fences: what works best for garden plots?

Garden Structures, Pests & Pathogens

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I like the looks of all the different fences in our community garden, though many are worse for the wear after the winter. Since we will be adding a bunch of new plots, the question comes up of how to fence these.

– Leave it to each gardener
– Town fences the plots with standard fencing
– Town provides fence materials to gardeners

A fence to surround a 20 x 20 ft plot gets to be expensive. Five ft tall fencing costs at least $50 for a 50 ft roll at Home Depot. Posts and gate materials add a lot more $$. This cost can make large plots very expensive for new gardeners. And installing a fence is heavy work – too heavy for many would be gardeners.

We have about every vegetable eating critter you can imagine. Hundreds of rabbits, chipmunks, woodchucks. Moles and mice. Deer, wild turkeys, etc. Some critters dig, others climb, baby rabbits can fit through incredibly small holes in fences. I’ve seen gardeners get very disappointed and leave when their entire pea crop is eaten to the ground and they don’t have the resources to erect a good fence.

From all the community gardens I’ve been to it appears there’s most often a standardized, town-provided fence. Waltham Fields has chicken wire around each plot, Cambridge puts an external sturdy fence around the perimeter with a limited access gate then lets gardeners erect small internal fencing of their own choice. I’ve also heard of gardens where all fencing must be temporary and is removed each fall so the entire garden area can be tilled by large machinery in the spring.

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Town provided options gives a consistent and organized appearance. But they have their disadvantages. By allowing each gardener to erect their own fencing, we have all sorts of variety. From 3 foot to 6 foot structures. Rusty to polished. Barricades that exclude any critter remotely considering theft to open posts that line the edges.

Our gardens have grass paths between each plot. These provide buffer zones between personalities. They remind me of some poem of Frost’s. “Good wide paths make good plot neighbors.” If someone grows 6 ft tall corn, sunflowers or tomatoes, who would want to be adjacent at the north side? But those grassy paths require maintenance. And the more fences, the more potential structures for invasives to grow on.

With these thoughts in mind, our Community Garden is planning to add a few additional garden plots. A few more spaces, a few more happy gardeners….

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9 Comments. Leave new

  • We use welded wire fencing around our garden. Chipmunks have not been a problem for us, but the fence works well for woodchucks and rabbits. We scrounged some unused rolls from the town recycling center, but since then we've purchased some, too. It is a bit expensive but has the advantage of long life and is much easier to roll up tidily for storage than chicken wire (which we've also used less successfully).

    We use the green pound-in stakes pictured with the chicken wire above, and have made both wooden gates and have also made simple wire gates from pieces of the welded wire fencing, using zip ties as hinges, and a piece of wire as the closure device. This works well and is easy, changeable, and inexpensive.

    As for the Belmont gardens, I love the look of all the different types — it echoes the diversity of the community. To have all the same would be like living in a very controlled subdivision!

  • On our plots in Amsterdam, the garden management provides free fencing materials. You are not obliged to use it, but it is free and they will probably get a little upset if you build something radically different from what everyone else has. Some gardeners do build their own fences.

    Our plots are next to one another, which means it's possible to take out the dividing fence and combine them. Some gardeners have 2, 3 or 4 plots. There is even an extended family that has 6. I have 3, and will probably look for a 4th next year.

    Sometimes gardeners who are friendly as neighbors take out the fence in between, in order to help out in each other's gardens more easily.

    Unless you have intentionally taken out a fence for some reason, you are more or less obliged to maintain the fence around your garden mostly for aesthetic reasons. If you don't do it yourself, probably another gardener will come along and do it for you. This isn't really intended to be unfriendly, and means if you're like me and have no talent when it comes to building fences, someone else can do a better job for you.

    Our fences are about 4 feet high, and our most serious animal pests are rabbits and hares.

  • Thought this was a very interesting post. The community gardens that I had in Oregon did not have fences between the plots. But I find that fencing is great for small vegetable gardens on one's property.

    I have had gardens in many states. Some of my gardens did not require fencing and some did for various reasons — like in some community gardens and to keep big dogs and deer out. My favorite fence over the years was one my son and I built in New Mexico. It was welded wire and posts gleaned from the forest. It was a great sturdy fence and we even trenched the wire deep to keep out critters. At least we thought — forgot about the prairie dogs. They can tunnel deep and pop up inside the fence right while you are weeding.

    When I lived in a northern Midwest state I liked snow fencing which is made out of wood strips that are held together by wire and can be rolled up if one likes to store their fencing. It is sturdy and usually could be found second hand.

    Chicken wire has proved to be the least desirable. Big dogs can just push through it to reach those succulent tomatoes.


  • I like all the individuality of the plots in the Belmont Victory Gardens. Although some are more visually appealing than others (see the picture of the window screens), I totally understand that not everyone can afford to spend $200+ on a new fence for their garden.

