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Wending its twiggy way

October 05, 2006|Tony Kienitz | Special to The Times

IN a world of manufactured exactness, a warped birdhouse, an arbor of old branches or a fence woven with grapevines brings immediate charm to an otherwise mundane space. Imperfection lends it allure.

Take a wattle fence, made of sticks and vines. It's a simple thing, a do-it-yourself project that can be made with grapevines, willow branches, bamboo, Boston ivy -- any green and springy plant material. Here's how:

With pruning shears, trim about a dozen, half-inch-thick branches from a fruit tree. Plum trees are a good source of straight, long cuttings, but use whatever is available. Strip off twigs and side growth, making them smooth. Cut each branch into 1- to 2-foot lengths. These will be your stakes.

Press the stakes a couple of inches into the soil around your garden bed at 3- to 4-inch intervals. Continue until you've ringed the area you want to fence.

Next, cut the long canes from a grapevine. Some will be 8 feet or longer. Others will be significantly shorter. Again, use what you've got. Any pliable plant material may work; some folks like to use willow, fruit tree whips, lilac cuttings, even eucalyptus. Strip the vines of extraneous leaves, dried fruit or tendrils. Make them smooth too.

Start weaving vines among the stakes like you're making a basket. The first three or four vines will be the most difficult to place; the stakes may wobble. Stick with it. It soon becomes easy.

If you have a short vine that doesn't run the entire length of the fence, don't fret. Just tuck the end under the vine below and begin weaving a new vine where the previous one left off.

Continue weaving until you've filled the vertical spaces between the stakes. Cut any protruding pieces of vine. Snip the ends so they're flush with the end stakes.

Let your wattle dry for a few days, then give it a splash of color. I like to stain wattles with high-gloss cherry-tinted polyurethane. Of course, you can leave your fence just the way it is.

When choosing materials, remember that many plants become brittle after they have dried and aren't good candidates.

Choose well, however, and your wattle fence will last for years with little need for tweaking. Eventually it will decompose, but consider this natural decay as inspiration: Time to tackle another grand adventure in the yard.

Tony Kienitz can be reached at

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