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Fences for the frugal

Skip the contractor and the big bill. A minimal investment of cash and perspiration can erect a sturdy bare-bones boundary that offers privacy, security and eye-popping beauty.

Published June 10, 2006

[Photos: John A. Starnes Jr.]
Flowering vines cascading over a bare-bones fence can turn it into a wall of color and fragrance.
An inexpensive, sturdy do-it-yourself fence can provide protection, privacy and satisfaction.

Nothing can enhance the beauty and safety of a property like an attractive fence. It can protect our kids and pets from stray dogs, discourage would-be thieves, offer privacy and create a powerful design element in a landscape.

The trouble is that a commercially installed fence can easily run into the thousands of dollars, and building one yourself still costs a small fortune and requires a truck to get the sections home. Chain-link fences are more affordable and manageable for do-it-yourselfers, but they are not attractive. And consecutive hurricanes have hammered plenty of our fences the past two summers.

But there is a very easy, affordable way to build a sturdy fence that will last many years and offer a bonus: color and fragrance in your landscape.

Go to a hardware store and buy green-painted, 6-foot metal tree stakes about $4 each, a 4-foot roll of green metal garden fencing (about $20 for 50 feet) and a small spool of steel wire (about $2) or a bag of metal rebar twist ties for $1.

One tree stake pounded 2 feet down into the ground with a sledgehammer every 6 feet will make your fence quite sturdy, but if you are on a tight budget space the stakes 10 feet apart. Use a carpenter's level to ensure that they are perfectly vertical.

Then unroll the green metal fencing and use 6-inch lengths of the steel wire, or the rebar twist ties, to attach it to each post at the top, middle and bottom by twisting the wire with pliers. No need for the hassle and cost of concrete and post hole diggers. Just pound, unroll and twist.

You can stop right here with this fast fence. But remember, I said a fence can add color. Think of your new fence as a long trellis, and plant flowering vines all along it. Soon they will weave into and through it and give you privacy as they clothe it in foliage and flowers. Our balmy climate supports colorful blooming beauties like tecomaria, passion flowers, morning glories, flame vine, mandavillas, Carolina jessamine, Pandorea vine and allamanda.

For an orderly appearance, plant several of just one variety all along the fence. Or, for year-round psychedelic splendor, plant a mix of them. As one ceases blooming, another will kick in.

Indulge in the rare elegance of old-fashioned rambling roses that will gladly consume your new fence and add the splendor of fragrant blooms to your yard. Examples that thrive in good soil and on their own roots (versus grafted) in full sun are Climbing Old Blush (pink, date unknown); Climbing Cramoisi Superieur (red, 1885); Prosperity (white, 1919); E. Veyrat Hermanos (apricot, 1895); Souvenir de Mme. Leonie Viennot (salmon-apricot, 1898); and Francois Juranville (salmon-pink, 1906).

Got kids? Let them grow vining veggies on the fence. Pole beans (the variety Scarlet Runner produces bright-red blooms), snow peas, hyacinth beans, chayote, true yams and cherry tomatoes can provide their first successes as gardeners. Make that fence pay for itself by cutting your food bill.

And, of course, one can always choose the understated cool elegance of green vines such as Confederate jasmine (fragrant white flowers now and then), ivy, nephthytis, philodendron, pothos and creeping fig.

Whether you view it as a fence or a trellis, this inexpensive, simple solution frees up time and cash while it makes your yard safe, secure and stunning.

John A. Starnes Jr., born in Key West, is an avid organic gardener and rosarian who studies, collects, cultivates and hybridizes roses for Florida. He can be reached at

[Last modified June 9, 2006, 11:12:41]

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