A classic piece of garden infrastructure, the wattle fence has been used for centuries to contain areas and animals. A popular ingredient in Victorian style gardens, this ancient form of fencing utilizes natural materials, in particular the saplings of pliable, native trees such as willows, to create a sturdy and elegant barrier.
If you want to learn more about the wattle fence, including how to make your own, this complete guide building and maintaining a wattle fence is for you.
The natural appearance of wooden barriers blends with the landscape.
What is a Wattle Fence?
A wattle fence is the name given to a wooden, woven barrier.
Traditionally used in the United Kingdom as well as parts of Europe it has long been a popular way to enclose livestock or mark out areas of land. Some wattle fence barriers can also be moveable, making this both a durable and versatile fencing solution.
Despite its age, today the wattle fence remains a popular choice amongst gardeners and small farmers, because it is a versatile, environmentally friendly and fencing solution.
Why Choose a Wattle Fence?
The wattle fence may be an old fashioned choice but it still has many benefits and uses.
As we have already noted, it provides a low cost way to add structure and security to your garden. When properly constructed and maintained, a wattle fence is just as sturdy as any other form of fencing such as a chain link fence.
Constructing a wicker barrier is also a great use of natural resources. Scavenging or sourcing your own wood further helps to keep costs down and reduces your use of synthetic or single use materials. Because it uses natural materials, a wattle barrier blends seamlessly into a range of planting schemes such as cottage and natural gardens. Wooden barriers are also a good choice for wildlife and nature gardens.
An attractive option, you can soften the appearance of the wicker barrier further by training roses or flowering perennials such as the clematis or sweet pea along the length of the panel. Alternatively, you can also use the wattle panels as a support for climbing and vining fruit and vegetables such as pea plants, beans, melons and squashes. In fact many people see wattle barriers as a key part of their organic garden. Here the wicker barrier is used to mark out growing beds and create natural looking planters.
As well as being an attractive and resilient natural barrier, the wattle fence is, with a bit of practice, surprisingly easy to construct.
These are versatile structures suitable for many different styles of garden. Wicker fence by Nick Grabowski / CC BY 2.0
What Materials Do You Need?
Wattle is a robust and reliable fencing material. It is also surprisingly cheap. Most of the materials needed to construct a barrier can be found either in your garden or in nearby woodland.
A wattle fence is made up of two parts. The Uprights, also known as Sales, and the Weavers, sometimes referred to as Saplings. While both the Uprights and Weavers are wooden, they require different types of wood. The Uprights should be thick and sturdy while the weavers need to be long and flexible. One of the best types of wood for the weaver section of the barrier is willow.
Willow is a popular choice because it is more resistant to splintering than other types of wood. Soaking willow for a couple of days before using it, helps to make it even more pliable than it naturally is. This means that it can be manipulated or woven into different shapes with ease. When harvesting willow branches, remember to strip away any excess leaves and buds. A surprisingly sturdy and robust wood, willow fencing has a pleasingly long lifespan if not damaged.
Combining willow and reeds creates a dense fencing panel. It also looks warmer than other panel options.
Long and pliable, willow branches are a good choice.
Hazel is another popular choice. More stick-like and informal than a dense willow panel, the color of hazel can vary depending on the area it grows in.
You can also use chestnut, elm or alder. Bamboo, while less conventional, is another sturdy and visually interesting option. In the Southwest region of the United States, sweet chestnut trees are a common sight. Their long, slender branches are ideal for weaving into a robust wicker barrier.
Basically, when it comes to selecting wood for the weavers, the length and thickness of the wood is of more importance than the actual variety. Whatever wood you decide to use, make sure that it isn’t too thick. It should be pliable enough to bend without breaking.
Weavers are best made from freshly cut, green wood. Green wood is young and more pliable than old wood, making it ideal for weaving. Don’t be afraid of using green wood, it dries up over time.
Tall, straight saplings or branches tend to be more pliable and are also more likely to keep their shape. The diameter of the weavers should be 1.5 to 2 inches, roughly the same as bean supports.
Tall bamboo sticks can be woven to create a dense and visually interesting panel.
Uprights should be constructed from old or heavy wood. A half-split hazel stake around 3 to 4 inches in diameter is a sturdy option.
Sharpen the upright at one end to make a point. When you hammer the stake into the ground, the point helps to drive the stake through the soil, securing it in place.
The height of the uprights varies depending on how tall you want the wicker panel to be. For example, if you want your wattle fence to be 3 foot tall your stake should be 4 to 4.5 ft tall.
