the fence: zen hen

We had a big, sunny weekend outside (after many weekends outside) that culminated in Andy exhaling as he fell into the grass, “Holy shit the fence is done.”


Our fence was a big project that began with months of research and brainstorming and, mostly, standing in our yard staring at the melting snow and then thawing earth while tossing ideas back and forth. We needed a fence for our dog, kids and garden. But! For decades, our property has been the neighborhood pathway to the public space behind our home and we wanted to honor that tradition. Also, the fact that our land spills into the vast, undeveloped mountain is its best asset so we didn’t want to just fence it shut.

The result of all this planning, consulting with local government, material shopping, digging nearly 90 feet of holes and heaving wood and metal together is one helluva beautiful fence that keeps our edible garden safe, allows neighborhood access and highlights the lovely free movement from our backyard to wilderness. We did it! Er, rather, Andy did it! And I took pictures, made gin and tonics and consistently came up with really good ideas and funny jokes!


My man’s fabulous attention to detail blows me away. Every single aspect of our fence is completely, thoughtfully perfect.


He might look a little concentrated grumpy here. He probably was. I had my best encouraging spouse cheer going, which includes food, coffee and aforementioned jokes and gin.

Our guiding criteria:

1. Bored by six-foot cedar privacy fences, we wanted something artful, unique and clean.

Our fence is framed (on both sides) corrugated metal on the north side:

the street-facing section is totally pimped out in cedar trimmings and a Pittsburgh tat

interior side of the north facing fence

We planted raspberries along this side of fence.


The east side is framed on the back with the height stepped into the hillside. The north 3/4 is corrugated metal, the back 1/4 is a beautiful cedar rain wall.


FAQ: WTF is a rain wall?!

I am so glad you asked! I hadn’t a clue. But Andy called it a rain wall and I liked it so that’s what I called it. Here’s what it is, according to my in-depth interweb research: Also called a rainscreen, a rain wall is the exterior weather-facing surface (like siding on a home) that stands off from the moisture-resistant surface of the structural backup wall (like the plywoody wall under the home siding). In a rainscreen, the air gap allows the circulation of air, removes condensation and helps direct water away from the dry insulation where it otherwise might cause problems such as mold formation and water leakage. It’s more popular in the Pacific Northwest US and other areas where moisture gets all up in building structures.

So, this here horizontally slatted fence is compositionally, visually like a rain wall and yet functions just like a plain ol’ fence. We chose it for beauty, interest and trellis function.


2. Use reclaimed materials.

Andy has LONG dreamed of a fence constructed from graffitied railroad car sections. He’s been talking about it for years. We didn’t find any (oh yes, we looked and looked). Instead, we settled on salvaged corrugated metal which interestingly satisfies a bit of the graffiti curiosity: it’s endlessly fun to study and changes with the light; it’s vibrant, intriguing and fun.

We bought all of our corrugated metal from Heritage Timber

The daily continuum of cast shadows is my favorite surprise.


The front gate is six feet wide, to easily allow for passage of  bikes, sleds, wheelbarrows and large herds of children.


3. Create a private nook but an overall open feel.

This was our mental hangup. Out house sits in the middle of the property but the west side is surrounded by 14 giant trees. In answer to your questions about how it is all situated (sincerely, I haven’t meant to be so cryptic!):

I am standing on the hill, facing north (more about: fort, coop)

The east side is where the edible plot would surely be, where the fence would surely be but how to keep that wide open runway that made us flip over this place? We use this area a lot and didn’t want complete enclosure.

before any of this

Here, I am standing up near the front door of our house, which is on the west side; the fence angles back into the corner of our house so we can exit our front door and peel out up the hill:
in the middle of fence construction

4. Enclose an area for Alice and the kids to hang, a bear-proof area for trash and compost.

Margot planting calendula seeds we saved from our last home 

5. Form a giant, sunny, critter-proof garden plot.

You’ll notice in the above pic, we had 6′ fencing all around. The photo below shows we chose to lower the interior north facing portion. We did this to minimize fence vision, to reuse existing fencing material and because it isn’t necessary to have a deer proof fence here (it’s inside the tall fence).


The other two sides of the garden fence are 6′ welded wire. We wanted to do 8′ (I’ve seen deer jump 6′) but the permitting was bananas. So we are trying out 6 and plan to install flags on the posts. We’ll go up if we need to. So far though, no deer jumping. And they hang out in our yard every day. And this reminds me of a deer fencing study I just heard about where the most effective deer fencing is two 3′ fences, 2′ apart?! Apparently, deer won’t jump it. Wish I could share some sort of link with you…anyone know about this? Hmm, I’ll hunt for it and let you know.

