Renovation & Design

Working around foliage requires plan

Deep root system can be an issue when building a fence

Fence boards on the gate render it invisible from the front when the gate is shut.

photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

This simple fence design consists of 4x4 posts, 2x4 caps and horizontal bracing, and 1x6 fence boards.

Carole Parisien

Marc LaBossiere mounts the gate prior to installing the fence boards.

A simple fence requires only a few essential features: rigid posts at equally spaced intervals, top and bottom cross framing (at minimum) on which the fence boards can be affixed, and typically at least one gate so you can enter or exit the fenced in area.

The topography, geology and flora along the perimeter of the area can present some obstacles that often require alternative solutions.

Sometime late last winter, one of my clients had indicated that it was necessary to replace an old fenceline along the front and west side of the backyard — the existing fence was literally falling apart, and most of the fence boards were rotten and barely clinging to the framework.

It is approximately 130 feet in length, including one corner and a three-foot gate.

When the time came to do the job, most of the fence came apart by hand. Even the old fence posts could easily be jiggled free.

The new build, however, would not be as easy as anticipated.

Due to the placement of the existing foliage and the resulting roots strewn about the yard and perimeter of the impending fence, it would be next to impossible to create a perfectly straight fenceline from the back to the front corner without cutting down some very big trees.

And furthermore, boring holes for the new fence posts will be greatly impeded by the mesh of root systems along the intended fenceline – the gas-driven two-man auger is difficult to control under the best of conditions.

In this instance, with limited space, it was deemed highly unsafe to attempt. As such, an alternative posting plan was designed that, for the most part, would not disturb the existing foliage and still provide ample rigidity for the fence framework.

At every second post location, a 30-inch adjustable ground (post) spike was driven into the ground with a large sledgehammer until the four-by-four sleeve is level with the surrounding area.

The post is then placed into the sleeve, levelled and the two sleeve bolts are tightened until the post is securely set into place.

Once every second post was erect and cut down to the five-foot level line, 16-foot 2x4 top caps were secured to the top of every post, creating a rigid initial framework upon which the other posts could be fastened.

The holes for the remaining posts were carefully hand-dug to a depth of no less than 24-inches (or as deep as the roots would allow), subsequently set into position using quarter-down gravel in the hole.

The posts were then fastened to the midway point of the 16-foot top caps. Once all the posts were in place, the top and bottom two-by-four horizontal bracing on which the fence boards would be affixed, were installed until the entire fence was fully framed.

The gate was constructed using 2x4s, fastened together using gate kit hardware which prevents the gate from sagging over time.

With the gate latch in place, the installation of the fence boards could begin.

Placing 130 feet of five-foot fence boards was very time-consuming — every board was cut to meet the existing ground elevation which fluctuates by up to six inches along the fenceline, due to the existing foliage.

Although it is a continuous stream of boards adjacent to each other, it is very important to periodically verify that level is maintained along the way — inconsistencies of the individual boards can easily throw a series of boards out of whack.

In this design, the boards were fastened to the frame from the exterior side of the fence, providing a seamless array of fencing along the front side of the fenceline, and along the long side adjacent the neighbours’ yard.

It also renders the gate invisible when the gate is closed, which the client enjoys as an added precaution against would-be intruders.

Although the conservation of the existing trees, shrubs and bushes along the fenceline proved quite challenging, the long portion of the fence from front to back is as straight as it can be without disturbing any of the mature foliage.

Although this caused me some concern from the onset, it is unwarranted in retrospect.

The very foliage that creates divergences along the fence-ine also hides those deviations.


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