Friday, November 9

Opportunity Cost

I have a confession: It's already November, and parts of my backyard fence project have yet to be completed. I ran out of warm temperature days to stain the boards, and have officially put off picking up that paintbrush until next spring. But there is also some additional construction work that I need to accomplish in the one section of the backyard enclosure that does not consist of 6ft tall stockade.

My neighbor's short chainlink fence runs down part of my south lot line. It is solid but rusty, and while the beech leaves on the other side of it look very nice right now, the rest of what you see just outside the borders of this first picture do not: a pile of chunked concrete, a line of trash cans, a veggie garden invariably overrun by thistle and morning glories by mid June, etc.

As the chainlink fence is just 40 inches tall, my large, agile garden assistant could hop over the top railing with little effort if she so chose. Fortunately, she seems to know and respect what a fence is--so far. If the neighbors have new people visiting like they did last week, she runs right up to the fence but never attempts to breach it. However, I have the feeling that a taunting squirrel may prove too much temptation one of these days.

And so when I purchased the materials for last month's fence construction, I also purchased several rolls of 6ft tall reed fencing. This fencing is more decorative than anything else, but since it will have the chainlink sections behind it and no horizontal rails for the dog to set her paws on, I'm not too worried about the sturdiness. The plan was to roll it out, finish off "the look" and add some privacy.

However, as I planted bulbs the other day I started thinking about the opportunity cost of putting up this last part of the fencing. When I do put up the screens I will essentially be casting this bed into shade for all but 3 months out of the year.

In other words, there will be no more admiring the fireworks that sunshine streaming through the fall colors of my hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' can spark. There will be no spying the blooms of spring bulbs shining in a random slant of light in March. And my walk to the garage every workday morning will be shrouded in shadow.

These thoughts have caused me to start racking my brain in regards to what I can do to have the best of both worlds. Is it a matter of dealing with the shade from the reed fencing for a year and then putting up something more light-permeating to replace it? Do I cut the reed fencing in half and then post it 2 feet or so clear of the ground to allow sunlight to hit the low-growing plants that I love?

I am not quite sure how to achieve it, but know what I want. I want private openness. Open privacy. An oxymoron, I know... but more importantly, is it a completely unattainable oxymoron? Can I somehow get away with having both in my urban garden?


Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a difficult situation. I think you should plant shrubs there that only grow 4'tall. You would have to keep them trimmed as to width and depth but this way you would have your privacy, you could see over them and your darling dog will not be tempted to sail over the fence.

this said...

The above idea sounds like a good one. The only other solution I can think of is a trellis or climbing frame...because it's vertical gardening space LOL.

Carol Michel said...

The dilemmas and decisions we face as the garden changes... plants grow, fences are added. What once was sunny is now shady. Maybe a tree is cut down and what was once shady is now sunny. Take the winter to think about it. You'll figure out what is right for your garden.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Colin and Carol said...

Maybe you should think about this rusting fence as an 'Urban sculpture'
whilst you ponder about your options!

Philosophical Karen said...

Because you like grasses, I will suggest what we have done with part of our (neighbour-installed) chain link fence: clumps of a tall grass planted at intervals. I used porcupine grass, but there are many others to choose from. In another section of the fence, we have planted evergreens as a screen. Maybe it would help to think along the lines of what can you plant as a screen, rather than what can you install as a screen. But of course that's just my two cents from dealing with the same issue.

Connie said...

Wow..lots of options. You are wise to think it through ahead of time so you will be pleased with the outcome.

Muum said...

that is a tough problem. I don't have any suggestions, just sympathy for your dilemma!

healingmagichands said...

I know exactly what Carol means about changes. We had to elminate a big shade tree out in my new stroll garden. It was too close to the house and we were lucky none of the branches that fell off of it during last winter's ice storm damaged our roof. But taking out that tree made my originally shady corner into a sunny corner. The hostas and heurcheras there did NOT appreciate it. So an arbor is to be built over that corner as part of the grand stroll garden agenda.

