solution to the openness vs. keeping out the critters dilemma. I should staple some of that wire fencing to the slatted wooden fence that belongs to the neighbors so I can keep out the rabbits & skunks. I am definitely in the “good fences make good neighbors” camp.

    You’ll probably want to OK that with the neighbors, but that sounds like a great solution to your critter problem. Fence wire comes in many different dimensions, so check with your local farm-supply store to see what size and thickness they recommend for the animals you’re trying to keep out. —Pam

  5. Carol says:

    I’m in the ‘good fences make good neighbors’ camp, but my neighborhood association would prefer no fences. They drop little hints all the time that when my privacy fence needs to be replaced, I will have to resubmit it for approval, and it won’t be approved! Ha! Little do they know, my fence will never be replaced, even if it has to be ‘repaired’ one board at a time.

    Your fences look great and do a good job as a back drop for your garden.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

    A smart (and devious) plan, Carol! What a brilliant way of subverting a ridiculous rule. —Pam

  6. Layanee says:

    Pam: I am catching up on all those great posts! Love the fall color and the interesting gardens you have been snapping pictures of and it is so interesting to see the whole front garden with the fence. Very charming!

    Thanks, Layanee. I’m glad you stopped by for a visit. —Pam

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Pam your front garden is so inviting and I think the fence really does frame it so well. I am of the good fences make good neighbors camp too. That big white fence in my garden is 6′ tall and my neighbor used to stand on a chair to talk to me. tee hee. It was always fun to see her head pop over the top to chat. She has since moved. I miss her.

    How funny! She should have installed a little window with a shutter so that she could talk to you more easily when the urge struck. :-) —Pam

  8. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for sharing that documentaryblog about your fence. I find it so fascinating to hear the stories behind the foundations of yards. We moved into our house with a fence that ran all the way around it and screamed “Don’t bother me!”. We quickly took the front of the fence down to expose the front door to the street, but changed some other fence lines to create an enclosed area for the dog/child factor. Plus changes wooden fences to metal for the more open feeling it gave. It’s amazing how much it changed the feeling.

    Do you have before-and-after pics, Bonnie? I’d be interested in seeing the changes you describe. —Pam

  9. I’m in the good fences make good neighbours camp. When I lived in my previous house (a terraced one) both my neighbours didn’t want a fence but I insisted on it as it provided privacy and kept my kittycats in. My neighbours both wanted an unspoiled view of my garden but they forgot that no fence ment also an unspoiled view for me on their gardens and their gardens were not all that much to look at. ;-)

    Ewwwwwwww on chain-linked fences, I do NOT like those at all. Your fence is just what I like; it frames the house and garden perfectly and looks nice and sleek and in keeping with the house and garden.

    You were smart to insist on a fence. At your current house, though, you have a lovely hedge, don’t you? Even better. —Pam

  10. Pam, have you noticed that Blogger is being friendly again to those that don’t have a blogger account? So complaining has helped! I’m doing my rounds today and have just noticed this new and very much improved feature on Blogger. ;-)

    Yes, I have noticed but haven’t had time to investigate. It’s good to know that squeaky wheels do sometimes get the grease! —Pam

  11. Pam: Wow! Great shots – lots of photos. This is eye candy day. I’m most drawn to the Salvia greggii. Have you seen Salvia x jamensis ‘Sierra de San Antonio’? Right up your alley. It’s available for viewing at It’s kind of peachy with darker tones around the top. You’d love it. I paired it with another new introduction – Euphorbia ‘Helena’s Blush’ and it just sings!

    Also, you have a genus listed for Purple Heart that I’m not familiar with. I know the plant at Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’. Anyway, the pink roses are luscious. Thanks for sharing.

    Thanks for commenting on my December Bloom Day post, Billy. It seems that purple heart goes by many names, and Tradescantia pallida is a synonym for Setcreasea pallida. Thanks for the info about the salvia. I’ll look for it. —Pam

  12. Kim says:


    I will be moving to a new home this summer, and am looking forward to developing a garden in the currently-barren front yard (no more ratty lawn). I think the house really needs a fence, but the expense of having a traditional picket fence installed was inhibiting my desire. I think your fence is great! Not too heavy, and the wire will keep in our little dog. Thanks for sharing your garden and fence design.

    You’re welcome, Kim. Thanks for commenting. —Pam

  13. Grahame Parsons says:

    Hi Pam, What a lovely stroll through your garden, I enjoyed it so much I almost overstayed my welcome. Your photographic skills are not shabby either. Thanks for sharing. Grahame, Queensland, Australia

    Why, thanks, Grahame. I hope you’ll visit again soon. —Pam

  14. […] iris, lantanas, and salvias along the foundation. By the summer of 2001 I’d hired out the fence installation and the stonework, given away the little red oak, and set to work killing the grass and bringing in […]

  15. Susan says:


    we’ve just (last week) moved from a small urban lot in historic Old Louisville (KY) to 7 mostly wooded acres in Henryville, IN. Our city lot was truly tiny, but well-fenced, which was a must as we have 6 – yes, SIX – Jack Russell Terriers. Since our country home is set about 1/4 mile up and back from the road, we hoped we wouldn’t need to fence an area for the dogs, believing they would stay close by as long as we went out with them. We quickly discovered we were wrong: 7 acres isn’t enough, they are determined to head for the road, which means we’re taking them out in groups, and on leashes. A fence is in our future, and soon, which led me to looking online for examples of fencing…and to your site! Your fence is perfect for our needs, and easily adaptable to any color scheme. Thanks for posting it.


    I’m glad you found an idea here that may help you, Susan. What a change from an urban lot to a big country acreage. Enjoy it, and thanks for commenting. —Pam