The Return of the Enclosed Garden


The interesting and entertaining reactions to my recent post about destructive wildlife in the garden encouraged me to ponder the situation more closely. Pondering things closely always leads me to weird ideas. I am thinking about the possible return of the walled gardens of Victorian times. How do you know they didn’t become popular in the first place to keep out wild animals including humans? And tame animals too for that matter because, in those days, livestock were allowed to wander about as freely as we allow deer to do today.

As long as most people are not involved in food production or avid gardening, I think it will be a long time before we are going to get the kind of social solidarity needed to enact measures to control runaway wildlife populations. It is easy enough to convince the gentle folk among us to get rid of mice and rats in the house but oh my, not those precious deer and raccoons in the garden. If there were deer that developed a taste for car tires, you can bet that society would rise up in wrath and settle that problem in a hurry.

A watchdog is good protection against raccoons and deer, but not dependable enough. Electric fencing works but is not totally dependable either. In the extremely dry weather we have been experiencing, we learned that raccoons can brush against electric fence and not be grounded enough to get shocked. It seems to me that garden farmers are just going to have to bite the bullet and spend the money on really foolproof enclosures or quit raising food.

I have settled for something a whole lot cheaper than garden walls but also a whole lot uglier. I drive steel posts into the ground and then slide sections of old recycled woven wire fence down over the posts, going in and out of the wire at the bottom and about two thirds of the way up to hold the fence to the posts. The fence sticks up above the posts to about seven feet tall. Deer could jump it (a deer fence should be eight foot tall) or knock it down, but so far they have not. The woven wire reaches down to only about two feet from the ground, so I attach chicken wire around the bottom to keep out rabbits. The sweet corn goes into a separate plot surrounded by electric fencing.

Our daughter Jenny and son-in-law Joe, who live in the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs where eventually deer will outnumber people if nothing concerted is done to reduce their numbers, wanted a garden fence for their vegetables that was very attractive as well as deer proof. They did not want the expense of a walled garden although they talked about it, so they chose wrought iron— that’s Jenny standing in front of the fence in the pepper section of the garden. What they have achieved is an attractive, formal vegetable garden. To keep down cost, the garden is quite small, not more than a thousand square feet, but it is amazing how much food they produce with very rich soil, close planting and trellising. Their garden is really twice the size of its dimensions because they train everything upward that will grow that way. Their tomatoes and pole string beans towered above my head this year and the peas grew to five feet in height. The fence is not eight feet tall, but so far the deer have not jumped it.

What if burgeoning wild animal and bird populations force most of food production into enclosed systems like the now popular plastic covered hoop houses? We know that adroit use of very close spacing, double-cropping and high trellises can triple and quadruple the amount of food an acre can produce. Perhaps that would lead to the abandonment of poorer farmland to forest to grow wood for renewable fuel… And for the wildlife population to increase and multiply and dominate the earth. Imagine deerburgers replacing hamburgers.


When we moved to the country 11 years ago we quickly discovered the destructive force of deer. They left nothing “unnibbled.” So…my husband and son put up an 8 foot fence all the way around our very large yard and garden beds. It has been good ever since, even, so far, deterring the bears. For us, our biggest problem is the pasture grass. WE WILL NOT USE POISON. Never, So….we dig and pull and curse and just have to put up with it. It has grown up the sides of our carefully prepared raised beds with weed barrier laid down before the soil went in. We have also tried old carpet laid over the soil and left for up to 2 years to no avail.
Anyone have a different idea?

    wait… you won’t use poisons, but are ok with letting old carpet leach who-knows-what-chemicals into your soil? Isn’t that a little contradictory? 🙂

      Didn’t think about that. The “carpet caper” was over 10 years ago anyway, and because it didn’t work we abandoned that part of the yard for garden beds. It’s now just pasture grass.

We have a minor problem with deer but a major problem with wild boar (wild hogs) and fencing would have to be substantial against them. So far our electric fencing has kept out the deer and wild boar from our veg plot and a husband marking the territory so to speak seems to work. One farmer related to me that he filled buckets with human manure and placed them around his potatoes – a major attractant for the boars. Every now and again they would shake the buckets to make sure the smell could still permeate the surrounding area and apparently it was very effective.

I’ve found Sugar Wafer cookies are great bait for Coons and a road flare
in a ground hog hole and then close the hole up works pretty well,if there is a 2nd hole I stand guard with the .410

It has been my experience that deer will not jump a fence into a “small” enclosure. Our fruit trees have a circle of 2x4x48 welded wire that is about 7 foot in diameter. It is way too small for deer. We use Kencove’s electric mesh around and inside the garden to sub-divide different plots.The original idea was to keep our chickens out, but it has kept the local hoofed rodents at bay. We also use cattle panels for all of our trellising which may make fence jumpers a little leery. As for groundhogs and racoons, they must have all moved in to the city and suburbs. We have never been bothered by them during my 27 years in this backwoods valley. Happy canning to all and to all a good night.

