In my travels of Eastern Europe, I was amazed in the country of the beautiful and rustic vegetable gardens. The one feature that stood out the most was the rustic look of the wattle fences. Wattle fencing is simply made from sticks woven together into panels or sections. Looking a lot like a woven basket, wattle fences can come in many styles and fashions. Most wattle fences are built with locally harvested materials; there is no need to buy unless you are without any sort of vegetation.
The history of wattle fencing is long, and probably dates back to stone ages, when people started building barriers with materials they could harvest around them. When visiting a renaissance or medieval fair, often barriers are constructed to look like wattle, if not using wattle technique itself. Even during the foundation of early Colonial America, wattle fences would be a common sight. As the lumber industry improved in the country, wattle fences and barriers were replaced with solid wood and stone fences and walls.
Our family chose to start by building simple wattle garden edging easily show the pathways in the gardens and also to help prevent soil erosion. Our fences were not designed to keep people out of the garden, they only stand about 6 inches high, but they do keep armadillos from rooting around for grubs. The rustic charm of these fences cannot be matched, and since they are made with locally harvested materials, we are recycling what would have been simply put into a burn pile.
For our wattle fences, we’ve used Yaupon Holly, a variety of holly tree that is more than abundant on our land. Since most of our garden space was nothing but Yaupon, we often would burn the brush just to get rid it. Traditionally Willow sticks were a common material since they are easy to bend, and often used in the making of baskets. Any small branch with a diameter between ¼” and 1 ½” would work well for horizontal cross members, larger diameter sticks and branches up to 2 ½” work great for vertical uprights. When cutting the limbs, bushes and trees, we like to use ratcheting loppers, they can usually cut up to 3″ diameter without any major effort. Starting at the base of your limb, move upward to the branches using the lopper to remove any sub braches, do this until the branch is roughly 1 ½” in diameter. Make a cut at this point, and this would be the maximum height of your fence. I like to separate my uprights from my horizontal cross members, so I make two piles of long straight sticks.
Building 6″ high fences require underground support of up to 2″-3″, so make sure your vertical uprights are at least 8″ high. Cut all vertical uprights to the same height using the loppers. Since our project was a family job, our older boys using their pocket knives sharpened 1″ points on each stick, which helps in the installation but isn’t required. The key to the horizontal cross members is that they are flexible, and don’t have sub branches. Length for the horizontal sticks isn’t an issue until insulation. When you feel like there is enough material you can begin the assembly of the fence.
The nice thing about wattle fences is flexibly: they can be straight, or they can be curved. Often you will need both, it’s up to you. Since our garden has many natural curves and straight beds, we used both. For installation you will need about 4 feet of string and a hammer or small mallet. Using two of your largest uprights, tie the string in the middle of the two sticks. Find the edge of your first fence, and hammer the post into the ground. Pull the string tight using the other post and determine where you want the post installed, if you need a shorter fence, simply shorten the length of string. Pull tight and hammer the stick into the ground. Now, wattle fences are rustic, this means they don’t have to be perfect, you are working with various sizes of material, so space your sticks so they are about 2″ apart, more or less it doesn’t matter, and it adds spice to your creation. After you’ve hammered all your uprights in along the string, now you can install your horizontal cross members. Make sure the first piece is very flexible. Weave this piece first in front of the first post and behind the next post switching back and forth until you’ve reached the last post, or you’ve run out of stick. If you’ve run out of stick, simply grab another stick and continue where it left off, overlapping two posts. If you’ve reached the last post, simply use pruning clippers to cut the branch. Move back to the first post, and weave the next horizontal piece starting behind the front post alternating back and forth, except opposite of your first weave. Depending on how tight you want this fence, you might want to tap down on the second branch so it will touch the first horizontal cross member. Continue this until your fence is as high as you require.
Again this is so simple, but it’s a lot of hard work. These fences are quite durable, and with a tight weave we’ve even been able to build raised beds. Eventually the sticks will break, but they are affordable since your material is all locally harvested. Variations on these are countless, and building bigger and better is always an option.