Take the winter to think about it. Your idea of raising the reeds up so light can come under the fence is a good one. I don't know about your dog, but my dog has never jumped the fence, even though there were times she could have done it easily. You might be able to trust her, you know. Ruby doesn't even go out of the open gate unless I am out there. And then only when I give her permission. She is an exceptionally Good Dog, however, and I don't know how Coco is in that department.

Good luck!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I have a similar dilemma with the neighboring chainlink fence. I like being able to see the pond on the other side, but I would like some more privacy from people walking around the pond and from neighboring houses. I've toyed with the idea of pleached trees, or with a vine swag between posts, about 5' off the ground. Maybe 1 of those options might work for your situation. So far, I've planted a hedge of mixed Thuja into a corner, but I've done nothing about the middle area with the pond view.

Anonymous said...

We had to install a bamboo fence where a neighbor ripped out all the poison ivy and brambles that blocked his view of our patio and our view of his backyard (he had a lot of nerve not wanting his kids to be injured).

It gives us some privacy, but it's not solid. I think you'll find that you still get sunlight through the reeds. I wouldn't recommend cutting it and raising it up on the fence, I think that would look really strange and bother you (I know it would me).

I just went through my photos to see if I had a shot of the sun coming through the fence, but I don't. I'll try to get one this afternoon and send it to you.

Ki said...

I don't seem to have much luck posting comments these days. This is the second one that hasn't appeared.

Any hoo, maybe you could use several 4x8 laths which would mimic the criss cross weave of the chain link fence. At 48 inches tall it would only be marginally taller but would appear to be more solid to your pup so it may prevent her from trying to jump over it. The ones which are treated would last longer and you and always paint it if you're concerned with toxic preservatives leaching into the soil. I read that they're using much less toxic preservatives than the copper based ones they used previously so you probably don't even have to paint it and just let it age to a natural sliver gray.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of mounting the reed fence a couple of feet higher...not sure how you would frame it out, but it sounds doable. I know what you mean about open privacy. We're trying to decide how to handle making the back property line more private so we don't have to look at the back of the neighbor's house or feel as if the development is pressing in on us, but also keep it so the kids feel welcome to traipse back and forth between our properties. Right now I'm leaning towards a lilac hedgerow.

Isn't it amazing how fast the warm, dry days ran out even though they seemed to go on and on forever this summer? Crazy.

healingmagichands said...

Of course, the real solution is to have great neighbors that you are friends with so you don't feel like you want to be sequestered from them. But it doesn't sound from your description of their yard that this is what you have.

I was quite sad when the house next door sold and the new owner felt compelled to install a six foot tall privacy fence between our yard and his. I had enjoyed the openness and the view into his back yard, which has many beautiful trees, a nice grape vine. I know the view into my yard is beautiful, but he wanted to be closed off, so that is what is now.

Afterwards, the corner by the pond became even more popular with the birds, the new privacy fence created a very sheltered and private enclave for them. So it wasn't all bad. I miss being able to lean on the fence and talk with my neighbor, though.

LostRoses said...

Kim, I think you have too much to lose if you put up that fencing. It sounds like it doesn't make much difference in the winter, so once summer rolls around, why don't you get some of those tall shepherd's hook-type poles, stick them in the ground at intervals and hang up some gorgeous hanging baskets? It won't block the entire unattractive view but it will guide your eye to something nice instead and you won't lose your sun.

I've found that nice overflowing ferns in a basket are a great way to insure a little privacy along my fence line!

Meagan said...

I really like the trellis idea, another possibility would be to take some thin/strong bamboo rods, or other thing straight stick, and install them like you intended to install the reeds, only 2-3 inches apart. That way you get the sun for your plants and something the dog won't think she can jump through, plus it wouldn't look too strange. Maybe you could even make a trellis out of some tall sticks...

Sylvana said...

I read all these comment hoping to find a solution to my own similar dilema. I had an opportunity to install a fence, twice, and turned it down because I didn't want to close my garden off from the world. But now I am kicking myself for it. I have had way too many unwanted visitors (human and non) -and even some flower thiefs!

