Working both as a contractor and a master gardener brings all sorts of fun crossover projects. Most of the gardens that I work on are in backyards, but once in awhile the site of the house dictates that the bulk of the garden has to be in the front yard. While you might not expect this to be the case, front yard garden plantings often benefit from the privacy, support, and protection of fencing, and the type of plants involved makes a difference in the kind of fence that works best in a front garden.
Not all front gardens need a fence–some look better without one, and others might look more natural with just a hedge or a row of other plants. I’ve also seen beautiful gardens with a brick or stone wall, rather than a fence, around the front yard or garden area. But there are also times when fencing for the front garden is both useful and improves the way the yard looks. We’ll talk about why you might choose to put a fence around your garden and what type of fence to look for.
Why Use Fencing for the Front Garden
Putting a fence around the front garden is more or less a subjective call, though in my mind you really can’t go wrong if you choose a fence that complements your home. If you’re looking for any of the benefits below, you might want to seriously consider adding a fence.
- Protecting Plants: One of the obvious uses of a garden fence is to keep people and animals from doing damage to plants and beds. While smaller fences, edgings, and low hedges will often deter small animals, keeping larger animals and human beings off of sensitive plantings calls for a taller and sturdier barrier.
- Privacy: For some of us, gardening and spending time in the garden is a sacred and meditative time to unwind, disconnect from the chaos of our lives, and connect to something deeper and more essential. The majority of my clients prefer to do that with some sense of privacy. For some, a rail and picket fence does the trick, while others require a more opaque barrier.
- Framing the Space: While some people enjoy having their garden spill out onto the sidewalk in a boisterous way, in my experience, the majority prefer having distinct boundaries between their private space and the public right of way. More formal gardens benefit from a linear and formal fence to match them, while exuberant plantings are given some balance by the ordered logic of a fence.
Qualities to Look for in Front Garden Fencing
Plentiful access to sunlight is the most important quality of a garden fence, especially if the garden involves growing fruits and vegetables, and doubly so if they are being grown from seed or start early in the season. It’s critical for sun-loving vegetables to get as much sun as possible in the early stages of life (when the sun is lower on the horizon) and throughout the growing year.
The second quality I look for in a fence is low maintenance and durability. If I’ve put in a full garden that goes right up to the fence, I don’t want to be ripping posts out of the ground every few years, or pressure washing and sealing every other year. With dense plantings this always involves a certain amount of extra hassle, either for contractors/gardeners like me or for the homeowner. Because of this, it’s wise to find a fence for the front garden that will last and look beautiful even when left on its own.
Types of Fencing for the Garden
There are plenty of styles of fencing for a vegetable or flower garden. All of the following materials have their strengths and weaknesses, which are different from one context to the next.
- Wood: Wooden fences are perfect for privacy and usually let in plenty of light. However, when there are shade trees in the yard as well or the fence is oriented to block the light of the sun from an area that needs it, fencing that allows in more light can be useful. A better wood option in this case is a wood frame with a steel screen or steel cables run in between the wooden frame. Wood is one of my favorite materials to work with, but as I mentioned before, maintaining a fence that is by a dense planting can be a hassle, and cleaning, sanding, and sealing wooden security fences probably requires the most hassle. Thus, the main drawback of wood is keeping it protected well enough from the elements so that it provides as many years of use as possible.
- Steel: Steel fences offer clean, classic lines that look great around a garden, providing aesthetic benefits and also allowing plentiful light to pass through. Steel works very well in providing formal lines to exuberant plantings, and complementing more formal spaces (steel makes a great fence for a Victorian house). Having a smooth surface, steel also cleans up with ease. The big weakness of steel and iron fences has always been rust. Older picket and rail fences had the annoying tendency to rust once moisture seeped through their paint or powder coating, leading to red rust marks, general deterioration, and chipping paint. That isn’t the end of the story, though. At least one company out there is manufacturing steel fences that are incredibly well protected by several protective coatings. These types of fences do well in harsh climates, and also make some of the best fences for wet areas.
- Vinyl: There are obviously more materials than just three, but I list vinyl because it’s popular due to its generally low cost and ease of installation. The drawbacks of vinyl are that it isn’t particularly sturdy (leading to frequent dings and scratches), the fasteners often rust down the face of the fencing posts, and color fade is fairly common among many lines of vinyl fencing. And while vinyl has the benefit of coming in lots of color and style options, I find that it tends to have a ‘plasticy’ look that, in my mind, makes it a better choice for the backyard than the front.
While fencing materials are purely a matter of personal taste, I usually prefer the aesthetic benefits of classic, black steel fencing. Practically speaking, when a property requires as much light as possible and my clients aren’t drawn to the fully-cloistered sense that wooden security fences bring, then I aim for a steel rail and picket fence, as they are beautiful and low maintenance.
Fortress Fence produces some of the best, because they’ve captured a combination of toughness and beauty by using an advanced combination of protective coatings, including an e-coat derived from the auto industry (it’s what car manufacturers use to keep auto underbodies from rusting out). I highly recommend looking into Fortress and also taking a stroll through their larger catalog of building materials.