Andy regularly used a compression strap to make the garden fencing straight and taut like the most perfect spreadsheet I’ve ever seen.



6. Maintain a path for the public to access the sledding hill.

We decided to set our fence off our neighbor’s by four feet. We pruned up trees and created a little aisle to open space. It’s plenty of room for strollers, sleds, dogs and excited children and we are looking into creating an actual easement on the land.
south-facing before:
backyard/north hills
This photo from September 2011 | Ruby stands where my garden plot now is. We cut that tree down which was a choice made after consulting with an arborist. 
south-facing after:

I think a good fence is like a good room arrangement or a good wall paint color: it showcases, rather than distracts. It’s not so much about blocking or dividing as it is about defining, framing and highlighting. A good fence is a blissful union of form and function.

We are so excited about our new front yard sculpture from artist Nathan Tonning.


Our renter of the last six months whom we adore (the tenant in the home we bought…I know it’s confusing and I’ll tell the story soon), pointed out that, from the right angle all you can read is Zen Hen.

46 Responses to the fence: zen hen

  1. Liane says:

    This was the first post I read when I woke up this morning and it has me smiling already. I love how you look at life!

    Your husband is very talented! x

  2. Bad ass fence. Your piece of earth is amazing. I can’t wait to sip a cocktail someday right there as our babes giggle. Looove it. And cheers to the rain wall. Is the sculpture brick or wood?

  3. Jenn! I so look forward to that as well. Many times, beginning this summer. The sculpture is clay, a brickish clay that Nathan makes.

  4. Hazel says:

    Oh fencing makes me happy, bordering on excited. I love how much thought you have put into it. It truly is a work of art in itself.
    Thanks for answering my question about the rain wall. I love the use of the timber and the corrugated iron. The sculpture is fab too.
    We are so lucky we don’t have to deal with deer and bears. The cheeky wallabies and pademelons and bandicoots are enough. But most of them are too small to jump very high. Our fence is mostly wire, with pine H sections in the corner. We (of course I mean Rob) used a tool called a gripple to tension our wire. It’s pretty darn powerful and a few of our h sections went a little skewed (I call it our Picasso fence), but it seems to be working.
    We do let the wildlife eat the other 8 acres of pasture, so I don’t feel too mean about excluding them from the garden and orchard.
    Oh and I love your new sculpture. Zen Hen! Love it.

  5. Samantha says:

    I love that you guys maintained public access to the hill! It reminds me of England. Whenever I would go to visit my granny, she would always take us on walks through fields and farms. I used to worry we were in someone’s property, but in certain parts of England, it’s a law that you have to have a public footpath cutting through your property. My mom grew up there and always remembers walking for miles through someone else’s field to get to town. So lovely.

  6. Peeper says:

    I love how so much of what you guys do is intentional and carefully thought out.
    Please share with Andy that the precision and cleanliness of that fence makes the OCD math/science nerd-geek in me scream and jump with joy! The criticized perfectionist in me feels redeemed to see beautiful examples of creativity AND precision combined in a way that seems so natural.

  7. That is one heck of a yard/fence/sculpture. I’m coming to live with you! Ha!

  8. TRB Holt says:

    This was an amazing documentary of the chronicle of “THE” fence, “How to build a work of art”….I read it like a great book I couldn’t put down… looking forward to every next photo….anticipating the excitement of what was on the next page…

    Well done!

    xoxo, Mom

  9. WOW!! I love your yard! That’s amazing Nici. It helps to have a “well tooled” husband around. I have fence envy now. :)

  10. Katie says:

    This is all kinds of awesome. Love the different fence-scapes, thought out paths, entry gate girth, zen hen…seriously kick ass. x

  11. mckim_s says:

    breathtaking!!! i have never been so turned on by a fence before 😉

  12. Peeper, I adore your comment! I know what you mean about dorking out over perfection. You kind of described my husband here: “creativity AND precision combined in a way that seems so natural.”

  13. Samantha, that is SO lovely! Property is a strange thing, isn’t it And I like pathways and access way more than ‘no trespassing’. When you give a little , you usually gain a whole lot more.

  14. Daniele says:

    Awesomeness! Your husband did an exquisite job.

  15. Laura says:

    so beautiful. your fence, your girls, your yard, your heart.
    I wanna hit up montana again!