I was discussing temporary fencing and bamboo poles (for the spring when the garden is most open and vulnerable) with my husband just the other day. During the summer and fall, sunflowers and tall perennials block and border very sufficiently.

What ever you decide to do, please post about the results!

Anonymous said...

Fencing sounds like the next logical topic for a Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop (this month is Paths & Walkways over at Gardening Gone Wild).

My two cents? Don't tack on reed fencing to the existing, weird little chain-link fence. I think that will look like a mess. However, I agree about keeping light in your garden, and I see why you need a taller fence to keep in your doggie and gain a feeling of privacy.

Have you considered a wood-and-wire fence? I have one around my front garden, and it gives that sense of enclosure and privacy without blocking light or views. It's essentially a see-through fence, but it's sturdy enough to keep in a dog and keep out flower pickers.

Mine is constructed of pressure-treated posts and horizontal rails. Stapled to those is a sturdy 2x4" wire that comes in rolls. I've also seen thicker hog panels used to nice effect; that wire is more visible to the eye than the 2x4".

Another kind of wire fence that looks nice, depending on the style of your house, is Victorian-style wire, which usually has decorative scrolls. It is attached to posts via wire twists or staples, and I've seen it for sale online but not in stores.

Since the strip is narrow, if you are on good terms with your neighbor, perhaps you can persuade him to let you take out the existing, shrimpy chain link and replace it with a new fence. You can show him pics and explain how nice it will look and how it will keep your pet out of his yard. If he doesn't agree, you can still install the fence on your own property, but then weeds will pop up between the two fences.

Robin (Bumblebee) said...

Hi Kim,

My method of dealing with these dilemmas is to just mull on them. And mull on them some more. And then some more. You have all winter. In the meantime, you can peruse all those grand gardening books and magazines for ideas.

--Robin (Bumblebee)

A wildlife gardener said...

Our garden is almost hidden from the road and passers-by, but we have a great view from every window in the house.

Anonymous said...

While battling that same problem at my old house, I settled on climbing things for the chain link fence. I used plenty of clematis, and even morning glories to screen my view of the neighbors, without completely blocking the sun. Eventually, the chain link fencing that I hated seem to fade right into the climbing flowers upon it, and I was able to delude myself into believing it gone. And since my view of the neighbors trash cans was screened for the most part, it was good enough.

Anonymous said...

What you lose in light you will gain in privacy with a lovely backdrop. Have you considered garden mirrors? You would also gain a playmate for the pooch with the reflection :)! I can appreciate the dilemma! Good luck and thanks for the pensive post!

Unknown said...

lisa at greenbow, I would love to do that--but it's such a long length, and I walk it on my way out to my car every day so I want something a bit more... I don't know, varied, than a shrub hedge. You're right, the depth/width limits me from having a lovely hedge AND other plants in front of it. :)

blueblue, thanks for stopping by! I may incorporate some kind of trellis(es) actually. I like the idea of vertical growing space, too--although the thought of keeping the neighbor's bindweed off of my trellises isn't very much fun. lol.

Carol, good point. I hope that I come up with something intelligent over the next few months!

colin & carol, I love it: "Urban Sculpture!" *grin*

karen, I do have some grasses planted along here at intervals now that you mention it. The width I have to work with just isn't enough for large grasses like miscanthus, but my 'Sioux Blue' sorghastrum nutens is already helping to disguise the fence. How deep did you plant out from your neighbor's chainlink?

connie and muum, thank you both... those comments made me feel a little better about the whole mess. :)

healingmagichands, ugh... this problem seems small in comparison to having a shady garden suddenly cast into blazing sun! Coco is mostly a Good Dog, but not an Exceptionally Good Dog. *wry smile* Actually, she tends to want to be a runner when she can--in talking to owners of other sled dogs, I've discovered that it is not uncommon to have sled dogs who simply will not come back when called... one area in which her Malamute side wins out over the obedient Lab!

mr. mcgregor's daughter, a friend of mine had a similar plight to yours. She had an arbor near that fence, however, and she was able to hang a number of salvaged old windows (painted the same color) down the length of the arbor. Theoretically you can still see the neighbor's junkpile behind his garage through these windows, but in reality your eye stops there and at the hanging baskets between them. Very nice. :)

