Fickeisen’s Fun Fence Fenestration

When we bought our home in Portland (OR) last summer, there was a (cheap) plain cedar board fence between the house and garage. Nice to keep our dog, Maya, in the backyard, but it isolated the front side yard from the back yard.ImageImage

In the front I had ripped out the sod to put in raised beds for a kitchen garden. There is a paved area between the driveway and house, just outside the fence, which is a nice place to sit in the late-morning shade. We often sit in the back yard for dinner, late afternoon cocktails or iced coffee, or to read or snooze (as I did Sunday afternoon while pretending to be reading).

I wanted to join the two areas somehow to suggest a flow and openness and at the same time to sustain some privacy in the backyard — snoozing and cocktails need some privacy, after all. But we don’t need enough privacy for nude sunbathing since the neighbor’s over-garage ADU looks down on us already. Oh, and we need to keep that black lab from getting out.

I decided to open the fence a bit and to give it visual interest. I like garden whimsey; I wanted to make it “fun” somehow.

I drew inspiration from several sources — a neighbor’s fence, an archway entrance to the children’s area at the Maine Botanical Garden among them — and began to imagine a “window” with a climbing rose growing up and beyond the fence.

A bit of research on training climbing roses suggested that they bloom best and most spectacularly when they are trained with horizontal major canes and that they should be tied to sturdy wires or other supports and stand out at least three inches from the wall or fence to provide good air circulation (which is vital for healthy roses).

We needed to keep the dog in the back yard to avoid her chasing our neighbors’ cats or running into the street and being a general neighborhood nuisance (we try to be responsible dog parents, though I secretly applaud her desire to chase the cats away).

My solution was to cut a rectangular hole in the fence, frame it with lumber, and install a galvanized heavy-wire grid, sized to keep the dog in, but with large enough holes not to feel like or look like an ordinary 2×4 welded-wire fence.

I didn’t know that I was looking for something called a “cattle panel” so I spent a fair bit of time poking around hardware stores, big box home stores (you know — the blue and gray one and the orange one), and noodling around the internet without success. My architect daughter suggested a couple of local sources of architectural panels, but they were wholesale only and/or way overpriced for my project, which looked like a special order thing. I’m sure they would make one panel — for the right price.

I stopped in at the fence contractor who had built the fence around the opposite side of our house and they could only offer to special order something from the east coast, but shipping for just one panel would be prohibitive. (“You could justify it if you needed 100 of them,” the salesman said.) He did suggest I look for “hog panel” at a farm supply store. I had no recollection of ever hearing of it. (I am so not a ranch boy.)

Voila! The Coastal Farm and Ranch out in Gresham a few miles east of us offered several different panels, generally with a smaller grid near the ground and bigger spacing higher up. Depending on the spacing and height of the panel, these are called hog, cattle, or utility panels. Who knew? The cost ranged from around $25 to almost $100 depending on the grid size and gauge of the wire. I opted for the cattle panel — one of the cheaper ones. After cutting off the lower, more closely spaced part, I would be left with exactly what I had imagined. Hip hip hooray. (Note: Try searching Google Images for “cattle panel” to discover some other creative uses.)ImageImage

The panels were all 16 feet long — too much for my mini-pickup, but the yard guys at Coastal were very happy to wield their bolt cutters to cut my panel into whatever size or shape I wanted before helping me load it up. (They noted that they sell far more of them for home gardeners and hobbyists or DIYers who plan some sort of decorative or architectural use than to ranchers for animal pens, as they were intended to be used.)

After cutting the cattle panel to size, I ripped a dado with my aging circular saw (the bearings are going) in the side of each of two 2 x 4s that I installed horizontally at the top and bottom of the “window.” They serve to hold the cut-off fence boards, support the panel, and stiffen the fence. The panel fit into the dado and the fence boards, which had been removed and cut to length, were nailed back on extending over the dado to hold the panel in place.

Next I put in ten large screw eyes at either end of the five rose trellis wires. They are screwed into the fence framing through the fence boards, to assure that they would be strong enough to support the trellis. They stand out about 3 1/2 inches from the fence and were spaced evenly and a little less than a foot apart, starting a foot and half above the ground. I strung 1/8-inch wire rope between them, using thimbles and fasteners along with turnbuckles to tighten them. The hardware for those was the most expensive part of the project and required shopping at one of those big box guys as well as the local Do-It-Best hardware down on Division — a place with truly helpful folks happy to find just the right bit of hardware for any normal or unusual project.Image

I imagined extending the top of the fence with some old long-handled garden tools. Judy went out to estate and garage sales looking for yarn and who-knows-what the other day and came back with a split shovel, a bent fork, and a loose hoe, all with sound handles. She paid $10 for the lot, maybe could have negotiated for half that, but my budget was $5 a tool, so it’s cool. I slapped some boiled linseed oil on the handles to help preserve them as they were pretty dry. Then I pre-drilled them and put a couple of long outdoor screws through each handle into the fence framing to mount them on the fence, extending above the top. I think they look pretty good, but I want to add a rake to cross the hoe and give it a bit more balance and stability.Image

We picked the climbing rose (cv. “Autumn Sunset”) to meet several criteria — decent disease resistance, good fragrance, and an interesting peach, orange, or yellow color. Alas many rose hybridizers have sacrificed fragrance for disease resistance or blossom type. It’s sometimes hard to find a rose with strong fragrance and the other desirable characteristics. This one has deep orange buds and opens to a lighter peach color. Perfect. I planted it outside the fence and within a week it had already grown several inches and was reblooming. (I think it likes its new home!)Image

Now it is growing fast enough that I need to adjust the ties every 10 days or so and I’m starting to worry that it might take over the whole yard. I’ll just have to keep my pruners sharp and ready to go.

Oh, and I have half a cattle panel left for some other project… Hum. What shall it be?

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One Response to Fickeisen’s Fun Fence Fenestration

  1. Love your creativity and persistence. Bev Smrha

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