How to disguise an ugly garden fence – part 3

In Garden fence lowdown – Part one and Part two, we’ve covered what you need to know about putting a fence up and the choices available. But if you want a cheaper and quicker option to replacing a fence, then in this article I’m going to share my top tips for disguising an ugly fence.

Willow screening attached to old fence

Covering an ugly fence with plants is the obvious answer, but it’s not the quickest option. So if you want something a little quicker to disguise an existing fence, either yours or your neighbours, you basically have two options available to you.

  1. Paint it
  2. Screen it

The painting option only really works if the fence is in relatively good condition. There are many different shades of paint you can buy these days specifically for fences. Whilst it’s good to have a nice choice, there are some things you need to be aware of when it comes to painting a fence.

Painting an existing fence

Choosing paint colours for the outside is the opposite to what you do inside. So, for example, we all know that Magnolia coloured paint makes a space inside look larger. You do that outside and it’ll have the opposite effect and the white colour will bring the fence in closer, visually.

So any paints that have a high degree of white in them, and yes that includes the sage greens, will really make you notice that fence.

The darker colours that have a higher degree of black in, like the very dark forest greens, will recess into the background. Think of all those black barns we have dotted around the English countryside, they blend in beautifully. If they were painted white, they would really jump out at you!

Sage green paint used to brighten this dull looking fence – there’s a lot of white in it which brings the colour forward.

Beware of paint!

One issue with painting the fence is it will invariably end up running through to the other side, unless you are very careful. So it might be an idea to discuss it with your neighbour before you get going. They might be up for painting theirs the same colour, then you won’t have to spend quite so much time and effort making sure the paint doesn’t seep into their side.

You can purchase a fence paint sprayer, which does make it a little easier, but they do get clogged up quite easily and I’m not entirely convinced it saves you much time with the time taken to unclog them!

Screening a fence

You also have the choice of trying to disguise an ugly fence with some fast-growing climbing plants or, and this is my favourite, to add screening to an existing fence. I am particularly fond of willow screening, but you can get bamboo or heather etc. Whilst this isn’t exactly a cheap option, I think it certainly the better looking option.

ScreeningDo make sure that the fence posts are in good condition and can support the additional weight of the screening, or you won’t be very popular with the neighbours if their fence falls down because of your ‘improvements’! If the posts wobble easily, then it’s probably not a good idea to attach anything to the fence, even plants!

BUT of course, a nice fence alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

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Garden fence lowdown – Part 2

In Part 1 of our Garden fence lowdown we looked at the costs involved in the process of constructing a good fence. Now we’re going to look at some examples of different types of fencing.

Garden-Fence-IdeasThese days there is a lot more choice in fencing, which is definitely a good thing. In this article we are going to look at what I consider to be some of the best and worst types of fencing.

What type of fence should you choose?

Choosing the right style of fence doesn’t just come down to budget, it also comes down to your tastes, the style of the garden and mostly importantly how much screening you need.

Now the last one might seem a bit of an odd one. After all, you’re putting up a fence – you want to screen people! The reason I mention it is because the more interesting and artistic looking the fence panel is, the more gaps it tends to have in it.

You’d be amazed at just how much you can see through even the tiniest of gaps. I designed a garden for a friend of mine and she chose a lovely fence panel which cost about £50 per panel. It looked great. About a week after it had been put up, she had a knock on the door from her neighbours who were worried about their privacy. She wondered what on earth they were talking about?

A 'see-through' fence panel!

A ‘see-through’ fence panel!

When she went round to their side of the fence, their path was on slightly higher ground and the angle that they looked at the fence from their back door, meant you could see right through it as the pattern of the overlap left a gap. She was really shocked at how much they could see through the fence as it was fine from her side.

The solution on this occasion was very easy, we just put in a very fast-growing golden hop, which covered the part of the fence they could see through in no time, and solved the problem.

So, if you do find yourself purchasing more interesting fence panels, before you bring them home hold one up and try viewing it from different heights so you can check just how much you can see through it before it’s in situ in your garden.

Fencing examples

Here you can see some examples of more modern styles of fencing. As you can see, part of their appeal comes down to the space between the slats. If you are planning a fence like this, it’s usually a good idea to discuss it with your neighbours first, as people do tend to worry about their privacy.

