It’s not really a garden without a fenceBy FELDER RUSHING,
My yard is now a better garden, in the Medieval sense of the word. A new custom-designed entry gate has created a special feeling of being set apart from the outside. As it should.
It can be confusing, what we call our plots of land. Landscape? Garden or its shortened slang “yard” version? No matter, if you can relate to where it all started.
The hortus conclusus or “enclosed garden” practice actually began well over 6,000 years ago, when simple people started erecting crude walls, fences, and dense hedges to protect their food and animals from roaming animals and wandering humans.
In colder climates large gardens with tall stone walls were and are still used as shelters against wind and frost; as far north as Scotland I have seen healthy fig trees producing heavily, espaliered against warm south-facing stone walls.
Speaking of figs, the florific spaces the ancient Persians called pairidaeza were translated by Greeks as paradise, to describe what we now call the Garden of Eden.
Anyway, the word “garden” comes from the proto-Indo-European word “ghordos” meaning a guarded or enclosed area, which gave rise to English-speakers’ modern words including court, courtyard, orchard, and even the hort in horticulture.
I also noticed outside a public garden in Japan that the symbol for the garden was a closed square.
The important take-away is the concept of it being a confined space. In a 1755 dictionary, Dr Samuel Johnson defined a garden as “a piece of ground, enclosed, and cultivated with extraordinary care, planted with herbs or fruit or food, or laid out for pleasure.”
So, the origins of the word garden refers to a special, set-aside space for growing stuff. My way of thinking is, if you don’t feel safe and secure, it ain’t a garden — just an open field of plants and accessories.
Until recently, because free-roaming animals were a thing, most of us had fences. You can still see great examples in Colonial Williamsburg, or our own governor’s mansion, and most cemeteries. And when I was a kid, there were still lots of lesser fences along the main streets, usually picket, hairpin woven wire, and later chain link. Of course, as with so many other social signals, the more decorative the fence, the more prestige it conveyed.
Though some still stand, during the two World Wars many once-fashionable Victorian-era iron fences were pulled up and melted down into war materiel. After that, largely because of the stylistic influence of wide-open suburbia and its wall-to-wall lawns, fences fell out of favor; older ones were eventually removed, new ones never put up. As we retreated into airconditioned dens and private back yards, they disappeared (with spacious front porches).
We got away from the idea of front gardens. It’s swinging back into style though, especially in newer upscale home developments. Doesn’t have to be a real barrier, just the hint of security, privacy, and ownership. Even a partial fence, a stand-alone gate in the hedge, an arbor delineating the front or side yard from the more private back, can be highly symbolic.
And it begs as an obvious place to plant small shrubs and vines; can’t have a climbing rose without an arbor.
Over the years I’ve had all kinds. Wooden split rail, chain link, loopy wire hairpin from my great-grandmother’s long-gone garden, “wattle” made from woven crape myrtle stems, even upright sheets of silvery corrugated roofing tin cut with a wavy top. And tightly pruned hedges, of course.
I now use curvy, vine-like metal rods and one-of-a-kind handmade gates. Makes the garden look artsy.
Makes it a real garden.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author and columnist who writes a weekly column for the state’s newspapers. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.