Spalding Guardian Gardening 12 January 2012
Another gale, another lot of broken fences. I suppose you could say it keeps the fencing contractors in work, but that’s about all.
It was, I think, the late Geoff Hamilton on Gardeners’ World, many years ago, who reminded viewers about to erect fences and other structures that relied on wooden posts never to stabilise them by bedding them in concrete. Sooner or later, the timber will rot where it emerges from the concrete, leaving you with a too-short post and a solid lump that needs fetching out of the ground before you can get another post in.
The most long-lived and stable fence post is, of course, a concrete one. This can then be bedded firmly in concrete without any fear of its breaking off at ground level; providing the panel or boards are firmly attached, the fence should last for years. Understandably, however, many people find the look of concrete posts not particularly attractive. If you must use wooden ones, a spiked, metal post support will allow you to use timber posts without the same rotting problem as that described, but I find it’s still necessary to bed the support in concrete as tall fences in windy positions can eventually still start to lean if the spike is merely knocked a long way into the ground.
A compromise between the enduring properties of concrete posts and the aesthetic ones of wood is to use a timber post of the same height as the fence, and bolt it at the base to a concrete spur firmly embedded in concrete. These spurs are available from builders’ merchants and are much less unwieldy than a full-length concrete post. We used this method some time ago when one of our 1.8m boundary fences started to fall over, and through this, the original fence has lasted well over thirty years. Mind you, the overlap panels are much the worse for wear now, but – at our side, at any rate – you can’t tell what a state they’re in because many years ago I went through a phase of collecting ivies, which I planted against this tall and bleak-looking barrier to introduce some greenery with minimal loss of growing space. It’s not easy being a plantsman (should that be plantswoman, or maybe plantsperson, to be Politically Correct?) with such a small garden; every square metre of soil is precious.
The effect now is of a hedge, but without the loss of land that a proper hedge would have caused. The whole fence is covered; twice a year it is clipped like a hedge, the birds nest and roost in it and we now have a green boundary instead of a slowly deteriorating, dull wooden one. So far, even though our side takes the full force of any westerly gales that might occur, the ivy holds the whole structure together. I sincerely hope that this state of affairs lasts; the thought of starting all over with a new fence, the work it would entail and the effect it would have on a mature garden does not fill me with delight. Ivy is often a hated garden plant, but it does have its uses.
This piece originally appeared in the Spalding Guardian