Home DIY I Built a Fence That Fell From the Sky

I Built a Fence That Fell From the Sky

I Built a Fence That Fell From the Sky

stick fence and bozSometimes beauty reveals itself in unexpected ways, other times it’s a familiar friend on my daily path. For the madrona trees that have stood witness to the lives and loves of this house over the last century, it’s both. As I’ve said before, they are truly living sculptures.

madrona stick fence closeup

Towering and twisted, they reach for the sky, shedding any branches starved for light. A few Sou’westers, and the ground becomes a battlefield of branches, driftwood spears released by the wind’s slightest provocation and gravity’s standing invitation. (I recommend neither standing under a madrona during a wind storm nor anchoring your hammock to its boughs.)

rustic fence from Olana, Frederick Church’s home

The rustic branch fence at Olana (Hudson, New York)

I was inspired to make a fence out these branches after visiting Olana: the home of landscape painter Frederic Church in the Hudson River Valley. On the historic estate, I studied a stunning rustic fence, intrigued that by using one type of tree branch (cedar, I believe in this case), the randomness of the individual branches formed a greater harmony and formality when fashioned in the whole. The fence created movement in the static.

fence built of madrona branches

When I arrived home, I knew the piles of madrona branches were destined for something more artful than a burn pile. The madrona (like Olana’s cedar branch fence) unlocked its fluidity and quirky formality when brought together collectively. I built a fence that fell from the sky–a fence that grows and snakes along new territory after each storm.

winter fence of branches ladened with snow

A blanket of snow outlines its fanciful form

sm frame Christmas lights tree fence 011And in 2012 a new tradition: a seasonal livery–lighting up the fence and madrona grove!

rustic fence madrona branches


  1. Is this fence anchored? Will it topple over? It looks amazing. Did you move every one of those branches? When do you have the time for this artistic mischief? We need to discuss this in person because I have far too many questions.

  2. I anchored one end to a stand of small fir trees, weaving the branches around and through the trunks. I collected all of the branches and then layered them in a one direction pointing north and in a tee-pee construct: the base is wider than the top. A cross section would look like a leaning triangle without the bottom line. I may have to sketch this out.

  3. If you hadn’t showed off that gorgeous rhubarb on Bitten, we never would have found you. And we are so happy to have found you. Your place in the world is beautiful, and you seem to live in it to the fullest.

    Thanks for sharing…

  4. The fence is a magnificent sculpture. I am so proud to know the artist. The site is filled with wonderful Tomism’s, how I have I missed those.
    See you soon, I must witness this enchanted land first hand.

  5. Your website was so entertaining I didn’t want to leave until I saw it all and I didn’t have time! Writing seems to come as easy to you as knowing how to enjoy the good things of live. Wonderful house, wonderful dogs and gorgeous photo.

  6. Thanks for sharing all of your pictures via Beth. I loved them , Tom your writing and pictures are so creative and beautiful . I wanted to be a part of each picture except maybe on the hammock with Boz.

  7. Tom, if I may be so bold, I wanted to thank you for your stick fence blog! I stumbled across it in March and was entranced with both the concept and your Web site. My husband, a lovely Englishman, was all on board with the idea as soon as he realized it was basically free!! I wish I could send you a picture! We have dazzled our little town. And, I haven’t had so much fun in ages! Next chickens and bees. Thank you so much!! Cheers! Michele

    • Michele, you made my morning! I’m with your husband, free is good, especially when it yields beautiful results. I’ll drop you an email as I would love to see a photo of your fence. Again thank you for your kind words and generous enthusiasm. Well wishes, Tom

  8. […] The madronas (the same ages, I suspect) were likely nature’s doing as madronas don’t like to be transplanted nor tampered with by the hand or spade of man. If the maple is an exclamation point, the two madronas share the page as ampersands, twisting and reaching with spiral curves and craggy bends. Known to drop branches with ease and regularity, the madronas inspired me to “build a fence that fell from the sky.” […]

  9. Tom, that fence of yours is really a breath taking, awesome one, its sooooo very beautiful. When covered with snow it’s just brilliant. How long did it take to build that?
    Keep it up.
    Ann M. Oommen.

    • Hi Ann, thanks so much for the kind words. My branch fence is about a foot or two lower in height these days. I fear with age (like me) it settles and compresses a bit from year to year. I don’t recall how long it took me to make because it was an ongoing project, one that never had an end date, just a starting point. After storms and windfall, I would add madrona branches to the mix, but surprisingly the madrona grove drops fewer branches these days. Perhaps this fall, I will make it my focus to restore the fence to its full glory, an exercise in slowing down really, stick by stick, branch by branch, surveying the fence line and seeing and feeling where it wants to go. Extending it is up to the wind, and the whims of my trees. Thanks again for the encouragement–most appreciated.

  10. Just to add my 2 cents: This reminds me of a more rustic version of a European dead hedge and it looks fantastic! You might find that planting a few seedlings along the length of the fence on alternating sides would be a great way to stabilize it in the long term. Madronas have a reputation for being difficult transplants because they are finicky about soil but you obviously have the right environment for them. Once again, well done and this is a structure that deserves to be preserved.

    • Hi Jim, thanks for the kind note. It’s about time for me to add more branches and structure to the fence, and I’ll have to look up and check other examples of a European dead hedge. Sounds pretty wonderful. Once again thanks for the kind support. Thom


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