Garden fencing lowdown – Part 1

Garden fences – I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. I love them because you can quickly and easily screen off the garden and make it secure. I hate them because they invariably tend to be quite ugly and also unbelievably pricey. Also, if it’s your fence, you usually end up looking at the ugly side, and your neighbours get the nice looking side!


Putting up a good fence can cost thousands, and actually, so can putting up a ‘cheap’ one, fencing just isn’t cheap to do. This of course then reduces the amount you can spend on the rest of the garden. Fences are often an annoying but necessary expense.

Why is garden fencing so expensive?

Even though you can get fencing panels for under £20 each, which seems quite reasonable, it’s amazing how it all soon adds up. If you have a 6 foot high fence, then you will need posts that are eight-foot high. You will also need to have a decent amount of concrete to hold the posts in place.

Many years ago I was employed to run a landscaping company (a job I really didn’t enjoy). Part of my job was doing all the quotes. I had to know how long it took to dig a hole, concrete the posts and put up a fence and exactly how much sand and cement would be used for each and every post footing. You can probably now see why I hated the job so much, quotes are not fun.

I can still remember that we used to allow an hour for each fence post. Now that might sound a ridiculous amount of time, but you’d be amazed just how many soils, especially on new building sites, have more compacted rubble, than soil.

What is involved with putting up a fence properly?

Digging two foot down probably doesn’t sound like much, but it can be quite hard and therefore time-consuming. Sometimes we would even have to hire a breaker which is like a mini-road drill just to get down that far. A cubic metre of sand ballast (which is sand that has 20mm stone in it for added strength) would do approximately 20 posts with about 8 bags of cement.

So, with the cost of the panel, the sand, cement, and concrete or timber posts and the gravel boards, fixings plus the labour and of course let’s not forget the VAT, before you know it each panel is costing approximately £100 or more to put up. And of course a garden with 10 panels or more really does add up.

Even though I completely understand the costs involved, it still doesn’t mean to say I like them, and I suspect you don’t either. Though, if you compare it to the cost of putting a brick wall up, fences suddenly look a lot better value for money for a quick garden screening and security solution.

What is the best fence type to have?

The quick answer, is probably the best one you can afford. Yes, you can get cheaper panels but they never last long. The labour involved is more or less the same to put up a cheap panel as it is an expensive one.

Probably the best type of fence is the one that is made in situ as they tend to be stronger, i.e. it’s not panels as such, it’s a morticed post fence. This is the one that has a notch taken out of the posts and then three rails slot in, and then the feather edged boards are attached (a feather edge is a timber board that has one side thicker than the other so that you can overlap them more easily). From the neighbour’s side it just looks like a continuous stretch of fence.


If you’re wondering why on earth your neighbours always end up with the nice side, I think it comes down to security more than anything, as the crossbars can be used to very easily climb over the fence as you can see on the first part of the image above.

If you go for this type of fence though, it really does have to be built properly. The post must be put in deep enough or the first strong wind and the entire fence will blow down rather than just a panel coming loose.

What is the best type of fence post, concrete or wood?

Concrete-fence-postConcrete will definitely last longer, but is incredibly ugly, although that can be got around by painting it. Hardwood timber, like oak do last about 10 years in the ground, sometimes longer.

Softwood timber will need to be pressure treated and should last between 10 to 20 years. Do be aware that pressure treating does not go right the way through the timber. It only goes down to between one and 3 mm, if memory serves me correctly. So that means if you cut the post, you absolutely must put a preservative on the cut end, especially if that’s the end you’re concreting into the soil.

If the landscaper who is building the fence for you cuts any of the timber, you must make sure that they re-treat it, as it’s surprising the number that don’t know that the pressure treatment doesn’t go that deeply into the wood.

On a side note, NEVER burn the offcuts of pressure treated timber, as there can be all sorts of nasties in it like arsenic – though that might been banned by now, as it has been quite a few years since I last was involved with the more technical aspects of landscape construction.

In Part 2 of this garden fence lowdown we will look at more examples of different types of fencing.

BUT of course, a nice fence alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

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About Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 20 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

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