Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Virginia Country from A to Z: F is for Fences

Some people have big diamond ring envy or fast red car envy.  

I read in the Post that baby envy is common, and a friend confesses to hair envy.

Me, I love a good fence.

Fencing is practical, of course, but I appreciate how a beautiful fence also adds architectural structure and definition, "good bones," to the lines of a property.  Martha Stewart fell so in love with a fence in Ontario, Canada, that she had the whole shebang transported back to Maine to fence her property at Skylands.

It seems incredibly unfair to drive past a property and see acres of 4-board horse fence that is falling into disrepair because no one cares about it anymore.

I think, as I drive along, boy, now if I had that fence, I'd take care of it...

Jennings says I have fence envy.

I also have fence fantasies....

Picture this....

Sunny rolling fields dotted with horses that someone else takes care of, grazing on emerald green grass that never goes dormant, surrounded by miles and miles and miles of four-board fence that never needs painting or far as the eye can see....

disappearing on the horizon in a mysterious mist...

A "Stakes-and-Riders" Fence

Or something like that.

Sometimes for variety I throw in Mr. Darcy striding gallantly over the hill through the aforementioned mist to help me do barn chores.  Or... something like that.

I don't get hung up on how it can be sunny and misty at the same time.

Anyway, I'm an equal-opportunity fence envy-er.

Black, white or natural,

split rail or straight board.

They build a snazzy straight board fence in Pennsylvania Amish country without nails.

I'm always impressed by cedar cross-board, for its beauty and for the sheer wanton, glamorous, excess of it.

Jump-throughs, or "coops," are nifty contraptions often seen between farm fields in Virginia.  A coop is too wide for livestock to step over, but allows a rider to jump from field to field without having to dismount or open a gate.

There are drystone walls in Virginia which date to Colonial times, and are still maintained and used.

Before the invention of mortars, all stonemasonry was dry-stacked construction.  Roger at Sisson Landscapes has written a really fascinating article (both scholarly and poetic) about stone walls, with some fantastic pictures of various types of walls here.

From Sisson Landscapes

This drystone wall has a "Hog hole" or, "Sheep creep," designed to let young or smaller animals pass through, while containing larger livestock.  Holes and passages like this also minimized burrowing animals going under the wall and weakening the structure.

The qualifications for my fence lust are thus:  It must be, as the old saying goes, "Horse high, pig tight and bull strong."

Martha Stewart's pasture fence
Whether it contains a herd of buffalo or nothing but air, a fence should be in good repair and functional,

and for Pete's sake, it must start and end in some logical way.

I am not a fan of decorative fences.  Those poor souls stranded all alone in the center of a garden bed, or border fences that begin at some random place near the driveway and then peter-out half-heartedly several feet away, as if the builder had grown bored or run out of lumber.

A fence that cannot actually fence anything in or out is an architectural affectation, like window shutters that can't shutter.

A hundred years ago, had a land owner spent precious time and money building and maintaining a non-functional fence, his neighbors would have thought he had gone 'round the bend.

A practical good sense that persists in the country even today.

Unfortunately, there is no way to fake quality fencing.

It is expensive and always has been,

but when done appropriately and well, it can increase the property value, and add a real "Wow!" factor.

It can be daunting to build fencing that will not break the budget, but Jennings suggests thinking about whether you actually need to keep something in or out, or whether screening and privacy are your objectives.

If the latter is the case, a more attractive option than the typical suburban stockade fence,

is trellised vines, espaliered trees, or hedged shrubs.

left natural or clipped.

Hedge plants such as barberry, pyracantha and holly have prickly personalities that might even serve to discourage an intruder.

Blackberry vines provide a thorny barrier, and dessert!  (Just keep in mind that fast growing blackberry vines are notoriously difficult to eradicate should you change your mind.)

Lilac and Confederate Jasmine create a casual, great-smelling hedge.

We also love how hedges define garden rooms, help dampen noise, clean the air, and provide a beautiful backdrop for fountains and mirrors.

If you would like to read more, here are a few of Jennings' favorite resources:  

Click to view

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started.  Jennings and I love all of P.Allen Smith's books, especially this one, P. Allen Smith's Garden Home, in which he describes the principles of garden design, such as, a sense of enclosure, framing the view, color, pattern, texture and rhythm, and shows a home gardener how to apply those ideas to create a garden that provides more space for living well.  If you don't have it yet, it is a great resource.

In The Garden is a new favorite by Suzanne Gannon and photographer Stacy Bass.  I liked it so much that I gave it to Jennings for Christmas this year.  It is another great resource for an experienced gardener, or those just getting started.  Each chapter tells, with great writing and gorgeous photographs, how someone brought their garden vision to life. 

