Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Beautify a Chain-Link Fence: Paint It Black, Or Partly Dismantle It

Here are two thoughts on how to alter the appearance of a basic chain-link fence. For once, this is not about growing plants on or around it. It's about the fence itself.

1. I came across this very unique approach in Hyde Park the other day.

A partly dismantled chain-link fence
Chain-link fences are a fact of life for many of us. Digging out the posts can be quite strenuous. The posts are sunk into concrete that has been poured very deep into the ground. Digging them up can cause plants or structures around it to collapse into any remaining holes. You could rent a metal-cutting power saw and just saw them off at the base...but you still wouldn't be able to plant anything where the concrete is.

This gardener shows how you can remove just the chain-link part of the fence. This works especially if you don't need a secure yard for a dog etc.. Then it might look like this (above and below):

These large sculptures take the place of the old chain-link mesh

I am really quite fond of the contrast (below) between the beautiful traditional garden on the right, with its trim white picket fence and tidy potted flowers, and the striking bohemian garden on the left. Both are eye-catching, and even more so for being right next to each other.

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So what else could you do with a chain-link fence to make it look a little less like... a chain-link fence?

2. You could paint it black (or green etc.). Purchasing an already black chain-link fence would be better. But I think black is within your reach if you want it. Just try to do it before your clinging vines are established. You could also use Rustoleum's Chain-Link Fence Paint to brighten a rusted silver fence back to its original, gleaming industrial shine. Your choice!

I would paint my own fence black now, but my clematis and a few other plants prevent me from doing so. I also think that if you really want it to look neat and clean in black, the fence needs to be pretty straight. If it is leaning here and there, that's where you should grow some plants!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cats and Songbirds in the Garden Together?

I recently stumbled across this bird safe-feeding station. At least that's what it could be with a little imagination:

A possible bird safe-feeding station discovered in Sweden

I was already aware of outdoor cat cages designed to keep cats safe and far away from bird feeding areas--an important issue given the declining songbird population. But I had never thought of erecting a cage around the bird feeders to keep cats and other critters out (or to hinder them at least). Here's a close-up:
Improvements needed, to be sure; this is too small and too low, but still...
There are many possible variations on this theme. I envision this one being much taller and wider. You'd have to plan it carefully so a cat wouldn't have anywhere to hide. Ground feeders like juncos and cardinals might then safely peck at seed dropped from above.

Though this works pretty well too:

Some wicked cats, happy and safe...with non-poisonous astilbe and nasturtiums

As with chain-link fences, I can imagine these metal structures test the aesthetic tolerance of many gardeners. I can almost hear someone whispering, "Oh dear...I wouldn't want that in my garden!" But maybe when the health of the environment is at stake, not to mention the well-being of pets, just maybe these structures should be seen in a different light. Like chain-link fences, these cages might be just plain useful, and they can be thoughtfully planted up too. I also like the idea of two kinds of cages because building them is something both cat and bird lovers can do, humanely, right now in their own back yards. No need to kidnap the neighbor's evil bird-killing cat.

Another thing you can do right now is support TNR or 'trap-neuter-return' of feral cats. TNR started in my neighborhood around the University of Chicago in 2008 (see Hyde Park Cats). Since then, the number of stray/feral roaming cats in my urban alley has dropped from about 20 a year to about 1 a year. Good thing, because some of the more lavish gardens here attract nearly two dozen different kinds of birds, not just sparrows.

For more info on the pictured cat cage (which could also be used for bird feeders) and photos of other peoples' elaborate set-ups go to: .

For info on non-poisonous plants to use around a cat cage, see the ASPCA list of toxic and non-toxic plants .

For smaller, cheaper, less permanent outdoor cat cage options go to this page at Drs. Foster and Smith.

A few links related to the debate on free roaming cats (house cats or ferals) and their effect on the songbird population:

*Audubon Magazine's notes on songbird cages endorsed
*Alley Cat Allies' Response to Smithsonian's Report on TNR (trap-neuter-return of feral cats)
*The Daily Show's not terribly funny spoof on Alley Cat Allies vs. American Bird Conservancy
*A sane response to arguments against TNR by Steve Dale at Chicago Now, which points out that light and noise pollution and habitat loss caused by humans are far more destructive to birds than cats
*NYTimes blog on climate change as threat to bird populations
*War on Cats and Jonathan Franzen's Freedom...and how birds also die by flying into buildings