It’s one of those things that I have relatively low experience in, but have always felt a draw to. In my adult life, I’ve never really had a space to dedicate to gardening of any sorts, save some minor container gardening on apartment balconies. One of my dreams that went along with home ownership was to have a space for a vegetable garden. Because who doesn’t love fresh picked vegetables?
My mother-in-law is a whiz at the flower gardening. Her yard is absolutely beautiful in the spring and summer; it’s own little world. Someday, I’d like to create a space like that as well. But, as much as they say, “Oh, you just have to try things and move things and eventually it will all fit together”, the whole thing frankly intimidates me at the moment. The more I’ve researched into things and the more I’ve seen of other gardens, I’ve come to conclude that flower gardening is really an art form. I am in awe of those who have a knack for it, and really do hope some day to break out into it. Without killing half of my plants 😖 But for now, I’m focusing on the edible side of gardening.
One of the unfortunate things that we had to accept when we chose our house is that our backyard is small. By pretty much all standards. But since we love our house so much, we’ve made it work, as you do. Luckily, there was already a space created for a garden, and a pretty sizable one to boot. It was rudimentary, but one less thing for us to have to create. Half of that space we sectioned off to make into our outdoor dog kennel. The other half we continue to use as a garden. We planted the basic things in it last year after we moved in, but the dogs gave it no sense of space whatsoever. They would run through it on a short cut to the what I’m sure they enthusiastically thought of as the food shed (which is actually the garden shed.) Jack had a particular tomato and pepper plant he like to christen every morning, which after a while we just let it slide because Gunner had pretty much dashed their dreams of ever reproducing anyway. When the dogs weren’t wreaking havoc on it, the rabbits were. The space had turned into a free-for-all.
We needed a fence. D was fine with just piecing together whatever conglomeration of fencing wires we had left at the farm, but I knew I wanted this space and fence to be more aesthetically pleasing, as well as functional, especially because of the drab state it currently was in.
I recognized that this would require more money, work, and time than the other option, but sometimes that is more than worth it. D and I wanted to do ‘dueling gardens’ this year anyway (there is a spot on the side of the garage that he was willing to try to break in), so I took responsibility of this space and sole responsibility of building this fence (which I do think D was a little relieved to be released of). Thought to some it may seem like a minor undertaking, it was a great challenge for me. Aside from putting fence posts in the ground at my uncle’s farm many years ago, I’d never planned or built something like this before. I did quite a bit of reading online. I did utilize D as a sounding board and posed some questions to him along the way. It took me a few weekends and weeknights, and it certainly has it’s share of rookie mistakes, though hopefully more obvious to me than anyone else. Overall, I am very proud of the finished product 🙂
Stage 1: Fence Posts
I used eight pressure treated 4x4s for my posts. Each are set about 1 foot in the ground to create a 3 foot high fence. Oftentimes, it’s recommended to use cement to stabilize the posts in the ground – I was wary of doing that, on the off chance that if one day we or future inhabitants of this house wanted to take down or move the fence, it would be easier to do so. It’s actually a good thing anyway, because later on I had to move a couple of the posts. D figured it’s such a small fence anyway that it wasn’t as imperative to use cement. I mix in gravel and dirt and compacted it around that posts. They were pretty solid in the ground to begin with, but D thinks that with the rain and general weathering that just further helps to immobilize them.
Stage 2: Rails
This was the most challenging part of this project for me. I had to be very careful about measuring exactly, and even when I thought I had, some were still off. I tried to keep the space between my posts as consistent as possible, but they did end up varying by a few inches, so each of my rails had to be cut specifically for each section. I was very careful to make sure all my posts were level with each other and lined up correctly, which led to a lot of adjusting, readjusting, and re-burying a couple of posts. Even with all of that, I would run into the issue of one of my rails fitting just fine on bottom, but too short on top, or vice versa. Just one of those learning curves. I used my beloved Kreg Jig to create holes in the 2x4s so that I could attach them into my posts cleanly.