Another often-successful remedy for an electric fence that goes weak in dry weather is to keep the soil around the ground rod moist. Creates a more positive and efficient ground and keeps the fence hotter

    Yes, Darryl, we poured water around the ground rod. That did help. Didn’t try your suggestion yet, Austin. Gene

Gene, regarding the drought giving your electric problems, have you tried running a second wire tied to ground rods? Maybe a bigger energizer? I can’t imagine any raccoon wouldn’t be deterred by a 6J charger with a ground wire to make sure they get the full zap! 🙂

That being said, last year we had a lot of trouble with gray squirrels, of all things. They would simply dig around in the garden, flinging young seedlings wherever they pleased. Upon seeing such heinous transgressions, I would run out on our deck yelling “gitonouttahere” in my best old-curmudgeon voice. (nevermind I’m not yet 30, but its seems like the right way to holler at trespassers). Sadly the squirrels paid me little heed and all I really accomplished was to make my wife gasp for breath between fits of laughter. In the end I resorted to bird netting and ‘sniper missions’ with a BB gun!

One of the ways I enjoy myself on lonely evenings is by reading old Victorian era garden and farm manuals on Google Books. I have yet to see an unwalled garden plot! So I guess we humans have just had a lucky break this last century or so, from now on it will be back to business as usual with fences, walls and posts!

Back then there were also much more people involved in every larger garden plot, more people means more coming and going around the farm, with people up all hours to use the “outdoor facilities” there’s little room for shy wildlife to make use of the semi-rural garden plot!

And that fence in the picture is lovely. Treated right it will still be functioning when their grandchildren’s grandchildren farm that garden!

Beautiful fence! I believe I have fence envy.

Knock on wood, but coons haven’t been much of a problem out here in far Northern California. Probably because the “oh-my-goodness-don’t-shoot-it” folks are still outnumbered by the “there’s-a place-for-all-God’s-creatures-right-next-to-the-potatoes-and-gravy” folks. One place where the first group has made inroads is in not killing off the cougar population, which is definitely on the upswing and helping to manage both deer and coons. What I struggle with are the @*$#Y@(#$ ground squirrels. I’m about to start raising rattlesnakes. Even stone walls ala Scott and Helen Nearing won’t defeat them; they’ll burrow as deep as 6 feet. So we resort to the shotty-gun and feed the remains to the pigs. My daughter got several of the little buggers in the apricot tree, where they were eating the blossoms, and good riddance to them!

Betty-lee Hepworth August 1, 2012 at 9:57 am

We have not been so lucky with our 6 foot high wire fence. At the ground we dug down a foot and laid chicken wire – brought the chicken wire up to reach the wire fence – thinking this would keep the ground hogs out of our 4,000 sq. foot garden. The raccoons crawl over. We have caught 14 racoonsin the garden. The deer have not jumped the fence yet, but we think the ground hogs are also getting in. What is the best bait for ground hogs? We found marshmallows the best for racoons. This has been one big war in our own backyard.
We have a small vineyard and are waiting for the last raccoons that have not been caught to devour them – and with that any money we might make.
The aliens may be the critters – but as far as I am concerned the critter aliens also have a pact with envading weeds.

I’ve had to resort to a garden with tight fencing and Guard Dogs on the outside.Animals like Raccoons and Deer populations are exploding becuse they have no real natural predator in most places

Even better is the in-doors garden: ^-^

Ah well, there’s probably not that many raccoons in the Bronx.
You’re right electric fences don’t work for the raccoons, they walk on top of the fences, the electric shocks probably just serve to stimulate their muscles and turn them into super raccoons!

Hehe, car tire hungry deers, now there’s an idea for recycling…

We are at a unique point in human history. We are at the peak of fossil sunlight extraction, and at the beginning of dramatic climate changes. Only these makes such strange things as “more deer than people in” Cleveland.

With the increases in food prices, people are sooner or later going to see that we’ve divided one neat solution into two problems, and people will begin eating deer again. The “bambi syndrome” will give way to “I’m hungry!” and the deer will decline — if not be eliminated.

I hope they’re not eliminated. If humans get to that point, there will be enough other resources in the same situation that I think we’ll be through.

Love Jenny’s garden fence!
Sounds like you’ve both got the critters “beat” this year, Gene.

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