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The Doyenne of Dirt:
Ketzel Levine is Talking Plants

November 25, 2000

Ketzel, Della, & guest, Sadie

This is the second week of Ketzel's search for a fence on Weekend Edition Saturday. Last week, you heard her cries for help, and responded en masse. In this installment, Ketzel takes your words to heart and ups the ante.

  • Here's more from Talking Plants

    This Week's Dispatch from the Doyenne
    So there I was, stalled out in my own front yard. Couldn’t even bring myself to buy spring bulbs, such was the contempt I had for the space in which I gardened. Figured I’d unburden myself of some useless shame and guilt, plus pick up some fence ideas, by inviting Weekend Edition Saturday listeners into my dilemma and asking for their two cents. You are now talking to a very rich broad.

    I am (pick one) overwhelmed, amazed, humbled and delighted by the thoughtful and thorough responses I’ve received to my pleas for fence help. If I wasn’t trying to earn a living plus have a life (let alone, garden), I’d answer every sweet note (I’ve already trashed the unpleasant ones, so there). Instead, let me offer this round-up of the most commonly asked questions, and let you peek at some of the best ideas.

    And Away We Go!

    Question: Why did you leave your other beautiful garden and move into this pit in the first place?!
               ---Maija from Reno

    Ketzel's Answer: Geez, do I have to spell it out for you? M-O-N-E-Y. The last place was a rental; this house is my very own. And let me add, it’s a really sweet place. But house prices being what they are here, I couldn’t find a good house with a good garden.

    * * * * *

    Question: Why not plant your fence—after all, you're a gardener!            ---Michael from Reno

    Ketzel's Answer: (Check it out, Maija and Michael, both from Reno. Should we set them up?)

    Greenery -– as opposed to wood -- was by far the most recommended fencing solution. Guys, you weren’t listening. The problem here is more than just a screen from the street, it’s the need to create an atmosphere within the fence, too, something that creates a feeling, an aesthetic, a mood. A green wall doesn’t do it for me, and a riotous mixed border is precisely what I need to get away from (I can do chaos; structure and serenity, now that’s a challenge). But before I completely dismiss living fences (can we kill that term?), let me acknowledge the scads of you who are seriously into bamboo.

    * * * * *

    Question: Clumping varieties are species Bambusa, Chusquea, Otatea, Sinarundinaria and Thamnoculamus, and heights vary greatly depending on the species and subspecies selected. A wonderful, huge fence can be yours in a short time with Bambusa oldhamii, the giant timber bamboo which averages 15-25 feet. I planted the more modest Golden Goddess (Bambusa multiplex) several years ago and now have a beautiful screen where an ugly corner and fence were visible.
               ---Carol from Redwoood City

    Ketzel s Answer: I won’t “yes, but” you bamboo people, I agree that the plant is gorgeous and enormously versatile. I already grow the elegant, clumping Fargesia nitida (syn. Sinarundinaria nitida) and I love its airy grace. But it ain’t no screen. I will readily incorporate bamboo into the garden, but I don’t like it as a fence, either living or dead. Forgive me, but living inside a bamboo fence -- unless it’s a stunning work of craftsmanship (read: money) -- would make me feel like a P.O.W.

    * * * * *

    On with the fences, shall we? Let’s start with this fabulous fence designed by Steve from Portland.
    Fence by Steven Kass
    Fence Drawing by Steve Kass
    (Click for Larger Photo)
    I love it. Alas, as I told Steve, it won’t work. Two reasons. First, I’d have to trample the inside planting beds to get to the flower boxes. Second, I’d need a drip system to water them. Too much work. But his design does echo a good number of your sentiments about having window boxes incorporated into the fence, as well as window-like openings, using everything from old window frames and colorful acrylic panels to glass brick (a construction nightmare, but never mind).

    Arial View From Ron and Martha Dupas

    Side View
    Side View

    Here’s a quick sketch from Ron and Martha just outside Portland. They write: “Total privacy from one point of view, yet nearly open from another point of view, and cuts costs way down because you get to reuse your existing picket fence.”

    I’ve seen this around and I do like the zig-zag, perhaps in a less formal, off-the-street setting.

    So where are we? I agree with many of you that the fence as currently designed is a little dense and humorless. I’ll work on that, and post new drawings once they’re ready. A few of you suggested I involve the loitering high school kids in the design, construction and ornamentation of the fence. Definite potential there.

    And we have a winner at the absurd end of the spectrum:

    Question: For perhaps less $ than wood, you could suspend some plastic piping with nozzles and recirculate a small pond of water that would create “waterfall windows”. Turn them “on” when you want to block the view in or out, turn them “off” to open the window.
              ---Bill from Roseburg, OR

    Ketzel's Answer: You gotta admit, it could be a fabulous garden folly.

    Feel free to rifle through this week’s mail, and by all means, send more, but let me know if you don't want it printed. In time, we’ll make it possible for you to post your own dilemmas and bask in the wisdom of your peers. For now, though, the pleasure’s all mine... and boy howdy, do you guys make me shine.


    P.S. It will all be fine. The strength of your personality will claim the space.       -- Marsee from Olympia

    Got to love a dreamer.

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