If you wander around reproduction colonial gardens or look through Medieval garden paintings, chances are that you have seen the "rustic" woven fencing that was common before the invention of wire fencing. This fencing, which is known as wattle, resembles basket weave. When wattle fencing is created that is only a few inches in height, it becomes a rustic edging. Wattle edging is a good way to turn shrub refuse into a functional garden decoration.
According to the Alaska Botanical Gardens, wattle has been around since at least Medieval times. Farmers in the Dark Ages used wattle as an easy-to-construct, low-cost alternative to stone or timber. Examples of wattle borders may be seen in the Medieval-style garden of The Cloisters, which is an extension of the Smithsonian Museum in New York City. The gardens at The Cloisters are a faithful reproduction of a monastery garden. Wattle has also been found in archeological digs of ancient London dating back to the Bronze Age, according to Mother Earth News.
Unlike stone or other permanent materials, gardeners and farmers throughout the ages could erect wattle enclosures quickly using inexpensive materials. Stone was heavy. It had to be hauled, cut to size and then shaped so that it would fit together. But wattle sticks that were only a few inches thick could be cut from trees and rammed into the ground. Smaller, more flexible sticks could then be woven between the uprights.
Wattle fences served the same function that modern fences or edging does today: marking paths and the borders of beds. But because wattle sits above the ground, it should not be used to keep grass and weeds out of your bed. Grass can creep through the cracks in wattle edging or under the lowest branch of the wattle fence. Wattle is also not a long-lasting border. Wood made of wattle can begin to break down within a few years. Most wattle borders do not last more than five to 10 years.
Willow or hazel wood are some of the most common building materials used to make wattle edging because willow and hazel are flexible woods. Wattle may also be made from any branches that have been pruned from a tree or even a sturdy vine. Grapevines are woody and of sufficient thickness that they may be trimmed of their tendrils and leaves and used in wattle fencing.
Although some wattle edging resembles basket weave with very little spacing between the woven branches, other wattle edging pieces resemble barrier shields or low fences called hurdles. Skillful weavers can even create designs in their wattle, such as scalloped edges with eyelets.