  16. Bikini By 30 says:

    So thoughtful and considerate. Amazing work! Lucky lucky neighbors!

    I can’t wait to see the garden in full summery delicious bloom!

  17. ctb says:

    love. love. love.

    cant wait to see the garden grow, and so so excited for your move upstairs and what projects you will outline for us then :)

    cline homestead kicks ass!

  18. Maggie says:

    Wow- I didn’t realize how tall the fence was until I saw the photo of Andy next to it. I envy your taut fencing. My coop looks wrinkly and saggy because of my lack of building (anything) knowledge. Enjoy your land! Your neighbors are lucky to have you!

  19. Maria says:

    You guys are awe-inspiring! What a beautiful area. Can’t wait to see pics of your new home. Lucky girls, you have there. What a beautiful life.

  20. Kelly Cach says:

    I think I could have a love affair with corrugated metal….so enamored with that stuff!!!

    So much happiness, respect, passion and compassion exuding from this post….about a fence. THE fence, that has so much love wrapped up in it.

    I loved this. So sweet.

  21. Monique says:

    Thank you for this post and answering Q’s about deer :-) My husband and I plan to tackle ours over the long weekend. Hope we get it right. Love yours!!

  22. Staci says:

    Put a couple of little Corgis in between the two 3 foot fences and there will definitely be no deer in the garden:) Lovely work, you two. You guys live in such a special part of town, I’m so happy for you and your crew!

  23. KWQR says:

    That is one kick-ass fence! Your man does amazing work. Can not wait to see what’s up with the house… love what you are posting on Pinterest.

  24. valerie says:

    Love the picture of Margo with the umbrella in the garden. It SO reminds me of Totoro! One of my favorite movies of all time.

  25. That fence is bad-ass. YOU have THE man, for sure. You had me “taut like the most perfect spreadsheet.” Spreadsheets/modeling are my daily existence, so I love his balance of beauty, form, and functionality against the artistic. And I can’t complain about fox and deer munching at my gardens when you have to content with bears. (damn!!! Seen any yet?)

    And here I sit getting Mod Podge all over my keyboard, reading through your post. Amazing.

    I can’t tell you how happy many of us are to see you stretch your roots into this new land. Glad to see your garden grow. That sculpture is beautiful and original. Love how it’s open-ended for interpretation.

    Ok, back to bday party projects.

  26. Ellie says:

    Wow, I may, for the first time in my life, be speechless.

  27. I adore a good land-challenge like THE fence. Perfectly thought-out and executed! I too am impressed with the tautness : ) I have spent all winter day-dreaming about how to turn a section of our pasture into a homey, prolific, fun, frolicky *backyard*. The fence itself was an easier decision: we need some privacy on three sides, some permeability (metal wouldn’t do), strength and, mostly, we need to keep the large wild critters OUT and the small domesticated (sort of) critters IN while still maintaining easy access to and enjoyability of the rest of our land. Nice work. (BTW, I LOVE corrugated metal…will it be hot to the touch on sunny days?)

  28. anne says:

    wow, wow, wow! I am so inspired! Thanks for the indepth report. We are about to start a massive renovation on a house with a small lot. I am definitely going to be using some of these ideas for making an outdoor eating kidplay area.

  29. We so need a fence.
    Can we borrow your husband?

  30. Sarah says:

    Wow! That fence is amazing! Your husband is a rockstar! Thanks for sharing the details, I’ve been curious. Love your piece of Montana earth! Also, that sculpture…so cool!

  31. BRH says:

    So great. Love the comparison of the fence’s straightness to a spreadsheet. Nice image, that one. And that sculpture is beyond cool! Love it.

    And I’ll be the millionth to say that Andy is one smart potato!

  32. FinnyKnits says:

    There are so many things to love about this garden of yours, but I’m going to let my Nerd show and say that I love the compression strapped fencing SO MUCH. Also, the rain wall. OH! And the hens just strolling about. And Margot sprinkling saved seeds in your new garden.

    OK – I love it all. What a haven.

  33. Amy says:

    Wow. Just wow. I would have said that a fence is nothing but necessary, therefore, really, who cares what it looks like – throw it up and be done. My mind has been changed, it can be interesting and highlighting and not just a plain old fence. You guys have done an amazing job! Looks fantastic!
    Love the Pittsburgh tat!

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  39. Sara-Jane says:


    What a fantastic fence!!

    I was wondering if you had the designs for the corrugated metal privacy fence??

    I would love to have this part of the fence as our back feature fence!

    Many thanks,

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