Repurposing An Old Privacy Fence

It was a cold December morning back in 2012. Well, as cold as San Diego gets in December that is. I had just bought my first home and was overly excited about all the projects I had rolling around in my mind. The house itself had just been flipped by investors so I had little work to do inside. Which suited me just fine and dandy because the outside is where I was itching to get busy. But there was a huge privacy fence smack dab in the center of my backyard.

Birds Eye

I decided that in order to get a good flow and maximize my garden space, or even to begin to imagine what I wanted to create, the fence had to go! This was to be my first home improvement project, well, ever. For myself at least.

Removing the privacy fence_01

As you can see, I had double the yard that appears in this photo. I knew I had my work cut out for me, but was steadfast in my vision so I began some exploratory probes at the bases of the posts. I was hoping that I could repurpose the fence for the very back of the property where only a 5 foot tall chain-link existed. I would have to be gentle whereas if you looked at this fence too long, the very wood itself would begin to disintegrate.

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Here’s the opposite side where I had more access to the posts due to the grade of the yard. I set to work pick-axing the impermeable earth. That’s not an exaggeration either, that ground was solid and there were rocks with every swing of the pick-axe. Sparks flew often. I decided that the task may be easier if I used a garden hose to loosen the soil.

I should note here that this was before we were in a drought and more importantly, before I received my first ever water bill. For conservation sake as well as the sake of my meager bank account, I would never ever do this again. Ever.

It was slow going, but eventually I was able to expose the huge cement forms that encapsulated the base of the posts.


Then I began sawing away at the fence in more manageable sizes and sections.

Removing the privacy fence_03

Success! Finally, the first full view of my massive estate! As you can see above, the chain-link fence did little in the realm of privacy. How can I be expected to dance around my yard whilst communing with nature in my short shorts with so many prying eyes? You get it right? As you can see in this photo there were already these beautiful giant rocks in place from the previous owner.

I really wanted to respect much of what the previous owners did with the property for several reasons. Firstly, they had been here since the house was built in 1949 so this home meant a lot to the family. I also wanted to respect this because I had heard through the grapevine that the remaining occupant had recently passed on. They were a Japanese family and her husband passed many years ago and the children grew up and moved on. Now, the Japanese have some really terrifying ghosts in their culture. I was not and will not run the risk of being haunted for being a disrespectful human being. I mean, Jesus, have you ever seen The Ring? No way, not on my watch. I also feel that anyone who spent that much time tending to their garden all the way up to their death has put so much of themselves into the task that I simply want to honor that.

That said, I thought that I should leave to rocks there and maybe build a lovely waterfall that would cascade down the slope into a stream on the opposite side of this fence. Kinda like this…

Removing the privacy fence_03b

Nice idea huh? Respect the past and beautify it with my own touch. I’ll show you the waterfall in another post. It came out way better than I thought. I digress, back to the fence work. I began to remove section by section. In order to not tear the hell out of the fence, it had to be moved carefully. Each section had two posts loaded with cement so moving all the way to the back of the yard was insanely daunting. I ended up building a kind of yoke to better lift with my legs. I imagined invoking the ancient Egyptians as I hauled away. If they can haul giant blocks of limestone, I can handle a little cement. You know, writing this now, my back is having little memory spasms just reminiscing about it all. Ouch, in a word.

Side note, I found a secret gopher city while using the water dirt removal process. I befriended their king only to betray him and destroy the colony. I cannot abide gophers, I’m a homeowner now. Side, side note, gophers are the ONLY animal that I will dispatch without mercy. All others are welcome, even the pests. But those damn gophers! I turn into Carl Spackle from Caddyshack when I find one of their piles of pure evil.

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I digress yet again. You’ll get used to that. I hope. Here’s more sections removed…

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Only one proud and steadfast soldier remained! I was on a role now as the sun lazily rolled across the heavens. I had a sense of accomplishment bubbling up inside me. past the back pain that is. Here’s a view from the other side…

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Yes, that’s an inflatable chair in the foreground. Don’t judge me! It’s cozy. I love looking at these 21 month old photos, it looks so much different right now, these photos really show me how much work I’ve done already. Here’s the finished removal…

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What a difference huh?! Now I can begin seeing what my vision will be. I can begin working out the paths and beds and where to plant my trees. All those sad pots in the background are all from my previous apartments. They struggled to grow in those confining cement riddled wastelands for too long. Now it was time to release them to live out the remainder of their lives in happiness with no restrictions. But first, I must deal with the removed fence! Here’s the spot where the first one was to go…

Removing the privacy fence_09

And this is where I ran into my first issue. The ground back there was littered with rock and clay. I was not in any mood to deal with that with only a pick-axe. Plus the neighboring privacy fence was 2 feet taller if I did dig new post holes. I decided that I would bring the dirt up to the base of the fence instead! The hill that I’m standing on in the above photo was slated by me to be removed anyways. It was impeding the growth of the mature Satsuma orange tree to my right and was also right where I was planning on building my chicken coop (yes, we’ll get to that in another post). So, back to digging it is then!

