Raise the Bar

Use fences and trellises to give your herbal landscape a lift.

choice climbers

A fence can add definition and drama to an herbal landscape. Hops vine softens the vertical lines of this crisp white fence.

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Have you noticed the way some gardens seem to stand out from others? A garden that draws attention and admiration is one that goes from bottom to top, layering plant colors and textures and using structural elements of varying heights to create excitement. The depth and dimension created by layering is important to the design of every successful garden, and structural additions such as fences and trellises make it easy to accomplish.

These versatile supporting structures can do more than provide privacy or define a garden area. When selected and sited carefully, they can play a leading role in your landscape. Cover them with an attractive plant, and these stylish structures can take your garden to a new level.

Here’s how to choose one that’s right for you.

Fencing Fundamentals

For many people, a fence is merely a tall wooden barrier used to mark the property line between neighbors. But practicality aside, a fence is also a visual prop that can be any style, material or size, and you can put it anywhere within your yard, not just at the edges.

For instance, you might use a 2-foot-tall wattle fence (a rustic woven fence made from flexible branches) to accent and define beds and borders. Or, you might choose a 4-foot-tall white picket or split rail fence to provide a greater sense of enclosure without blocking your view. Both create a charming background for annuals, perennials and low-growing shrubs.

A fence that reaches 6 feet or higher provides a quick fix for privacy issues as well as a beautiful backdrop for showcasing taller ornamentals, such as hollyhocks, as well as rambling roses and climbing vines. You even can use a single section of tall fencing in the center of a garden island to serve as a focal point among herbs and perennials or as an artistic divider between different garden rooms.

Material Options

The selection of fencing materials is vast, ranging from wood and bamboo to manmade wrought iron, steel, aluminum, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and composites (generally, a mix of recycled plastic and wood fibers).

If you prefer wood—and many gardeners do because it blends so beautifully with garden plants—choose one that is naturally decay-resistant, such as redwood, red or white cedar, cypress or locust. You can expect an untreated red cedar fence to last about 15 to 20 years, according to suppliers. Pine and other softwoods generally are less expensive, but you’ll need to paint, stain or seal them with a penetrating oil finish every few years to extend their life. (If painting is your preference, remember to prime the wood first. Priming will help seal the wood and allow the paint to bond to the surface more readily.)

Composite and PVC fences lack the natural appeal of wood but are much easier to maintain. These synthetics are touted as being able to withstand weather extremes without splitting, splintering or rotting, and they never need painting.

When weighing your fencing options, consider the style of your home and existing garden features. An Asian-inspired bamboo fence, for instance, would blend beautifully with Asian herbs and ornamentals but could look out of place in an English garden. Above all, remember that form always should follow function: functionality is your top priority, with visual appeal a close second.

Trellis Tips

A trellis can be as simple as a prefabricated lattice panel that you frame and attach to a wall or as sophisticated as a beautiful, handcrafted framework of copper or wrought iron. Placed against a wall or used as a screen in the center of a garden planting, a trellis can add excitement to a ho-hum space. And when cloaked in the fragrance of jasmine or climbing roses, a trellis becomes absolutely enchanting.

When choosing a spot for your trellis, consider whether you will be using the structure to conceal or to highlight a view. If your goal is to highlight a beautiful garden area or focal point, position a series of vine-covered trellises as a frame. To create an intimate setting, such as a reading nook in one corner of your garden, use a trellis as an attractive "room divider." Or for a bit of privacy between the garden and a courtyard, deck or patio, arrange a series of trellis screens to provide a sense of enclosure along with a glimpse of the garden beyond.

Like fences, trellises can be fashioned from wood, PVC, wrought iron, copper, galvanized steel or most any other metal. Hardwoods such as cedar, redwood and teak resist decay naturally; pine and other softwoods will need to be painted, stained or sealed with penetrating oil to extend their life. Iron, aluminum and steel are available unfinished or with a powder coating finish. Copper, which weathers to a beautiful patina, makes an especially handsome trellis.

Be sure to choose a material and size appropriate for your site as well as the intended use. The trellis must be able to support the weight of the plant that will be growing up, along or through it. For lightweight vines such as sweet pea or clematis, a simple trellis made from prefabricated lattice will do. Sold in sheets, the lattice has an open, airy look, is easy to install and is widely available at home and garden centers.

Look for a sturdier support for heavy climbers such as hops or climbing roses. Or build your own sturdy wooden trellis from 2 x 2 strips of cross-pieces arranged diagonally or perpendicularly to form any decorative pattern that you like.

Support Matters

For the most long-lived and attractive fence or trellis, take the time to install your support posts properly. (See "How to Install a Support Post.")

Fence posts usually are set 6 to 8 feet apart, with a horizontal top and bottom rail secured between each post. The rails help brace the support posts and provide a foundation for securing the siding.

Attach your fence siding according to the style you want to achieve. You could, for example, nail the siding to the rails in a diagonal fashion; secure the siding vertically to one side of the rails; alternate the vertical wood siding on opposite sides of the rails; or create a lattice or basket-weave effect.

Support posts for a trellis can be installed either directly into the soil, as for a fence post, or bolted to another structure, such as a deck or retaining wall. When building a trellis using a pre-made lattice panel, cut the panel to size, then frame it using miter-cut pieces of lattice molding.

After the trellis support posts are in position and the concrete has set, install three evenly spaced brackets on each post, then slide the framed lattice panel into the brackets. Check to be sure the panel is level and at least 2 inches above ground level, then secure it to the post with galvanized nails or screws.

Once you’ve got your trellis or fence in place, you’re ready to plant. There are many colorful climbing options, ranging from light and airy annuals to big, bold perennials. (See "Choice Climbers.")

Covered with an appealing climber, a fence or trellis will add a new layer of interest and visual appeal to your herb garden. The transformation is bound to lift your spirits as well as your plants. Just be forewarned: When you see the change that a simple trellis or fenced area can bring, you surely will set your sights on where to place the next one.

— Kris Wetherbee grows a variety of climbers at her home in western Oregon. To contact Kris, visit www.HerbCompanion.com/contributors.