The ‘Tile Batten’ fence was double-sided, with the slats staggered on the neighbours side to cover the gaps. But even so, you can still see quite a lot through it.

If privacy is an issue the second fence example is a good compromise. It combines an exterior white mdf board with the slatted, see-through part only at the top.

Contemporary fence style examples

Contemporary fence style examples

This next selection of decorative fence panels I will call ‘urban style’, as they are somewhere in-between traditional and contemporary styles.

Popular garden fence styles

Popular garden fence styles

The final selection particularly suits traditional styles of properties, but can also work with more modern homes.


Traditional style fence examples

Please note: The names I use for the fencing styles might well be different in your part of the world. Even in the UK, names can differ from region to region on some fence styles.

Fences to avoid


Try to avoid cheap fence panels as they don’t last

Cheap ones! In the long run, they aren’t worth it. If you have no choice and have to go for the cheapest, then make sure you go for really good posts and get them concreted into position properly (see Garden fence lowdown – Part 1 for more info on that), then when you need to replace the panels, you won’t have the expense of replacing the posts as well and you can just slot the new panels in place.

My particular dislike is for ‘Waney Edge’ panels. They always warp and break quicker than any other panel in my experience. If you try to paint them, then the paint usually runs through to the neighbour’s side because the wood has warped and leaves nice gaps between each slat.

Are there cheaper alternatives to replacing a fence?

Fences, as we discussed in Garden fence lowdown – Part 1 are quite expensive. So, if a new fence is out of your budget at this moment in time, then in the next article in this series we will look at some attractive and cheaper alternatives to putting up a new fence. I will show you how to disguise an ugly looking fence and transform it into something of beauty!

BUT of course, a nice fence alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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Garden fencing lowdown – Part 1

Garden fences – I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with them. I love them because you can quickly and easily screen off the garden and make it secure. I hate them because they invariably tend to be quite ugly and also unbelievably pricey. Also, if it’s your fence, you usually end up looking at the ugly side, and your neighbours get the nice looking side!


Putting up a good fence can cost thousands, and actually, so can putting up a ‘cheap’ one, fencing just isn’t cheap to do. This of course then reduces the amount you can spend on the rest of the garden. Fences are often an annoying but necessary expense.

Why is garden fencing so expensive?

Even though you can get fencing panels for under £20 each, which seems quite reasonable, it’s amazing how it all soon adds up. If you have a 6 foot high fence, then you will need posts that are eight-foot high. You will also need to have a decent amount of concrete to hold the posts in place.

Many years ago I was employed to run a landscaping company (a job I really didn’t enjoy). Part of my job was doing all the quotes. I had to know how long it took to dig a hole, concrete the posts and put up a fence and exactly how much sand and cement would be used for each and every post footing. You can probably now see why I hated the job so much, quotes are not fun.

I can still remember that we used to allow an hour for each fence post. Now that might sound a ridiculous amount of time, but you’d be amazed just how many soils, especially on new building sites, have more compacted rubble, than soil.

What is involved with putting up a fence properly?

Digging two foot down probably doesn’t sound like much, but it can be quite hard and therefore time-consuming. Sometimes we would even have to hire a breaker which is like a mini-road drill just to get down that far. A cubic metre of sand ballast (which is sand that has 20mm stone in it for added strength) would do approximately 20 posts with about 8 bags of cement.

So, with the cost of the panel, the sand, cement, and concrete or timber posts and the gravel boards, fixings plus the labour and of course let’s not forget the VAT, before you know it each panel is costing approximately £100 or more to put up. And of course a garden with 10 panels or more really does add up.

Even though I completely understand the costs involved, it still doesn’t mean to say I like them, and I suspect you don’t either. Though, if you compare it to the cost of putting a brick wall up, fences suddenly look a lot better value for money for a quick garden screening and security solution.

What is the best fence type to have?

The quick answer, is probably the best one you can afford. Yes, you can get cheaper panels but they never last long. The labour involved is more or less the same to put up a cheap panel as it is an expensive one.

Probably the best type of fence is the one that is made in situ as they tend to be stronger, i.e. it’s not panels as such, it’s a morticed post fence. This is the one that has a notch taken out of the posts and then three rails slot in, and then the feather edged boards are attached (a feather edge is a timber board that has one side thicker than the other so that you can overlap them more easily). From the neighbour’s side it just looks like a continuous stretch of fence.