If you want your wicker barrier to be moveable, or to create a wooden hurdle, you will need to use a wooden jig which should be the same length as the wooden panel. The wooden jig should have 6 to 8 holes drilled in, the same diameter as your uprights. This enables the jig to hold the wattle fence panel firmly in place as you construct it.
You will also need:
- Secateurs or Garden Scissors,
- Loppers or a Bow Saw,
- Hand Sickle or Bush Hook,
- Mallet or Hammer,
- Small post auger,
- Measuring tape.
How to Create a Permanent Wattle Fence
Mark out a line where the structure will sit. If you are constructing a straight barrier you will need to use a plumb line to mark out the line. A garden hose is a great way to mark out a curved barrier.
Once you have marked out the line of your wattle fence, make a mark every 8 inches along the guide line. Start on the left and work to the right.
Use a small post auger, such as a Rokrou Auger Post Hole Digger or hand digger to make a hole at every mark. The holes should be roughly 8 inches deep.
Once you have made all the holes, the next stage is to hammer in the uprights. Drive the pointed end of the upright into the soil, using a mallet. The upright should be driven down to a depth of about 1 ft. When you feel the upright hit the subsoil it should be deep enough to be secure.
When all your uprights are securely in place it is time to start creating the panels. Take a long, pliable weaver. Starting on the left, leaving a 2 inch overlap, weave the sapling in and out of the posts until you run out of sapling. Then take another sapling and, starting in the same position, weave this in and out of the posts in opposite directions. For example, if the first sapling is woven in front of the first upright, behind the second upright, and so on, the second sapling should go in opposite directions, that is to say behind the first upright and in front of the second etc.
Repeat this process of weaving the saplings until 6 to 8 are in place. Then go to the end of the first sapling. Take a new sapling and ease the largest end behind the upright one back from where the first weaver ends. This overlaps the new sapling with the first. Continue to weave the new sapling, following the same pattern as the first, along the posts.
This should be repeated until you reach the end of the fence. Repeat this proves, weaving new saplings along the entire length of the fence until you have a complete wicker barrier 6 to 8 weavers high.
After reaching the end of the structure, return to the start and repeat the process weaving another layer of 6 to 8 saplings for the length of the entire structure. Continue to repeat this process until you reach the desired height for your structure. Aim to leave roughly an inch and a half between the top of the panel and the top of the upright.
After completing your wattle fence, use the loppers or secateurs to tidy up any excess sticks on the right hand side of the wattle fence. Like the left hand side, the weavers can be allowed to stick out past the last upright by roughly 2 inches.
The weavers can be blended to create a dense panel. Source: Wicker by Jesse Loughborough / CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunface13/2243343199/
How to Make a Moveable Panel
To make a moveable panel you will need a wooden jig the same length as your finished panel.
Tap your uprights into the wooden jig with a sturdy hammer or mallet. The uprights should stand straight. They should also be spaced evenly apart.
Once you are happy with the position of your uprights, take a weaver stick and, as described above, horizontally weave it in and out of the uprights. Start on the left and work to the right. Allow the weaver to extend a couple of past the left hand post. If the stick is too long, allow the excess to stick out, it can be tidied up later.
Take another weaver and again weave from the left hand upright to the right upright. Remember to weave the sapling in the opposite way from the first. So, if you went in front of the first upright the first time, this time you go behind it. Again leave any excess to deal with later.
Continue to weave the saplings, repeating the alternating pattern each time, until you reach the desired height.
Use the loppers to cut away any excess sticks protruding beyond the right hand upright. Leave just a couple of inches overlap on the last upright.
This technique can also be used to make moveable panels or hurdles. Source: Hurdle making demonstration by Anguskirk / CC BY 2.0
Once finished the panel can be carefully lifted from the wooden jig, making sure you don’t undo the weaving in the process, and placed in position.
Ongoing Care and Maintenance
Once constructed, ongoing care of a wattle fence is pleasingly minimal.
Apply a wood preservative at least once a year. Some products may recommend a more regular application. A regular coating of wood preservative, such as linseed or turpentine oil, helps to extend the lifespan of the wattle fence and protect it from the elements. Both linseed oil and turpentine oil are reliable products that are easily found in your local hardware or garden store.
Wooden barriers provide a sturdy and resilient way to enclose and secure your garden.
A great way to provide structure and security whilst only using natural materials, a wattle fence can blend into most landscapes and planting schemes. Affordable, and with just a little practice, easy to construct and maintain it is obvious why the wattle fence remains such a popular garden structure.