Last updated July 2014
This is probably not the most exciting part of garden designing, but boundaries are important to deal with. You need to plan and establish them as soon as possible because it is hard disruptive work to remove or install fences, walls or hedges once the rest of the garden is in place.
1. Quick and cheap garden boundary options
Whether for hemming in your family and pets, or fencing out the world, you have to establish your boundaries. A fence, hedge or wall indicates the legal limit of your ownership and provides privacy, security and a finished look to your home. But costs soon mount up, especially when the plot has a lengthy perimeter, so what are your options?
- Fences, walls and hedges – alone or in combination – all require time and effort to install, but of course walls and fences provide an instant effect.
- Hedges need time to grow and often require the extra expense of a temporary fence to protect them from grazing or trampling, and to contain toddlers and pets. Hedges also need feeding for optimum growth, and they compete with border plants for nutrients and water from the soil.
2. Ground preparation for boundaries
Whatever you choose for your boundary, the first step is to establish the correct line, and then clear it of vegetation and rubble before levelling the ground.
- Fences require the least ground preparation, because you only need to insert posts at intervals. However, the ground between each post does need to be even, so that the base of the fence sits level.
Harder work is in order for walls and hedges.
- Walls need foundations, so you’ll have to excavate a trench of the recommended width and depth, and this is when you could discover underground problems such as long-buried rubble, tough tree roots, old field drains, or mains services.
- Hedges need well-cultivated ground to thrive, so again, you’ll have to dig over a strip of ground. But at least you won’t have to barrow away the soil.
3. Fences – types for boundaries
Fences are the cheapest way of achieving an instant surround to your plot, and you only need the right tools and materials, plus plenty of common sense. It’ll probably take you longer to browse through the brochures to select the most appropriate materials than to erect the fence.
Fencing is only as good as its posts, so obtain advice from the fencing supplier on the correct dimensions for a particular type of fence. Concrete posts have to be set in a concrete base, whereas you have the choice with wooden posts of setting them in concrete or driving them into the ground or anchoring them with a metal base.
There are a variety of anchor designs, including those with base plates for bolting to a hard surface, ones with extensions for concreting in, and spiked versions for driving into the ground. By using these anchors, you don’t drive the posts into the ground, so shorter posts than usual are needed, thus partly offsetting the cost of the metal anchors.
Pressure-treated wooden posts are essential for durability in contact with soil, but don’t be tempted to saw them to size, because this destroys the preservative effect. If the standard sizes on sale are unsuitable, ask your local supplier to cut the timber before treatment. If this isn’t possible and you do have to cut them after treatment, place the unsawn end nearest the ground, and cap the sawn end to protect it from the weather.
Types of fencing
The simplest fencing to install, especially over rough ground, is the post-and-rail type. This provides a sturdy barrier for large livestock, although you’ll need to fasten wire netting to the lower section in order to make it rabbit, sheep or pig-proof.Functional galvanised wire netting, and ornamental wire-coated versions, are made in a variety of mesh sizes to cater for most situations. Ornamental fencing can be supported with matching coated steel stakes for a more attractive alternative to wooden posts.
Where livestock isn’t a problem, you’ve the alternatives of pales or panels. Chestnut paling or picket fencing (easy to make with slats of wood attached to railings) is useful in very windy locations, because the spaces between each peice of wood allow the wind to pass through without damage. Solid panels or woven hurdles offer a substantial barrier to strong winds, so must be fastened to sturdy posts with their bases secured in concrete. B & Q’s selection gives you an idea of styles and costs. Don’t forget your local building supplies yard too as they will stock fence posts and a selection of utilitarian panels.
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Walls – types for boundaries
A brick wall provides a permanent barrier, gives shelter and acts as a storage radiator.However, brick garden walls are less common these days, mainly due to the cost of the materials and the skilled labour. But if you have bricklaying skills and time, then garden walls are a worthwhile project. And permanent. Once you’ve finished you’ll have a durable maintenance-free stockproof boundary that’s attractive in its own right, and ideal as a warm support for fruit and ornamental plants.