Stage 3: Picketing
Once my rails were in place, it was time to attach the pickets. There are many different ways to create a flow design with a picket fence. I decided with the length of my fence and the minor variations in my post spacing, it would look most consistent to just do an alternating high-low pattern. Things I needed to take into consideration with the goal of keeping wildlife out of the garden was spacing between the pickets and spacing from the ground to the bottom of the pickets. I settled on 1-1/2″ spacing between pickets, and roughly an inch from the ground (this did vary a little because of the settling of the dirt in any given area). A piece of advice from D: create a spacer block the size of what you want your spacing to be. When you’re placing your pickets on your rails, it makes it so much quicker and easier.
My pickets came at 4′ in length, so I cut them down to 3′ and 2’10”. They all line up at the bottom of the fence, but end up alternating at the top. I should also say that before any of my wood went to the fence I sanded each piece down with two different grains. I’m hoping this will cut down on the work when I actually get around to staining the fence.
Both to add to the look of the space and as added security against critters, I lined the bottom of the fence with these big rocks I had collected from out at the farm at one point. It also is helping to keep the dirt from flushing out when it rains.
Stage 4: Post Toppers, Pathway, and Planting
Around this stage in the fence, I really wanted to get my vegetables planted before it got too late in the season, just in case I had to take a leave from working on the fence for a while. Though it takes a little bit of area away from space I can plant in, I knew I wanted a cute little walkway through the garden so we won’t have to deal with muddy feet every time we go in. It took a little shopping around and some mulling about just trying to make my own unique pathway pieces before I found these rock slabs at Home Depot. So into the garden they went. I also attached some post toppers to some of my posts, again, for aesthetic appeal. At that point I, rather excitedly, planted my vegetables and strawberries so they could get a start on growing, even though the fence wasn’t quite done yet.
Peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, kale, lettuce, garlic, and onions, to accompany the chives and raspberries that had come back from last year.
You’ll notice that I hadn’t done much work on the short/gate side of the fence to this point. That was because a) I wanted the long side to set the stage for whatever happened on this side and b) building the gate was a little intimidating to me and I guess I was putting it off as long as possible… Because it wasn’t in yet, we had to screw some long scrap panels of wood across this opening until I was able to get the gate completed, to keep critters out.
Stage 5: The Gate
This is the stage I did have to have D physically help me with. He got the frame of the gate built and the hinges appropriately aligned. I then worked on the rails and pickets for the tiny section next to the gate and jumped right in to finishing putting the pickets on the gate and getting the gate put on the fence and the gate latch secured. Some issues I ran into here: In my short section, I had to make my picket spacing a little closer because if I didn’t it would be too wide with just three pickets in place, and I didn’t want to have to splice a picket. The gate pickets ended up just a little bit wider, again, because of how the number of pickets were and weren’t fitting on the section. I’m sure a more experienced gate maker would have had a solution to both those issues, but I made do with the knowledge I had.
One last issue I had, and am having, is that the post my gate is attached to keeps coming a little loose in the ground. As such, sometimes my gate will just barely hit the post on the other side, or just barely skim rock slab when I swing the gate open. I can usually correct the post back to where it should be and pack the dirt back around it and am hoping in time it will settle in correctly, but it’s a little frustrating at the moment. Perhaps I’m just being just a little bit of a perfectionist too…
For now, that concludes the tale of our garden fence. Future things I’d like to do with it is stain it (trying to find a stain to match our deck has been unsuccessful, so I’m looking for alternative shades). One day, I’d like to maybe plant a flowering little bush on the outside of the fence just to the right of the gate. The dogs have made a good effort at destroying the perennials I tried to plant elsewhere on our property, so I haven’t decided if that’s truly going to happen yet. D and I would also like to plant some sort of vine on the side of the dog kennel that touches the garden. It will serve to offer the dogs shade as well as just dress up the area as well, continue to make it more botanical.
It has been a very fun journey for me building this fence, and it has become one of my daily happy rituals to take a little stroll in the garden to see how my plants are progressing. It has certainly planted the seed to make me smitten with gardening… 😊