If you’re wondering why on earth your neighbours always end up with the nice side, I think it comes down to security more than anything, as the crossbars can be used to very easily climb over the fence as you can see on the first part of the image above.

If you go for this type of fence though, it really does have to be built properly. The post must be put in deep enough or the first strong wind and the entire fence will blow down rather than just a panel coming loose.

What is the best type of fence post, concrete or wood?

Concrete-fence-postConcrete will definitely last longer, but is incredibly ugly, although that can be got around by painting it. Hardwood timber, like oak do last about 10 years in the ground, sometimes longer.

Softwood timber will need to be pressure treated and should last between 10 to 20 years. Do be aware that pressure treating does not go right the way through the timber. It only goes down to between one and 3 mm, if memory serves me correctly. So that means if you cut the post, you absolutely must put a preservative on the cut end, especially if that’s the end you’re concreting into the soil.

If the landscaper who is building the fence for you cuts any of the timber, you must make sure that they re-treat it, as it’s surprising the number that don’t know that the pressure treatment doesn’t go that deeply into the wood.

On a side note, NEVER burn the offcuts of pressure treated timber, as there can be all sorts of nasties in it like arsenic – though that might been banned by now, as it has been quite a few years since I last was involved with the more technical aspects of landscape construction.

In Part 2 of this garden fence lowdown we will look at more examples of different types of fencing.

BUT of course, a nice fence alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

Modern Materials at the Chelsea Flower Show – “Take-Home” Ideas

So the crowds have dispersed, the designers and TV cameras gone, the gardens dismantled and the Chelsea grounds are once more returned to the pensioners for their retirement. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 is over.

But what can we take home from the show this year? What ideas, tips, tricks, themes can we borrow? And how can we re-create a slice of Chelsea in our gardens back home?

Is Grey the New Black?


Grey fencing in Alan Gardner’s Viking Ocean Cruises garden

Grey is not often a colour associated with gardens, but amongst the abundance of colour and frothy perennial planting at Chelsea, the backdrop of grey stood out. Or, should I say…..the frothy colourful planting was allowed to stand out, against the backdrop of Grey?

Chelsea Sean Murrays Garden Challenge Garden

Grey slate used in Sean Murray’s front garden design

Chelsea Darren-Hawkes-Brewin-Dolphin-Garden

Grey slate was dominant in Darren Hawkes garden for Brewin Dolphin

Slate, whether simply used as pathways (Sean Murrays Garden Challenge garden), or exquisitely hand cut and formed into giant foreboding platforms, (Darren Hawkes Brewin Dolphin garden) was a reoccurring theme. The coolness of grey gives room for the plants to shine and stand out which is always important – and they all look fabulous against it – from cool whites and fresh greens, to hot reds and fiery oranges.

At home, an area of your garden can be transformed with a simple slate mulch, interspersed with repeat plantings – grasses such as stipas or Deschampsias work particularly well with a splash of colour mixed in – try the bold Iris germanica or jewel-like orange Geums. Be bold and paint your fence panels grey to provide a backdrop for your plants to shine and stand out.

Dark Dark Pools….

Water always plays a huge part in Chelsea gardens, and this year was no different. A little tip that the designers use – dark blue/black pools give water features a sense of infinity and work wonders with reflection and shadow.


The M&G garden’s dark pool with decking walkway

Look how the M&G garden pool draws you in and the Breakthrough Breast Cancer water provides exquisite reflections. A dark pool sits beautifully as a centrepiece amongst lush foliage, providing a reflective mirror finish. A few white stemmed Betula alongside….and you have a thing of beauty.

To create the illusion in your own garden – consider lining your pool/water feature with black – whether it be tiled, a black lining or simply painted inky black…

And here’s the secret weapon – designers use natural dyes (Hydra black water dye) within water pools, to give maximum reflection. Water dyes are harmless to pets, fish, children and are available readily to transform your water feature.

If you are lucky enough to have a still pool of water, think carefully about your reflections – a careful, considered choice of planting can make all the difference.

Chelsea M&G-garden-pool

Exquisite reflections in the dark water of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer garden

Must-have Meandering Pathways

Paths and walkways are often given little consideration in our gardens – but please take time to think again! The meander, the turns, the width of a path, can all make a dramatic difference in our gardens.