To keep costs down, consider building a low wall (which will not require extensive foundations or buttressing) that includes intermediate pillars to infill with trellis panels. This keeps vulnerable wood off the ground, and reduces the claustrophobic effect of a high brick barrier around a small garden.
Drystone walls provide a stockproof and attractive boundary. If you live in the right area, a drystone wall in keeping with the local style of field boundary is both functional and appealing. Drystone walling is another skilled job, but it’s worth phoning around a few suppliers and wallers to cost the project rather than dismissing the idea out of hand.
Alternatively, consider the stone and stone-effect walling products from building suppliers, such as Wickes.
Quick hedges – for boundaries
A hedge is simply a row of permanent plants, which can be all the same or a mixture of species. Nurseries often sell hedging plants in bulk to suit a specific length.
Hedges have the advantage of being cheap and imparting a mature feel to the garden, although they do take a while to grow (so you’ll need a temporary fence) with many having the bad habit of continuing to grow outwards and upwards beyond their required proportions. This means that you’ll have an annual trimming chore.
There’s quite a choice of plants but some will never grow very tall, whereas others reach for the sky. The cheapest hedging plant is hawthorn, which establishes well from bare-rooted transplants. Field-grown hedging plants such as these must be planted during the plant’s dormant season i.e. late autumn and winter, when there’s no green growth. Late summer or early autumn is an ideal time to make plans and order the plants, so that you can get them in before the ground becomes too wet, or worse still, freezes. If regularly trimmed, a hawthorn hedge offers a dense prickly stockproof and intruder-proof barrier.
Evergreen hedging is attractive all year, and will provide a dense screen if trimmed correctly. One traditional evergreen choice to avoid, unless you like hedge-cutting, is privet, which needs trimming every few weeks in summer. Pot-grown Leyland conifers, which can be planted at any time, are fairly cheap, as are bare-rooted Leyland, Lawson cypress, and Western red cedar conifers. But if bare-rooted, they should be planted in autumn or spring, when there’s plenty of moisture in the ground and a respite from strong winds. As an insurance measure, erect a temporary fence windbreak around them until they’ve become established.
Hedge trimming – when and how to cut
When to cut
When you first plant hawthorn, use secateurs or loppers to trim the main stem by a third to a half to encourage branching lower down.For routine trimming, the timing is all about how the hedge responds. Too early and you’ll have to trim again and again. Too late and re-growth could be killed.
Of course, if you want a razor-sharp hedge, you’ll have to trim little and often. And if you don’t want to deal with a heap of very thorny woody trimmings all at once, then frequent trimming of the soft new growth makes handling hawthorn much easier.
For routine trimming, use hand shears or powered hedgetrimmer. Conifer sides and top should be trimmed annually in August – any later and there’s a risk of the newly exposed needles being scorched by cold winds. The needles turn brown and never recover.
Hawthorn should be trimmed once in late July or August to avoid the need for a further trim, although with the trend for milder autumns, you may have to cut again to keep it in shape. Ifyou cut too early, you risk disturbing nesting birds, and will have to trim again anyway
How to cut
Except for conifers, prune out leading growths on planting, to encourage lots of side shoots from the base of each plant.
To encourage growth down to ground level, make sure the sides of the hedge are vertical or slope inwards towards the top, producing an A-shape profile. Then upper growth will not shade out lower growth.
If using a powered hedgetrimmer, sweep the cutter blade upwards. If you cut downwards you’ll pull branches out of line and end up with gaps in the side of the hedge.
You can cut deciduous hedges hard, almost to ground level, where they will put out new shoots about a month later – once the plants have recovered from the shock. Cut back in late spring so that new shoots will not emerge when there are still frosts or cold winds around to damage them, and so the shoots have time to ripen before cold weather returns.Unfortunately conifers do not respond in the same way, and if you’ve ever cut into a conifer you’ll know that the greenery is all on the outside. Cut too much off the top or sides and you’ll end up with unsightly dead patches. The best solution is to grub out the whole hedge, but if you plan to plant another, you’ll need to dig in plenty of compost to build up the soil.