Monday, February 28, 2011

NO O-FENCE...

Some folks just aren’t happy with their fronts yards until they’ve erected a miniature stockade around them.  I couldn’t count how many 3-foot-high chain-link fences I’ve seen placed right up against the sidewalk--occasionally protecting a lovely garden, but more often surrounding a stone-dead lawn.

I’m not sure about the psychology of front-yard fences--one could go on and on about it, I suppose--but I’m quite sure about the aesthetic result:  Bad.

Such dinky little fences could hardly be for security, since anyone with a faint pulse could vault over one.  More likely, it’s a territorial thing.  You know--stay off my dead grass, or else.  Rather than keeping the bad guys out, however, fencing off the front yard more often just prevents the homeowner himself from enjoying it.   

Although a fenced-in yard or two is probably inevitable on the average neighborhood street, there’s no rational cause for a whole row of front yards to be partitioned off into desolate little pens--there are plenty of more attractive alternatives.  In my book, the best front-yard fence is no fence at all.  But if a barrier of some sort is de rigeur, here are some things to think about:

•  Before you build, identify your objective.  Fences--and every other form of barrier--have only three basic purposes:  To keep things in; to keep things out; or to sit there and look pretty.  Things to be kept out could include people, pets, noise, prying eyes--whatever.  Decide which of these is your main motivation, and choose the least obtrusive barrier that’ll do the job.   

•  If you’re just trying to discourage casual trespassers--whether the two-legged or the four-legged kind--consider some other form of barrier before you resort to a fence.  A row of dense, low shrubs with nasty thorns or spiky leaves, for example, will keep out the majority of mischievous kids.  If you want to keep pets in or out, an appropriate-sized wire-mesh fence concealed behind the shrubs will handle any animal short of a mad dog.

•  If your aim is to keep out criminal types--forget it.  No fence of any description is going to keep out someone who’s determined to get into your yard.  Moreover, a solid fence is worse than none at all--a burglar will probably thank you for hiding him from the neighbors while he’s breaking into your house.  

As security measures go, it would probably be more cost-effective to connect your existing outdoor lights to a motion detector, which can be had for a reasonable price at any hardware store. 

•  If it’s noise or prying eyes you want to exclude, landscaping again offers an alternative to a privacy fence, which would have to have solid planks at least five feet high to be effective.  Tall shrubs such as privet give a much friendlier look from the street, and their dense leaves actually absorb sound better than fence boards do.  

•  Lastly, if your fence is meant mainly for decoration, don’t settle for a run-of-the-mill chain-link fence.  Chain-link is excellent for many applications, but thanks to its institutional look, it’s probably the last thing you’d want surrounding your front yard.  While options such as plastic privacy slats and cute little finials can help, it’s still just putting perfume on a pig. A fence with conventional wood posts will have a much warmer look, and can be finished with wire mesh, planks, lattice, or any number of interesting materials.

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