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Okay! A good start indeed. But man, that was some hard earth right there! But after I tamped the soil, the fence posts were holding way better than I anticipated so I decided to carry on. Here was my plan of attack…

Removing the privacy fence_011

The dirt in the red section was to be distributed in the green sections, the section to the right being for the fence obviously. The left side of the section in red was to be the spot for my chicken coop. The section to the far left was to be for a special grassy knoll. A really special one at that.

The grassy knoll is a spot in Delaware Park in Buffalo New York that was one of my favorite places to go. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who is one of my personal heroes. He’s the chap that designed Manhattan and subsequently, Central Park. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up immediately. I’ll wait…

Welcome back! Fred helped design the whole city of Buffalo so that one can travel from the city center to the outskirts via beautiful parkways lined with trees. Okay, now go Google map Buffalo New York and check this genius out! I’ll wait again…

Anyways, in Delaware Park, there is this large man-made lake. Alongside this lake are some rather majestic willow trees. As a lad, and as an adult, I would love to sit under these willows and nap or read or smoke funny cigarettes. Scratch that last part. Just focus on my enjoying the scene. Here’s me enjoying that scene on a recent work trip to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery…

Grassy knoll 1

Now that’s some good ol’ fashioned relaxing right there! Here’s another shot…

Grassy knoll 2

It’s this shot that really embodies my vision for my own grassy knoll here in San Diego. A homage to my homie Freddie Olms! I’ll show you that in yet another post.

So the fence came together really well. Or I should say as well as it could in such a state of disrepair. It was a backbreaking project but served to give me the blank canvas I needed to begin to realize my vision. If you’d like to see it as it is today, check out my post on using passion fruit as a privacy fence. I had a bit of a gap to fill with the shorter fence length. Well kids, that’s the fence story. I hope you enjoyed it, but more so, I hope that it inspired you to tackle something that you’ve never done before. I will always be here to help you if you get stuck with oodles of advice. Have a great night friends and stay inspired!

0 Replies to “Repurposing An Old Privacy Fence”

  1. I am certainly drawn into the details and imagery of your story! I will truly enjoy taking this journey with you on your blog. The pictures are impressive as well. You inspire me to dream bigger dreams for my significantly smaller yard. I have to take much smaller steps because of age and limited strength but this blog and your advice will help me to realize my vision. What is the exact size of your bag “yard” or palette?

  2. Hello Kathy! Thanks for your comment and I’m glad that this helps to get you inspired!! It’s true that some of these yard tasks can be daunting in a physical sense as well. I’ve had to rely on the help of friends and neighbors on some projects that would have killed me otherwise. Sometimes, it’s best to just take it a step at a time. That hill I moved took about a year to do in total. I’d fill up one wheel barrow at a time, especially during the summer months. If you keep scratching away at it, the job will get done eventually. There shouldn’t be any rush anyways, the joy is in the journey not the destination.

    I also could’ve rented a back ho or hired someone to do it but I was in no rush and actually enjoyed the process of doing it by hand. The key thing to get here is that you should be enjoying the work, then it seems less like work.

    My backyard is 50′ x 100′, or 5000 square feet. It’s a good size, but I’ve officially filled it up to maximum capacity already. It recently took me two weeks to find a spot for my ice cream banana tree. Now I’m going back over the beds and paths and dialing in the details, pruning and working to repair the damaged soil.

    Whatever you are planning, make it meaningful and personal and you will find the strength to get it done and get it done well. Call on your friends or neighbors for help and offer them the literal fruits of your labors as rewards. Plus, there’s always kids in the neighborhood looking for odd jobs to earn a little cash. Be sure to keep me posted on your work and let me know whenever you have questions or need inspiration! Stay happy and healthy and get your hands filthy! It’s good for the soul.

      1. Surely! The bananas that you and I buy from the store are probably one of the least tasty of all the varieties of bananas. The sweet or dessert varieties have a tastiness scale that your typical store bought bananas are on the very bottom of. The reason that they are so available is because they tend to ripen much more slowly than other varieties. They ship well also. So, that’s why you find them on the shelves instead of the other types.

        Ice cream is a variety that is often considered the best tasting of the dessert bananas. With a hint of a vanilla ice cream flavor to it. I’ll be sure to let you know if this is the case once mine are ready to eat. I’d ship you one, but it wouldn’t make it to you;)

        This situation definitely brings up a bigger issue with the way we eat in America today. The tastier and even healthier food choices are almost always forced to take a back seat to what’s cheaper and easier to get to the grocery store. This is exactly why I want everyone to learn how to produce their own food, even in the smallest of apartments, there is a lot that can be done to introduce healthy and organic food to your family. People just need the tools and know how to do this.

  3. It’s actually a nice and useful piece of information. I’m happy that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you someone. I will continue to do just that! Even though we are getting late in the fall, the beast is still producing fruit. No picket fence has ever cared for me in this manner.

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