Unknown said...

heather, OOOH! I've just been looking at this reed fencing all wound up and plastic-wrapped... it never occurred to me that it might let enough light through to make me happy. I must go home and investigate--thanks!

ki, hmm. That's an idea. I wonder if I could actually just put posts 6ft apart and use some lengths of the reed fending set sideways to get a similar effect? (Thinking of how to use something I already have.) Or, I could set posts for a future fence there, and just use some lengths of wood or trellising between them set at a certain height as a temporary solution. Oh, the possibilities... thanks. :)

kelly, that would smell amazing in the spring! The views we choose to block (or not) are very interesting, aren't they? Part of the reason why I am loathe to put up a full fence there is because of the neighbor's beech tree. I love that thing, and a 6ft tall full board fence would block those graceful lower branches...

healingmagichands, there is a little neighborhood in an Eastern suburb of Cleveland where the 4-5 houses whose backyards join each other have made them into one for just that reason. They have been profiled in the paper before--basically, a path stretches through all of them and the individual gardeners have planted whatever they want in their little area and worked together on transitional spaces. I love that idea.

That said, I still do see my neighbors quite a bit in the front yard and make a point of talking to them there. I guess I just sometimes feel the city closing in on me and like the illusion of privacy of the somewhat enclosed backyard--even though I know that people in at least 8 nearby houses can see into it from their second floor windows!

lostroses, I bet that looks lovely with the baskets of ferns! I'm actually more worried about the wintertime than the summertime, though. In the spring/summer/fall I'll be out there with the dog and she knows her boundaries. In the winter, snow often blurs the boundaries and snow from the driveway gets piled up on that garden as we shovel. So the 3ft. barrier could turn into an 18in barrier that the dog might be more easily enticed over!

meagan, it's so WEIRD that you say that--I actually originally wanted to do something like that with bamboo! (Setting individual pieces out about 2inches apart.) Bamboo is so expensive, though, and the reeds would rot out quickly... argh. But wow would they look cool blowing in the wind. :)

sylvana, you had a flower thief visit you?!!! SHEESH. Those stories always make me cringe with indignant disbelief... the nerve of some people. I will definitely post about what I decide--but if you come up with an answer in the meantime, please do the same!

Unknown said...

Pam/Digging, I didn't realize you had wire fencing stapled to your front yard fence! Very cool... and I would love to do that if it were allowed in my suburb, but it's not. *sigh*

I'm not technically allowed to attach the reed fencing to my neighbor's fence anyway, so it would be a separate construction and you wouldn't even see his fence at all in that case... you know, you're so right. This would be a great topic for a Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop over at Gardening Gone Wild!

Robin, I'm great at mulling, too. lol. And I love looking through books and magazines for ideas... the only problem is that I have really good taste and no purse to back it up. (Ultimately, I would love to have a salvaged wrought iron fence... :)

wildlife gardener, I keep meaning to post pictures from my own window views... I love how the garden looks from the second floor bedroom window!

msrobin, that sounds lovely! If only my neighbor's chainlink fence was tall enough to serve as a screen with the climbers set on it... *sigh* :)

layanee, lol... the dog used to be funny with mirrors when she was a pup, but she has since figured out that, sadly, there is NOT another puppy "in there" waiting to play with her. lol.

I have thought about incorporating mirrors... and some of the old windows that I've trashpicked. Supporting those things is my one major concern... hmm.

lisa said...

Okay, here's my 2 cents: I would plant tall bushes (barberries are my preference) and prune them as standards up to the top of the fence, where I'd let them bush out and blend into one big "shrub fence" about 4' off the ground. That way, light will come thru the lower "trunks", but the thick bushy/prickly part will keep Coco in. After all, she need only touch her tender nose to a barberry thorn to understand fully where her boundaries are. Plus these are bushes you can trim to a narrow config., also....but if you should happen to fall into them on your way to the garage...ouch!

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