Starting a New Garden with a Wattle Fence Technique

It was a mild afternoon in late fall when I began pruning (and then continued hacking away at, willy-nilly) an enormous cluster of hardy kiwi on the southern side of our sloping yard. This prodigiously growing perennial had been left to roam free before we moved in, which meant that it was sending out thick cords to find anchor in nearby trees; it’s like a macro version of a pea or bean plant that will grow as high as a rooftop and, from there, vine onto anything that doesn’t yelp. At some point, while teetering on tip-toe and reaching upwards with a pair of second-hand shears, I needed to make this plant work harder for me.

So began the edging of a new bed with a wattle technique. While the base of an established hardy kiwi is thick and shaggy, the newer growth is smooth and flexible, and sometimes several branches will freely twine around themselves in sculptural grace — I have a nice exemplar on a shelf in our dining area. Yanking ten-foot lengths from the treetops, I wondered at its strength, and began to set some aside with the inkling of constructing a fence. When I was ready to put this idea to the test, I made stakes from straight sections about 1″ in diameter cut to about 2′ long and sharpened, and drove them into the ground at above 18″ intervals. Then, the fun part — for me, this kind of thing is exhilarating, because I think natural materials are gorgeous and I don’t like to be too fussy with straight lines or edges in a garden: weaving long cords of green kiwi wood through the stakes in an alternating pattern. At some point I needed to bulk up the structure with more stakes of a smaller diameter. In less time than it would have taken me to drive to the nearest Home Depot and purchase and install pre-made garden edging, I had finished a very simple fence: no corners, and measuring only about 10 feet — and figured I would see how it held up through the winter. If nothing else, I thought it made a neat sculptural element that I liked looking at.

It’s almost summer now, and this area now contains a vegetable garden bed (I dug into the hillside, lined the inside of the fence with old burlap feed sacks, and filled the bed with maple leaves and compost to create an even surface). I finally got around to trimming the stakes and/or hammering them into the ground to a more uniform height, which has not stopped them from sprouting some leaves. The life in a garden is a source of constant wonder for me, and I think it’s fantastic to have this kind of “living fence.”

The peas are growing well, and the beans are beginning. We’ve had heavy rains without the soil being washed away, thanks to the burlap, I think, and because the drainage seems to be fine. It has worked out so well that I’m eager to make more edging in the same way, and I am almost looking forward to pruning that kiwi again. We have come to a mutually beneficial agreement.

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