    For those not familiar with it, the BVG have plots that are generally quite large – 15 feet square up to 20 feet x 30 feet. My wife and I installed a new fence in our plot last year, and it was definitely not cheap. We love the hobby aspect of the garden and aren't doing it to save money, but for those that are, it would be impossible to spend that kind of money – and without a fence, you're not going to have a crop.

    As for pulling up the fences every year – that's just awful. For one, it's a ton of work to put them in. Like, at least 4 weekends of work (we buried 8-12 inches of fencing to discourage burrowers).

    For another – I would hate to have anyone till my garden. We have perennials like rhubarb and chives growing there, plus we planted garlic during the fall. And that's not to mention the fact that tilling kills earthworms and destroys delicate structures in the soil.

    So, I would be in favor of town-assisted fencing for those who need help. A nice garden is something that can both produce food and a lot of pride for the gardeners, and if it takes a couple hundred bucks from the town's coffers to help someone grow their own food, I say, that is money well spent.

  • I'm very interested in community gardens in other locations. And how many it is reasonable for a town to supply?

    In Amsterdam, is it easy to get 6 garden plots for 1 family? How big is a single plot?

    We are just getting used to the recent and growing interest in vegetable gardening here in Belmont. It seems that it would be hard to provide enough space to all who want to garden. But this seems like an important thing to try to do. I would like to encourage our Commission to provide as much space as possible.

    I like the idea of supplying, but not requiring the use of, Town supplied fencing materials. I will recommend this. (I can't imagine any one helping to rebuild someone else's fence though! Wow! Not a New England concept.

  • Our plots range in size between 1100-1600 square feet (100-150 m2). This is just our garden complex, other complexes have smaller plots. Other complexes have different rules too.

    For our complex, every gardener is allowed a maximum of 2 plots and must perform 3 Saturday mornings of work duty. My girlfriend Steph however is allowed her 2 plots, but then is also responsible for 3 Saturday mornings of work.

    It's no problem however for me to take responsibility for Steph's 3 days of work, meaning I have to show up 6 Saturdays. If Saturdays get too busy, I can also arrange to do other work on other days instead. For example, they are very keen to have me on the garden management, and if I were to agree to this they would probably wave a number of Saturday mornings. I think in the end this would be far more work!

    If I wanted more than 4 plots in the same garden complex, I would have to use the name of a friend and figure out how to cover their 3 Saturdays of work.

    I'm also free to look for plots in other garden complexes, but most of them have similar work rules. I had another plot in a different complex for a few months, but gave it up because it wasn't working well.

    I know in the UK, where allotments are a well established part of the culture, the laws concerning them go back hundreds of years to the time of landless peasants. I'm not really sure what the current laws say, but basically the UK government is obliged to provide plots to whoever asks. It's become quite a political statement in recent years occupying urban space, in attempt to prevent development. There too, in principle, you're allowed to ask for as many plots as you can take care of and perform work duty for. In practice, the demand for plots is often so high, you may have a hard time justifying more than one. They often have very small plots too, and very long waiting lists.

    In the Netherlands, it's not quite a right to have a garden plot, but the cities are completely filled in. It's very rare to have enough space for a garden if you live in a city, so community gardens are all city dwellers have and therefore common.

    I personally have about 50 ft2 of garden space next to my house, with polluted ground and no sunlight. This is considered a luxury.

    In Amsterdam, the city government often puts community gardens in bad neighborhoods. This is because it's where there's space, but it's also seen as a way to improve things. For my garden complex, space is no problem and there's room to expand if the garden management thinks it's necessary. The neighborhood is not very good, but not seriously bad either. We have occasional problems with vandals and junkies.

    There's a lot more competition for garden space in better neighborhoods, and many of these complexes have rules about how your garden has to look and what percentage of flowers you have to have. There is even one complex in Amsterdam where vegetables are completely forbidden! Many of these garden complexes require more than 3 Saturday mornings a year of work.

    In fact, my garden complex is one of the few where vegetables are completely tolerated and considered the norm.

  • I think the answer to what kind of fence depends on two things … how long and what are you trying to keep out. Keeping out deer requires a TALL fence … 7-8 feet optimally. I've lived in New England and gardened in the middle of the woods. I did a high fence all around with 4X4's and plastic snow fencing (ugly and kinda expensive but effective.) In other locations where deer were not as big of a problem I have used welded wire with the smaller panels near the bottom to keep out small rodents. If I didn't think I could keep the fence up long, I would opt for plastic fencing over metal.

    I also hear that to deter groundhogs, keep the fencing floppy … they hate to try to climb floppy fencing.

  • This is such a great and wonderfully useful visual post! Thank you for taking these photos, cropping them and sharing them with us. 🙂 Really interested survey.


  • I cannot for the life of me, figure out how to make a gate for my wire mesh fence around my garden. Current gate is simply moving some extra fence back and forth and hooking ends to post clasps. Everyone keeps getting hurt trying to ope, close or hook the gate.I would like to make a gate separate from the fence where the current opening is now, with two new posts, hinges and a clasp. Anybody got an idea?
    Thanks so much.


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