About 10 years ago, as the proud new owner of 3 acres in Goochland County, I decided to try my hand at creating a living fence.
I had seen living fences in English and French garden books for years. The trained trunks were geometrically shape with squares, parallel lines or diagonals. I couldn’t get enough of pictures with tightly pruned limbs and apricot flowers in spring or dark winter bark with snow resting on the same side of each branch…the pattern upon a pattern.
I decided to try my hand at designing and growing a living fence so I could create the same art in my garden and maybe others.
After kicking around the how’s , where’s and when’s (and some whining), my business partner/husband/better half groaned in agreement and set off to rural nursery in early spring to pick up the trees.
We decided on white Natchez crape myrtles because in our experience:
- they have the best chance of making it in the hot summers
- their cinnamon bark is a real accent in the winter
- their blooms are fragrant
- they don’t need lot of water after the second year
- they don’t have many pests and,
- the small trees I needed to begin with were cheap.
We bought 22 crape myrtles and drastically pruned them, keeping only 3 main stems to create a W.
We planted them in a curving line, and then sank 8’ rebar one for the center trunk of each tree, and then one where 2 branches crossed. This added up to110 pieces of rebar! Standing on an 8 foot ladder and hammering them into the ground wasn’t half as hard as pulling the rusted iron out of the clay soil with a tractor 4 years later!
To train the sapling limbs we crossed the branches of the outside limbs, and wrapped them together against the rebar with green arbor webbing. The branches are grafting together. That is how the structure becomes strong and “fence like”.
About 4 times a year we pruned everything off the main three stalks till we had the fence created. We got a diagonal criss cross going about 5’ off the ground, but after 3 years settled for the trunks to cross only once with the flowers thick above the whole line of trees.
This living fence lies on the perimeter of the lower acre of our meadow. Our neighbors are it’s biggest fan. They take their walks by with their dogs, and cheer us on with how it looks. You can see if from far away.
This picture was taken in the 102 degree heat last week and had had no watering except what Nature had provided all season. It only took 10 years to get this far.
So what do you think… how about a long term relationship with a fence?