Hedge, fence or wall: how to protect your property

Torben Schröder

Just like animals, we humans also mark out our territory. This limitation of property is also referred to as enclosure. It keeps uninvited guests away, but also works the other way around: enterprising pets and curious children are protected from the dangers outside the property. Hedge, fence or wall – in this article we explain which possibilities you have and which regulations must be observed.

Sweeping view of a mountain landscape. In the foreground there is a wooden fence that surrounds a property.
© Getty Images/iStockphoto

In this article

Enclosure – what does it mean exactly?

An enclosure is an artificial system intended to establish and maintain peace. In relation to neighbors, people strolling by, mail carriers and stray animals. Some enclosures also guard against extreme weather conditions such as high winds or protect you from emissions and noise. Depending on the construction, they may also keep away prying eyes. “Living” enclosures consist of hedges or other plants, while fences or walls form “dead” enclosures. Both forms have their advantages and disadvantages, which we will explain in the course of this article.

Observing the rules for enclosures

Here in Switzerland there are no specific laws on neighboring rights. However, a number of regulations regarding peaceful coexistence are laid down in the Swiss Civil Code (ZGB). Enclosing your property is permitted in general by the ZGB. Individual cantons are responsible for making decisions on details such as the authorized materials or construction height. In Zurich, for example, enclosure walls of a height of 80 centimeters or more require a permit, while open enclosures such as a wire mesh fence and planting do not.

Hedge, fence or wall – types of enclosure

First and foremost, as is so often the case, it is a matter of taste. If you want your property to be completely cut off from the outside world, then put up a concrete wall. If you have a lushly planted garden, shrubs could be an option. In general, we recommend opting for sustainable materials. You should also make sure that the chosen enclosure will require as little maintenance work as possible.

We present the different possibilities below.

View into a lushly planted garden enclosed by a hedge.

A hedge made up of shrubs blends in with the rest of the plants in the garden.

A hedge: a living enclosure

A hedge consists of shrubs or small trees planted close together. It often serves as a border, both in public and in private places. Depending on its volume, it also ensures privacy and wind protection and forms a natural habitat for birds, small animals and insects.

You can visually integrate a hedge into the design of your garden. On the other hand, you should be aware that additional gardening work will be required, for example for cutting or trimming. If you plant brand new shrubs, it can also take a long time to achieve the desired height and appearance of your hedge, depending on the species. Slow-growing shrubs such as yew or holly only manage 15 centimeters in one season, whereas hornbeam and field maple can shoot up 40 to 50 centimeters in the same period in optimum conditions.

Lower hedges consisting of box trees are a good choice for smaller plots of land, while the plants in larger gardens can be as tall as you are. A mixture of deciduous woods and flowering shrubs creates a varied look. Yews or thuja can be chosen from the conifer range.

A fence: the classic easy-care choice

A fence is a dead enclosure. The main advantage is that it is very easy to clean. You should paint over a metal fence from time to time. The maintenance is much simpler than caring for a hedge. You are free to choose the material, shape and size: from robust steel to sensitive reed. We present some different options in more detail below.

Industrially produced

Metal fences are particularly durable and easy to maintain. Products range from high-quality models to simple copies. Decorative fences combine useful properties with attractive features. They fulfill their purpose perfectly thanks to their sturdy construction. They also look good, since they come in a large selection of color coatings and with various ornamental decorations. The most common type of metal fence is the wire mesh fence. It is available in heights ranging from a few centimeters to two meters, and with different mesh sizes.

Plastic fences offer similar advantages in terms of durability and maintenance. Dirt can be removed with a little bit of water, and no special painting is necessary. The main benefit is that many plastic models don’t look like plastic at all, but at first glance resemble wood that has been painted in color. Thanks to industrial manufacturing, plastic can easily imitate other materials.

View of a property fence made up of long branches arranged horizontally.

Home-made enclosures: a few long branches are enough to mark out a property.

Naturally grown

Let’s move on to ecologically recommended materials for fencing. Whether you choose wood or bamboo – all these building materials are much more susceptible to weathering and mechanical damage than metal and plastic. So be prepared for the fact that sooner or later, you will have to repair, or even replace, your fence. Here are three examples using natural materials:

  • Whether in the form of horizontally stacked boards, vertically positioned slats, large planks or filigree meshwork – there are countless types and designs of wooden fences available. Treat the surface with ecologically compatible products to protect it as thoroughly as possible against external influences.
  • You can give your garden an exotic touch with a fence made of bamboo. The tropical grass looks more fragile than it actually is. When linked together to form a close-meshed fence, bamboo bravely withstands wind, precipitation and curious glances from neighbors.
  • When we hear the word reed, we think of delicate ears of grain blowing in the wind, but not of a material for a fence. Here is the explanation: dried reed stalks are very stable and have been used since time immemorial both as insulation and as a covering material for thatched roofs. This is still the case today. Reed fences have particularly good sound insulation properties and an extremely natural look.

Read our article Fence building: regulations, costs and materials to discover how to build a fence yourself, what to consider and how expensive your project will be.

A wall: a stable bulwark

Once built, a stone garden wall is almost indestructible. What’s more, it requires virtually no care – quite the opposite: accumulation of moss will give the wall an attractive patina. In terms of material, you should be guided by the appearance of your house. One disadvantage of a wall is that it can seem forbidding and rob you or your neighbor of light. Consequently, it should never be built too high.

  • Laying stone on stone without the addition of a binding agent such as mortar will result in a dry wall. This type of wall serves not only to enclose a property, but also to secure slopes or embankments. With carefully chosen vegetation such as flowerbeds alongside, dry stone walls can enhance the appearance of your garden. Walls made of natural stones such as granite, sandstone or limestone are particularly attractive.
  • A mortar wall offers a somewhat straighter and more austere view. Concrete stone or brick are the most suitable materials to use. The advantage of this type of wall is that it is even more stable and can be built to a much greater height than a dry wall. A disadvantage is that it usually requires a cast foundation, which means more effort.
  • Gabions ensure a very modern and decorative look. The metal frames filled with natural stones are available in different shapes and sizes. Besides being appropriate for fencing, they can also form seats or be part of a barbecue or fireplace – when placed low enough.
View of a fence consisting of gabions.

With their metal framework and stone filling, gabions can be an attractive mix of materials.

Conclusion: keep the peace in the neighborhood

By enclosing your property, you are doing several different parties a favor: yourself, your children and pets, and your neighbors. Clear limits are set for everyone. Whether you opt for a wall, a hedge or a fence – the different types of enclosure have their advantages and disadvantages.

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