An enclosure, like a wall, fence, screen, or hedge, designates and defines an outside area as special. Such boundaries have always played an important functional role in the landscape: to keep livestock in and intruders out. These days, an enclosure can also be used to mark property lines, close in a hazard like a swimming pool, and provide privacy. An enclosure also acts to extend the walls of the house out into the landscape. It’s strange but true: an enclosed space feels larger than a similar area lacking such definition. Perhaps it’s because a fenced yard seems like it’s marked out as special, with its clear edges and entrance gate.
Wooden, steel, or bamboo fences sit more lightly on the land and are less expensive to erect but don’t last as long as their masonry counterparts. Hedges are the least expensive means of enclosing a landscape. Evergreen or deciduous, tall or low, hedges can be effective living screens for a variety of settings. Gateways, as breaks in an enclosure, allow passage into the delineated realm. Railings are low post and rail structures designed to keep people from falling over an edge, especially on stairways or around high decks. The simplest kind of enclosure—edging—separates plants or garden beds from pathways or lawns in a useful and attractive way.
top right • An ornate wrought-iron gateway, in line with an elegant double staircase leading into the house, links lawn areas separated by stone walls and hedges.
right • Dry-laid stone walls are an ancient form of enclosure, built originally to use up excess material, delineate boundaries, and keep in livestock. These days, we enjoy them for their beauty and sense of history.
above • A wrought-iron handrail softened by a leafy vine embraces this outdoor living room.
right • This 7-ft.-high fence is made of a series of concrete-block piers and wire mesh panels that keep animals out, allow air circulation through, and provide views into the forest beyond.
Walls are powerful visual extensions of the architecture of your house into the landscape. They can be structural or ornamental and can serve different purposes in the landscape. These can provide backdrops to gardens, define the edge of the property, create a sense of privacy, or frame an opening for a driveway or path.
An interesting form can give walls greater character. Straight walls are practical, direct, and efficient. Curved walls, with their softer flow, can be playful, meandering, or sensuous. Tall walls that you can’t see over or where a lot of soil is being retained can be intimidating.
A friendly height for a wall is one that allows a neighborly view between houses. Materials and finish details can make all the difference. Whether stucco or stone, mortared or dry stacked, round or square stone, natural or cut stone cap, stucco texture and color, there are countless details that you can use to give a wall your own personal touch.
top right • Concrete walls that are plastered or stuccoed can resemble traditional hand-molded adobe or mud walls. Vivid colors satisfy in this tropical setting.
bottom right • Irregular blocks of limestone are stacked to form a low planter wall. Use local stone wherever possible.
above • These walls retain a steep slope, creating terraced spaces for trees and large shrubs. Make sure to include weep holes behind the walls to allow water to drain through.
right • This wall is built of concrete faced with stone and capped with a contrasting material, in this case, bluestone. A slightly higher square pier provides a clear end to the wall, marks the top landing for the steps, and provides a base for the Arts and Crafts lantern that lights the way.
Many of us are lucky to live where natural stone is plentiful. Whether flat or rounded, granite, sandstone, or limestone, a stone wall made out of what’s local looks great because it is in keeping with the natural landscape. And there are many ways to build with stone. You can use round or flat fieldstones to face a wall or to create a built-up surface. Joints between stones can be fully mortared, partially mortared (hidden joints), or dry-laid (where no mortar is used at all). Make sure you employ an experienced mason to get the best results.
right • This arching picket fence sits directly on a concrete wall faced with a thin veneer of fieldstone.
above • This dry stone wall was built without mortar. At its end, a ruin-like window seems to erupt from a sea of plantings.
above • A steeply sloping hillside can be held back by building stone retaining walls. Properly engineered, they act as beautifully planted terraces that create more usable living space.
right • Wide stone walls curve between upper and lower lawn areas. Flat fieldstones are secured in place using a dark-tinted mortar instead of a cap.
A Green Wall
A recent Boston-area JMMDS project aimed to turn a high retaining wall along a tight entry space into a lovely vertical garden. To do this, we proposed transforming one side of this shady driveway into a living wall.
A steel frame made of cells to hold soil was bolted into a 7-ft.-high, curving concrete retaining wall and then filled with a palette of predominantly native and shade-loving perennials.
Now this north-facing space functions as an outdoor entryway, a driveway turnaround or parking spot, a protected place to read a book, and also a living work of garden art that greets the homeowners whenever they come home.
above • Ferns (both Christmas and autumn), Solomon seal (Polygonatum commutatum), woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca), bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis), fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) grace this north-facing green wall.
For those who live in southern climes, the bright sun and warm weather offer opportunities to bring color into your open-air rooms.
Artfully designed tiled walls can act as vertical focal points with their planes of smooth, colorful finishes that catch the light and make for an easy-to-clean, moisture-proof surface. Tile can be laid out as a background that highlights a fountain or sculpture or as a focal point in itself.
Colorful tiles made of glass, ceramic, or natural stone are all available in a wide range of sizes and finishes. You can even design your own tile pattern, putting your personal stamp on your backyard.
top right • Large squares of blue tile are used to face an exterior planter wall filled with native plantings, enclosing an ipé deck.
right • Vivid colors stand out in bright light. Flanked by fig trees and agaves, the tile pattern on this wall acts like a hearth in a living room, creating a central focal point around which to place the furniture.
A seating wall is a masonry wall built at a height and depth to provide a place to sit. Retaining and freestanding walls alike can deliver a solid bench for sitting. Since stone can be hard to sit on and cold to the touch, seat walls can be made more comfortable by the addition of a wooden seat or cushions, or when painted in light colors or softened by cascading plants. Typical seat heights can be as low as 12 in. and as high as 30 in. (more of a leaning height), with the usual height being 18 in. or so from the ground.
above • A low concrete wall whose limestone cap doubles as a circular seat retains this island planting and breaks up the expanse of a large concrete driveway.
left • A skilled mason fashioned a built-in seat out of a retaining wall, complete with a side table for setting drinks or containers of plants.
below • An exedra—a semicircular bench—fits perfectly around a firepit that also functions as a coffee table. The thick pillows made of outdoor fabric bring the feeling of inside out. Notice the handsome bevel formed along the inside edge of the bench.