Tag Archives: fences

destroying smuggler’s gulch

Smugglers Gulch and Tijuana River Valley

I’m standing in the United States as I take this picture. The hills you see are less than a mile to the south but are mostly in Mexico, across the border. The low break in the hills carries the name Smuggler’s Gulch.

The mouth of said gulch has been part of one of the more controversial terraforming projects in progress as we speak, the demonstration of enhanced fencing techniques that is the US-Mexico border fence. Ironic/pathetic isn’t it, that not that many weeks ago the news was buzzing with the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, but here in many of our back yards new walls are going up? I’ll leave discussion of the ethics and human costs of the fence-building mindset to organizations like Amnesty International or even the Catholic Church, but the project’s costs to stuff like nature are pretty steep as well.

Left: This photo by April Reese from a January Land Letter shows much better than my photo just some of the earth moving that went into blocking off this canyon. [ Source ]

When people hear that the Department of Homeland Security is building a fence they might say, oh that’s nice, what harm can a little 15 foot tall fence do? Well, place your nice little 15 foot fence on top of 35,000 truckloads of fill dirt essentially forming an earthen dam designed to contain humans instead of water. Humans have more cognitive ability than water molecules, so what might contain water will just send the humans to the next available crossing point.

The rich coastal chaparral that was here has been bulldozed and buried. Hay wattles with some hydroseeded low-growing plants will be expect to take care of erosion control. Down-slope, the sensitive habitat of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve waits to see what’s going to happen once the rains begin.

just about to be published


Linda brought by my desk the 2009 Spring catalog of the Princeton Architectural Press. She really like the photo on the cover, a planting by Andrea Cochran, a San Francisco-based landscape architect and the subject of a new book, Andrea Chochran: Landscapes, which is just about to be published. (The project shown is the Ivy Street Roof Terrace Hayes Valley Roof Garden in San Francisco.)

You may recall that Linda is a quilter, and the cover design really looks quilt-like in the way it’s put together: blocks of different plantings (not just blocks of single kinds of plants), all assembled together so that one grouping of plants contrasts dramatically against another, like one patterned fabric in a quilt that’s been set against another. In fact the author of of the book describes Cochan’s work as “studies in repetition and order, orchestrations of movement in the landscape, and elements placed in geometric conversation”–which almost sounds like the principles operating behind many quilts.

Check out Andrea Cochran’s website for other examples of her strong, linear landscape designs.

Thumbing through the catalog I ran across another title that made me stop for a closer look, Bamboo Fences, by Isao Yoshikawa and Osamu Suzuki. The catalog says that the book “provides a detailed look at the complex art of bamboo fence design in Japan, presenting these unique structures in over 250 photographs and line drawings. From the widely used ‘four-eyed fence’ (yotsume-gaki) and the fine ‘raincoat fence’ (mino-gaki) to the expensive ‘spicebush fence’ (kuromoji-gaki), these exquisite designs impress with their simple beauty, providing plenty of inspiration for your own bamboo fence.


“Author Isao Yoshikawa gives a brief overview of the history of bamboo fence building in Japan and classifies the different designs by type. A glossary provides explanation of Japanese fence names and structural terms.”

Of course, fences like this probably wouldn’t work so well if your house is in the Tudor or Spanish taste. Unless of course you want your home to develop a “home store Gothic” look that one writer called the look that suburban houses accrue over time as their owners buy whatever strikes their fancy at the local Home Depot, historical accuracy and style be damned.


But imagine these around a clean-lined modern house. In fact, Richard Neutra was known to like his glass-walled homes to look out on a Japanese-styled landscape. And some of the more geometric versions might even look amazing behind a landscape designed the the subject of the first book….


Above: Images from the book, photographed by Osamu Suzuki.

keep out

Problem: You have a seaside estate, but between your back yard and the ocean is a busy public path traveled by all sorts of unpleasant undesirables. You want to keep out the riffraff, but you don’t want to spoil the view to the ocean with an unsightly fence. What do you do?

Solution: Here’s something I saw along the Cliff Walk in Newport last week. Basically it’s a lawn that drops off dramatically at the edge. And hidden inside the dropoff area is this unfriendly fence. It probably looks gorgeous from the house, with the lawn seeming to stretch to the edge of the rocky shore. But it looks hostile as hell from the public trail.

Haha in Newport

It’s not exactly a classical ha-ha, but close. The original ha-has were basically retaining walls that were sunk in a trench, giving the impression that your estate extended to the horizon. Credited to the seventeenth-century British garden designer Charles Brdgeman, it was used extensively and most famously by Capability Brown in his expansive English countryside garden designs.
Photo taken at Castle Ashby, Northants by R Neil Marshman under GNU license. The ha-ha is just on the other side of the near tree.

It also is a Western take on borrowed scenery, the Japanese notion of shakkei, “landscape which is captured alive,” a technique of garden planning where you incorporate the view into your garden design. So…the British gentry, the Japanese nobles, the gilded Americans, they’re pretty similar in at least this regard: They all want you to think they have even more than they have.