As our nation grew, the Victorian era brought its own influence to the picket fence, which became a status symbol. The advent of elaborate cast-iron fences drove picket designers to create ever more creatively detailed points to put out in front of the house.
Free-range chickens have always been the raptors of the farm. They are perpetually on the hunt. They scratch along, pecking at bugs and plants, consuming vital protein from earwigs, caterpillars, beetles and ants.
Chickens scratch to dig up morsels hidden in the soil. They peck at leaves to get at bugs and, in the process, can tear up a garden in short order. If you have a small garden that needs protection, pickets are the best place to start.
The gardens of early America required protection from chickens just as they do today. Fences for yards for cabins, adobes and sod houses had to keep children in and chickens out.
Pioneers knew that chickens could fly up to the top of a fence, pause, then fly down into the enclosure. But if the fence is made of pointed sticks standing on end, there is no suitable place to perch. Setting pointed sticks close together kept rabbits and other wildlife out, too.
The original chicken-proof fence dates back to medieval times. It was made of sticks and bound together with freshly cut green willow whips. These were woven through the picket staves like a basket, and as the willow dried out, it would bind the entire fence.
In the early American colonies, this same kind of fence was still widely in use. Sometimes they were created out of split cedar or other conifer wood resistant to rot. Because the fences had to also keep wildlife out of the kitchen garden, the pickets were closely spaced. The end of each stake was pounded into the soil so rodents would not dig under. Then the tops were connected by a wood stringer either tied or nailed in place.
This was the truest picket fence of the frontier, and in regions with trees, such as easily split heart redwood, some of these fences are still standing over a century later.
As our nation grew, the Victorian era brought its own influence to the picket fence, which became a status symbol. The advent of elaborate cast-iron fences drove picket designers to create ever more creatively detailed points to put out in front of the house. Naturally weathered wood gave way to painted pickets. Homeowners vied to outdo each other with gingerbread detailing.
The final stage in this fence evolution is today's white polyvinyl fences, which are loved for their low-maintenance character. There's no need to paint or repaint because this color is part of the very material itself. There are no rust stains from nail heads, either, and the posts may prove far more lasting than wood.
Picket fences need not be limited to enclosing a whole yard. They are perfect for separating a vegetable garden from the rest of the yard. This is one of the few fences that are actually attractive to look at, and if you create a cute arbor gateway, it makes a beckoning entry.
The most affordable way to get this done is to use salvaged pickets from an old fence or other recycled materials. Even discarded industrial materials or leftovers from home demolition will work. Use materials you have on hand or those locally available that are cheap or even free. They might include pruned tree branches, bamboo, willow and even grapevine prunings. You can also make a deal with a tree trimmer to save the kind of wood you need.
Whether it's made of salvaged, found or recycled materials, you'll have a highly useful barrier. It'll keep both chickens and small children at bay and your garden safe.
Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com. Contact her at email@example.com or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.