Although today is Monday, it is part of the US Labor Day weekend and thus I think it's ok to talk about the fence I am building in my side yard. For the amount of intellectual energy I've put into this, you would think it extended the full width of my property. As it is, I planned the total length to be 21 feet long.
Our house was built in 1820 and on one of the main roads of the village. Back then they put houses fairly close to the roads, especially in northern climates where snow plows were not quite as efficient as they are now. Today our road is larger yet, and in the summer the sight of cars can be distracting when you are hanging out in the back yard. On the left side of the house (facing the front) we have a porch that was rebuilt earlier this year. Behind that is a stone wall running out orthogonally from the house, and nestled between the stone wall and the house there is a perennial garden. So standing in the backyard looking toward the street you see garden, wall, porch on left, and then cars buzzing by on the street. The distance from the porch to the end of the stone wall is about twenty feet.
Inspired in part by P. Allen Smith's Garden Home, I wanted to do something at the top of the wall to block the view of the street. That would give us more privacy in the garden and allow me to better landscape the now more contained space. A complicating factor was that if I built a fence, it would have to connect to the porch, and so architecturally I was limited in what I could do. The house is a Federal stylde Greek Revival, in case you are keeping track.
A good place to start in case you are thinking of building a fence is George Nash's Wooden Fences. What you soon learn, however, is that there are an infinite number of fence varieties, and you can change almost every detail such as the style and height of the posts, the infill (pickets, for example), the spacing between the posts, and even the color of the fence. Nash recommends, and I concur, that you drive around and try to find a fence you like. Start with your neighborhood, but a particularly wonderful place to see old homes and fences is Bennington, Vermont.
Did I really want to put a fence there? Building a fence, even a short fence, is hard work. Perhaps the most difficult and most nerve racking part of the process is measuring and then setting the posts. If you have stable, rockless soil, the job is straightforward. You can even rent an augur to dig the holes. In my case, I was putting the posts on the uphill side of a rock wall that was backfilled. There almost certainly were going to be rocks there.
Another option was to put a line of hedges above the wall. I nixed that because 1) I didn't want to have to trim the hedges and 2) I didn't want the hedge trimmings to fall in the garden. Next to be considered were some sort of trees or bushes. My wife ruled out arborvitae because we planted 25 of them along the sidewalk in front of the house, they were to supposed to grow fast, and they didn't. They also tend to get brown dead spots after a hard winter. My other choices were ruled out when I visited a nursery and was strongly advised not put broad leafed evergreens on a western exposure. During the winter they tend to dehydrate and so you have to spray them with an anti-desiccant like Wilt-Pruf. You usually need to reapply it mid-winter, and the last thing I could see myself doing was standing outside in February in upstate New York trying to spray shrubbery. The final bit that ruled out a living solution to my problem was that I could not plant anything behind the steps to the porch, and so I would not have a solution that sufficiently blocked the view of the street.
So it was back to a fence. To make a long story short (maybe too late for that now), I decided on a 3 section fence, 7 feet on center. Originally I was going to do pickets, but on the strong urging of my wife I changed the planned infill to be 1 x 4 slats with section tops shaped like arches. We have arches on the front of the house, so this will tie in well.
On Saturday I set out to put in the posts. I did all the right things to determine the proper post spacing and started in on the first hole coming out from the porch.
I managed to move and then remove several smaller stones but there was one I just could not budge. Since I wasn't deep enough yet to just put the post on top of the rock (boulder?), I had to come in closer to the house. This shortened the first panel width by 4 inches. This meant I had to reduce the other panels accordingly and, just like that, I lost a foot off the length of the fence. That was still ok, since I had allowed for some potential problems. If it had been a much longer fence I would have either had to deal with a shorter first panel or maybe re-jigger things to get more panels. After a few hours I had set all three posts in concrete and I called it a day.
On Sunday, I cut the top of the posts to the right height. The fence is going to step down 6 inches per panel, moving right to left as it goes down the hill. The posts will also project 6 inches above the height of the slats, so this took some careful measuring and leveling. I then put in a couple of the stringers and set to work attaching a 2 x 4 to the porch to hold that end of the fence. I could not set a post there because the stone wall comes right up to that point. I set the attachment piece with 2 galvanized lag bolts and one masonry bolt into the mortar between the bricks toward the bottom of the porch base. It isn't going to move soon. I added two more stringers and left the final two for today.
I got up this morning, measured the first 2 x 4 stringer to the length between the posts, and then somehow managed to cut it short. Not a little short, but something in the neighborhood of a couple of inches. I have no idea how this happened. I cut the other 2 x 4 to the right length and installed that, but now I need to get one more stringer. I'll do that some evening this week before I head off for the UK next weekend.
The fence frame is made of pressure treated lumber and so it needs to dry before I can paint it. The usual recommendation is 3 to 6 months. That would put me in the range of December to March. If I wait, it isn't likely that I'll be able to paint until late April or May, so I may just try to give it a few weeks and paint it as late as I can in October. I'm going to use regular lumber for the infill, so I can prime that and put it up. Clearly I should have built this earlier in the year, but I had to wait until the porch was rebuilt and I had some time to do the work. So the saga will continue for at least a few more weeks.
Fences, shrubs, and rocks
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