THE most ungainly fence that has ever been devised is made by running lengths of gas pipe through upright wooden posts, and coupling them together. From an aesthetic point of view such a fence has not one redeeming feature, its ugliness stands out uncompromisingly and detracts from whatever beauty the house and grounds may possess. It is strong and easy to construct, and is quite cheap considering its substance; and it has a smug, neat appearance that many people cannot resist. They excuse the use of it by saying that they intend to cover it quickly with vines. They may cover it but they cannot hide it; the most luxurious tropical growth would be unable to veil its protruding personality. You would know it was a gas-pipe fence if it was boarded up and vines trained over the boards, and you would shudder when you passed it and instinctively anathematize the plumber that invented it. If men arc known by their works you would recognize a man who built such a fence around his yard or garden as one who, although he might be rich, yet was penurious; perhaps kind to his wife and children, but possessing no real affection; and you would pity his family.
You would place him as a tradesman who had risen from the ranks, but who certainly deserved to be degraded again, and sum up by adding that whatever he was he possessed no soul; for souls and gas-pipe fencing are farther apart than earth and Heaven.
A wire fence is not so bad because it is inconspicuous; it is often necessary to erect one to keep the grounds and garden inviolate from marauding dogs and fowls, and a hedge can be grown around it, quickly obliterating its outlines from the landscape. When a hedge is used, however, a gas-pipe fence is unnecessary, because it cannot keep out small animals, and cows and horses know enough to go around through the gateway. The posts of a wire fence should be made so light and thin that they are almost invisible.
Brick Wall in an English Garden.
Next in ugliness to the gas-pipe fence is the wall that is made of mortar, with stones of various shapes and sizes stuck into it after the manner of raisins and almonds in a plum cake, presenting a very rococo appearance. Field stones laid in mortar, with deeply sunken joints, is a modified form of this atrocity. These walls are extremely commonplace and should be used only with houses built of field stone or in the rustic or Swiss chalet style, on a mountain-side, or in a primitive country, - if they are used at all. They should never appear near a garden, for the beauty of beautiful flowers is degraded by their coarse ugliness. At seashore colonies on rockbound coasts they are often found; and the dauntless Nasturtium is the only flower that can be used near them without appearing ridiculous. At one time they were supposed to be artistic; it must have been when the tide of art was at very low ebb in this country. These walls are insults to nature when used among beautiful wild trees such as Oaks, and cry out discordantly in semi-formal arrangements. At the present time one finds them around jerry-built houses of hideous architecture and gaudy colouring.
And in such surroundings they are more at home.
The old, rather loosely jointed stone walls that are common in New York and New England are very picturesque, and if your place is enclosed by one you should retain it by all means. A stone mason will set it to rights in a short time, level it up, fill in the holes, straighten the large stones and rehabilitate it generally, at a small expense. Good capstones should be laid to keep the other stones in place, and Honeysuckles, Roses or Virginia Creeper planted to run over them. You will find that the effect cannot be improved.
If you decide to have a wall build a dry one, that is, one that is laid up without mortar. Do not let the mason construct it in too smooth a manner, but try to get the effect of an old wall. The Italian stone masons are very expert at this work (and nearly every Italian is a stone mason) and if there are any old walls on your place, or any stones left from the excavation of your cellar, you cannot use them in a better or a more economical way; such a wall will last forever. In work of this kind it is always best to use native stone and not to import any of strange tones or colours.
Old Stone Wall.
Walls of cut stone are only appropriate for elaborate parks when the house is built of cut stone. The character of the walls and fences should be determined by the character of the house, especially if they will be seen together. You do not want your gateway to appear as if it had been constructed for some mansion that has since been destroyed, and was utilized to save the bother of building another.
Walls are too massive and heavy to use for garden enclosures, unless they are connected with the house to form a forecourt, for instance, or unless the features of the land demand them, when the garden can be placed in their shelter. A small garden situated on the lawn, or near it, should not be enclosed by a wall; a picket fence or a hedge is far better. The custom of shutting in a garden with high walls is not followed in America except when such a course is necessary to secure privacy; the sentiment of the country is opposed to it. The walled grounds and gardens of England are survivals of mediaeval days when one's neighbours were inquisitive and generally obnoxious. We admire them as curiosities, quaint relics of the past, but we should not long to imitate them.
Picket Fence on a Low Brick Wall.