Gabion Fence

Winter has finally come to central Texas, and I am grateful for the quiet because now my husband and I will get a much deserved break from the ongoing landscaping projects that we started in early fall.  Just prior to the holidays we completed a sixteen foot section of fencing and made a working gate for a portion of our backyard.  For years we have had a very large section of our backyard partitioned off; it was originally a dog run for our black Labrador retriever.  It has a long rustic section of fencing, comprised of 1×2 inch wire mesh, metal t-posts, and cedar stays.  We took one end section of this fence and reworked it, building gabion boxes and topping them with the original cedar stays cut to size.  The photos here show both the work-in-progress and the finished product.

The word gabion is Italian – gabbione meaning “big cage”.  It is essentially a cage or box filled with rocks, concrete, or soil and is most often used in civil engineering and road building.  You will quite often see them used as retaining walls to protect against soil erosion along constructed roadways.  For walls like we wanted, you stack them vertically rather than battered (angled back towards the slope).  They are quite trendy right now and you can find some beautiful examples of their use on my Pinterest page.

We had a definite reason for their use.  We needed three posts set into the ground, two of which were to hold our new gate.  But here’s the rub – we have VERY rocky ground in central Texas.  Dig two inches down and you hit white limestone rock, lots and lots of rock.  And since we are not as strong as we once were, we found digging 18”-24” post holes in the rocky ground to be an impossible task.  So I started looking for another solution, and that’s when I came up with the idea of the gabion boxes.  And boy do they work!  My posts which stand within the rock boxes are as strong as ever; it’s like they are basically set above ground.  So if you need a solution for setting posts other than digging holes, this might be just for you!

Though this fence was very labor intensive, it is also inexpensive to build.  Here is what we used:
1.  Three 2×4 6-foot posts cut to size (two for gate and one for end post)
2.  Two 5-foot t-posts (for supporting the wire in the middle section of the 16’ run)
3. A 50-ft section of 2×2” welded wire
4.  1 yard of 2-4″ diameter river rock (plus some rock from the yard)
5.  Bailing wire for forming the boxes and tying the welded wire and cedar stays on.

The boxes adjacent to the posts were built 2’ long by 1’ deep by 1’ high, with an additional box the same size stacked vertically on top of the first one.  To make the boxes we just cut the welded wire to size, allowing about a 1” overlap to connect the sections together as we went.  You can just use your fingers, or a pair of needle nose pliers, to bend the end pieces to tie them together.  My husband purchased an inexpensive angle grinder to help with the wire cutting.  You will also want a good pair of work gloves; the wire really can cut you if you are not careful.  Once the boxes are built (save the tops for last), place them on the ground, position the posts where you want them within the box, then start filling with rock.  Add the wire box top last, cutting as appropriate to slide over the post.  Then tie onto the main box frame by bending or using the pliers.  Complete each rock box and fill, going along until through.  Be sure to insert the t-posts in place as you come to those boxes.

Once the boxes were all in place, we added the welded wire fencing on top of the boxes, and then individually tied the cedar stays to the wire with 10” strips of bailing wire.  We left space between each stay so that the fence retained an open feel.  Cedar stays are readily available in this part of the country, but use whatever you have available locally.  The gate was added last, and painted a vivid shade of blue.  It really stands out in the garden, and I look forward to spring when I can add some more blue accents to tie everything together!  It does not show in the photo, but we have added a magnetic gate latch.  Full instructions for adding a magnetic latch can be found on this great website:  The Art of Doing Stuff.

Gabion boxes are great in that the are very rigid, yet can be conformed to the land on which they are placed.  Meaning they can be made in straight rows, or also can be shaped to a curved path.  I also thought about people who have dogs that are diggers.  It is pretty easy for a dog to dig under a wooden picket fence, but it would take a very determined dog to dig a 1’ long tunnel under a rock wall!  We love the way ours turned out.