Intro: Build an All Natural Garden Fence (for Nothing!)
The ultimate in repurposing--collect and use vines and fallen trees to create a perfectly imperfect natural garden fence. It sets off your little piece of paradise.
Step 1: Materials and a Plan
It helps to have some land where you can find small trees, thick grape vines, and long, young grape vines. Other than that, you'll need a saw, clippers, and a sledgehammer. I highly recommend leather work gloves, snake or muck boots, and long sleeves.
Don't marry your plan. The vines will pretty much do what they're going to do; your best bet is to try to get along with them. You'll be working with three types of found wood: straight pieces (I used sweet gum and cedar) for the posts, and thick grape vines for the rails, and young vines--the longer, the better--for lashing the rails to the posts.
I chose sweet gum for three reasons: the trunks are straight and pretty strong, we have a lot of it, and we don't mind cutting it. I used cedar when I could find it already down; I won't cut down a cedar tree. Cedar, too, is straight and strong, and it smells so good when it's cut.
I worked about three posts at a time, and even then, sometimes I'd pull one up to reposition it, depending on the curve of the thick vines. Cut the posts with an angle on one end and a flat surface on the other end. That way, you'll have a pointed end to pierce the ground and a flat end to pound. Most of my posts are three to four feet long.
Step 2: Gather the Wood and Vines
This is the kind of pile I look for: good, thick, fairly long grape vines and pliable thinner vines. Spring is the best time to gather the thin vines, because they'll lash around and around without breaking. Wait too late in the season and you'll see how frustrating that is.
Use the clippers to trim the fresh vines. Cut them as long as you can.
Use the saw to cut the thick vines. Watch your fingers, and I'm not kidding about the gloves.
I like to watch for extra treasures, like moss-covered bark and interesting rocks that will add some interest in my little garden.
Step 3: Cut the Posts
Here's the fallen cedar I found just beyond the grapevines. The root end of it has an interesting look to it, so it will come off and sit in the iris bed, just because it can.
I cut that piece of cedar into three 3' pieces. Notice the angle that will serve as a point to pierce the ground.
Step 4: Place the Posts
This fence is a work in progress that began three years ago. My plan on this part was to try to keep that monster rosemary from closing off my path, so I positioned the three cedar posts close to the base of the rosemary.
I pounded the posts into the ground with the sledge hammer. Notice that the little branches on the cedar are pointed down. Sometimes they point up. It doesn't matter; those little branches help to catch the rails and give you something to lash onto.
Step 5: Position the Rails and Begin Lashing
The long thick vine had a real curve to it, but it seemed willing to cooperate. I laid out the vine to make sure the posts were in the right place (I think I moved one of them to accommodate the curve) and then began to lash the rails to the posts with the thin vines.
You might think those thin vines won't hold, but they will. The fourth photo here shows a post/rail/lash connection that's three years old. I tucked the rocks in because I like the way they look and because they tighten the connections.
The lashing is just over and under and around and back again. Pull the vines as tight as you dare, and tuck the ends into the wrapping.
Step 6: Step Back and Admire Your Work
If you need to adjust something, just pull it up and do it. It's your fence. Oh, yeah, and drop that cedar root in the irises.
Step 7: Tips
Some of my fence edges the wild grape vines. (In full disclosure, they're muscadine vines. Nothing better!) When I can, I train the living vines onto the fence. I like that they're making the fence stronger by twining around my rails. Plus, some of them have tiny muscadines on them!
When I have extra grape vines, I make wreaths and hang on the posts. Again, just because I can.
I've found that, sadly, some people don't get my fence. When I first started putting it up, I showed it to an acquaintance. She said, "Won't it rot?" She's not allowed in my garden any more.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, this is a work in progress. It's become a philosophical and therapeutic quest. I don't want to finish it.