We think that country life is more a state of mind, than a state of, well... State.

Whether your home is the city, by the sea, in the mountains or Farm town, USA, country life is about how you approach living your day, how you feel about your home, and how you care for yourself and your neighbors.

Virginia Country Life from A-Z is a series inspired by our homes in Virginia.  It's about some things and people we love, and some ideas for making your life a little more country- wherever you are.

Next post... G is for...

Images: 1. 2. Entrance to Blackberry Farm, Tennessee 3. Donamire Farm, KY 4.  Ramm Horse Fence Ramm Horse Fence 11.12.13 Pride and Prejudice 14. Pinterest via David Fuller, photography by David Fuller via gardendesign.com19. Hoveton Hall Gardens, via Ryan Design 32.33.34.


  1. I have fence envy too! I use to live in near Lexington KY and that's when it all began. Mile after mile of beautiful rail and stone fences. I keep thinking I need to move to Virginia or KY just because I love the land, fences and homes so much.
    It's so nice to see you blog again! Wonderful post!

  2. Hi Kathy, Lexington is very seductive, fence-wise. It seems that one property is more beautiful than the next. I was surprised to learn that the price of houses and land isn't off the charts, like so often here.

  3. Such a treat of a post!
    I myself have a "thing" for gates.
    Something about unlocking one, locking it back so the sheep don't wander, and setting off on an unknown pathway.

    1. Me too. I am always "grabbing" great gate ideas and dropping them into a folder on my desktop. That reminds me of a funny thing. :) when people are not used to being in the country, they'll often say, "Do you think I should I close the gate?" The rule is, if it was open, leave it open and if it was closed leave it closed. Everything in the country is pretty much leave it how you found it, unless you find a cow walking down the middle of the road. Lol!

  4. I love a beautiful fence, even if it's a hedge done well. Your examples are especially breathtaking. The fences surrounding beautiful swathes of green, dotted with horses are dream-worthy. This was a really fun and interesting post, as I find most of your posts to be. Thank you.

  5. Gorgeous post! I need to take more time than I have already to really absorb all the information in it. Such beautiful photography. Thank you.

    1. Hi Barbara, thank you! So nice to hear from you. I agree, that's what is so addicting about Pinterest...

  6. i love metal gates with a pretty design=)

    1. Hi Faye, So true. Jennings had some railings for Poplar Grove inspired by designs at Colonial Williamsburg. Well-crafted iron gates and railings are so beautiful!

  7. In the front of our property we have a wonderful white painted wood fence, which the previous owners had copied from the Greek Revival fence from the 1830s that was original to the property. In the back of our property we have split rail fencing, which is very rustic (NOT garden center variety). While the white painted fence requires upkeep (it needs to be scrubbed down with a bleach solution twice a year and repainted every 2-3 years) it is well worth the effort and cost. There's nothing like a handsome, well-cared for fence, in my view! Reggie

    1. Hi Reggie Darling, so true! How lucky you are to have the original Greek Revival fence. I would love to see a photo! N.G.

  8. Just found your post. We recently upgraded our MAC operating system and I no longer receive email notifications from blogs I've subscribed to. Haven't been ale to figure out why.

    Absolutely loved your post. This morning, I'm sitting at my computer with my cup of hot chocolate. The wind is blowing, snow is coming down and your pictures transported me some place else! Some of the picture bring back childhood memories of old stone or pine stump fences I would come across in my jaunts thru the woods behind my house in upstate New York. Inevitably, if I looked hard enough I'd find an old empty house foundation. I'd aways wonder what happened? Where did the family go?


    1. John, so great of you to drop by! I love to hear those stories. I feel exactly the same. Fences are so evocative. N.G.

  9. Good afternoon! This is my first time visiting your site. Would you please identify the species of the living trees and hedges in the pictures above and below the sentence "If the latter is the case, a more attractive option than the typical suburban stockade fence,"? I love both of those pictures and would like to consider those plants for my own garden.

    Melanie in Mississippi

    1. Hi, thanks for stopping by. I believe they are Upright Hornbeams, also sometimes called a Common Hornbeam. They are relatively low maintenance, and are great for hedges and accents. They will grow as high as 30 ft. and spread 15 ft. -Parker

    2. FANTASTIC!!!! Thanks so much for your assistance! Have a great day!

  10. Thanks for sharing information and pictures of several types of fences. A homeowner can use the details to choose the best fence and automatic gate openers to suit the design and style of his establishment.

  11. I love such types of fences. Thanks for sharing these unique pictures. I am looking for more designs, if you have then please share with us.


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