Choosing the right boundary for your property can be a practical and stylish way of beautifying your home.
We’ve all heard a story about bickering neighbours—the “accidental” doggy-doo that appears on your lawn each morning or the sudden assembly of a four-metre high fence dividing your properties.
“Most people put boundaries on their property line,” says Jeanette French, landscape designer and owner of Daisy Design in St. Phillips, Newfoundland. “It’s a territorial issue and they want to mark off what is theirs.”
If it’s privacy you’re seeking, instead of making the statement, “this is mine and that is yours,” why not say, “this is mine and isn’t it beautiful?”
Whether it is for retaining, defining or aesthetic purposes, you can choose from a variety of constructed boundaries that will suit your yard.
Function and type
Before choosing between a wood or cast-iron fence, be aware of your accurate property boundary. Mark Bowering, a landscape contractor and owner of Bowering Ponds and Gardens in St. John’s, N.L., recommends having your yard surveyed before dialing a landscaping company. “If you build a fence or a wall and it is not on the right land, it can lead to huge costs to either get rid of it or move it somewhere else,” he says.
French suggests handling problems with drainage on your property before installing any boundary, particularly if it’s a sloping lot. “If you feel like your property does not drain well, that’s also something that should be investigated,” she says.
Before you decide on a type of boundary, think about what you need it to do: provide privacy, retain a wall, keep in children or pets, define your property line, screen for wind or snow, or be an artistic feature in the space.
Pick a material and size appropriate for your space. Although there are enough choices to make you want to bury your head in the ground where your soon-to-be boundary sits, main options for fencing are pressure-treated wood, cedar, wrought iron and chain link. For stone, pisa stone, concrete blocks and natural stone are popular. Hedges and trees remain the top greenery choices.
As you weigh the options, think about the scale of your yard. “If you are going to locate some sort of boundary in the background of your property and it’s quite a larger property, you would have the flexibility to go higher…to really provide a backdrop,” says Tina Beers, a landscape architect with BDA Landscape Architects in Riverview, New Brunswick. “The closer you get to your house, you want to come down in scale simply because it’s in relation to the size of the space you’re in.”
As a landscape architect and owner of Outside Planning and Design Studio in Halifax, Sue Sirrs sees homeowners seeking more “green” boundaries. Whether that means enclosing a property with evergreen trees or defining the garden with a few hedges, she says the objective is aesthetic. “If people are looking for a hedge or tree to line their property or to try and define their property, to do it with plant material means that you get something that appeals to the owner,” she says.
Like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, Halifax homeowner Susie White saw the retaining walls of her driveway closing in on her. During the winter, she worried an avalanche of snow would pin her under the two-metre barriers.
After more than 50 years of erosion and disturbance from tree roots, the large retaining walls needed replacing. But replacing them also involved building a new walkway, uprooting every tree in the front yard and widening the driveway. It wouldn’t be easy, but White was up for the challenge.
“If you stuck this pre-fabricated crap in there, it would have been odious,” she says, affirming her decision to use natural stone that would complement the style of her 60-year-old home in Halifax’s South End. “I think you have a certain obligation to a property. If you’re going to own property, take care of it.”
Stone walls like White’s require little to no maintenance and should last the lifetime of your house. Factors such as land erosion could potentially cause problems down the road but there isn’t any short-term upkeep.
Wood is another story. Much like siding on a house, you may need to break out the paintbrushes every few years to maintain a stained or painted fence. “Even though the wooden fence is cheaper up front, over the long term the maintenance is certainly higher,”
The same goes for a tree or hedge boundary, depending upon the species and style. Sirrs says well-tamed formal greenery needs regular clipping and trimming. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, consider hiring a maintenance crew.
Like any home project, there are many factors involved in calculating the cost of erecting a boundary. Depending on the type and size of the material used, and the amount of labour needed, prices can vary from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.
While it’s hard to give precise estimates, Bowering says a wood fence is usually the least expensive option, followed by pisa stone, with natural stone topping the list as the biggest investment. It would cost about $6,000 to $10,000, for example, to install a 15-metre pressure-treated wood fence that was two metres high. He says a natural stone wall of the same size could cost $10,000 to $20,000 dollars.
But quality reigns over quantity for Bowering. “If it’s installed properly, a stone wall should last you the life of the house,” he says. “Whereas a fence, even if it’s a pressure-treated fence, is going to last a maximum of 15 years. [Stone is] definitely an investment but it may be a better choice in the long run.”
In dense urban situations, wood fencing is a practical choice. “Wooden or board fences will always be popular because you can come up with a number of different variations of a fence,” Beers says. “You can do quite a bit with wood that lends itself to be a little more flexible.”
White won’t reveal her final bill but says her natural stone wall was a substantial investment. Although her wallet is lighter, she says she owed it to her house.
“Of course it enhances the value of the house but I think it deserves it,” she says, standing atop the newly constructed wall looking out to the water. “It’s like having a beautiful horse and letting it out of the barn to run. It’s like owning a beautiful dress—it needs to be worn. It’s a beautiful house, it deserves the best.”
Stonemason Arnold Crawley and his team were at her house eight hours each day, five days a week, from June until October, 2010. After watching Crawley hand-cut each stone, White is sure he’s an artist. “It’s a leap of faith,” she says. “You have to let them do their job and you have to trust because you won’t be disappointed.”
Ask the right questions
There are listings aplenty for landscapers in your local yellow pages, so how do you find the right team for the job? Tina Beers suggests asking landscapers these questions.
- Do you have experience on similar projects and can you provide examples? “It’s almost like asking for references,” Beers says. “What other projects have they done that are comparable that you could visit.”
- Do you have a website that provides more information?
- Are you a member of the Nursery Landscape Association? This is a not-for-profit federation that certifies members in the landscape, retail garden centre and nursery sectors.
- If not, what are your qualifications? “Not all landscaping companies are registered and it’s not to say that they’re not doing good work,” Beers says. “You can ask them how many years of experience they have.”
When to go green
If you’ve decided to beautify your boundary with greenery, Sue Sirrs recommends planting either when the first tulips emerge from the soil in the spring or when the leaves turn in the fall.
BEST: “Spring is the best time to plant because you need water on a regular basis to get the plants established. If you get them in during the colder weather before the heat of the summer, it gives them a chance to get started. The roots will grow and get a good foundation and stability in that first year. It also gets in one good growing season and will be firmly established before winter.”
SECOND BEST: “Fall is the next best scenario, particularly the cooler time. The cooler temperatures allow the roots to establish before winter arrives.”