A very wide garden path for example, like Charlie Albone’s in his garden for Husqvarna and Gardena, means that you can allow the planting either side to get exuberant and flop over the edges in a really pleasing way.

Look how the plants creep into the pathway. Another trick used by the designers is to plant in cracks and crevices between pathway stones – they leave purposeful gaps of fine gravel to fill with sprawling ground coverers such as Thyme, Sempervivum and small varieties of Sedum. Much more interesting then pointing every single stone.

A meandering path, rather than a straight line from A to B, is just so much more pleasing to the eye, and how nice to slow things down a little, and take time to stop and admire the plants – a time for quiet contemplation.

On a practical level – creating a journey around the garden in this way also makes your garden appear so much BIGGER (one note of caution – don’t make the curves and turns too tight; a gentle meander is the objective, not a wiggly path!)

Chelsea Husqvarna-and-Gardena_

The wide pathway was a dominant feature in Charlie Albones’ garden


Chelsea Charlie-Albones-garden

Matthew Keightleys’ garden with meandering pathway

Front Gardens Don’t Have to Be Boring!

Don’t save all your design enthusiasm for the back garden – be inspired to inject some colour and personality in front of your house too! BBC Garden Challenge show winner Sean Murray produced this stunning front garden; with room for parking cars (check), water rill (check) seating area (check) wildlife habitat (check).

Now, we may not all have this amount of space out front, but simply replacing hard standing with a permeable mulch such as slate or shingle – with just a few well-positioned paving slabs, interspersed with sporadic planting – et voila! – you have created a naturalistic front garden that can accommodate cars (without the usual wall-to-wall paving) – but is also good for the environment and encourages wildlife.

To provide a little structure to this naturalistic approach – include some clipped topiary cubes or spheres in clusters, as Sean has, and the whole design will be pulled together.

Chelsea BBC-Garden-Challenge_Sean-Murray

Front gardens can be interesting too!

Chelsea BBC-Garden-Challenge_Sean-Murray_2

A great idea for a front garden path…

Tiny Seating Areas!

Even the smallest of spaces can provide a tranquil spot to have a cup of coffee or enjoy a good book, You don’t have to have the biggest garden or even the biggest budget, to incorporate great design. Even hidden amongst the huge plots at Chelsea, I found the tiniest of seating areas, some only 4ft wide – it doesn’t matter.

With plants wrapping all around you like a warm cuddle; who wouldn’t want to enjoy an alfresco drink in this spot? Be bold with your planting – a small area doesn’t mean small planting. Sitting in a quiet spot with foliage and fronds all around you, is just divine.


A tiny circular seating area, nestled under a tree


Be bold with planting around your seating areas!

So do not despair! It is often overwhelming to see so many beautiful creations at what is the pinnacle of all Garden Shows – so many ideas to take in, so many different design styles and planting styles, so many gorgeous plants. But there is a little bit of Chelsea that we can all take home.

Choose just one little idea, and go for it with gusto! For me, I’m off to buy that grey paint to give my fencing panels a facelift…now then, just one decision left… what exact shade to choose…….?!!

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Garden paths – How to choose the right style for your garden

Garden-pathThere are many different styles of materials that you can use for paths. Garden paths can be made from anything from gravel, to paving, pebble mosaics, brick, timber to recycled church floor flagstones!

Before we get going on what type of materials you should use, we need to look at the most important part and that is getting the path in the right place.

How to make sure your path in the right place

This might seem like a really odd thing to be talking about because your path goes from point A to point B, so surely it is obvious where it needs to go!

It might be obvious where you need the path, for example from your patio to your garden shed. However, just because that’s where you need it to go, it doesn’t mean to say that a straight route is the best option visually.

If you can get a slightly more interesting shape into the path, or have it over to one side of the garden, rather than just having a straight line, it will make your garden much more interesting to look at.

Yes, you may have to take a few extra steps each time you go to your garden shed, but that’s a small price to pay if the position of your path improves the overall look and flow of your garden. Let’s face it, you will look at it a lot more than you will walk on it.

When you add anything into the garden it has to work with the whole garden, so it’s really important you take into account everything else that is there.


The biggest mistake that most people make is just to add things. First, they had the shed, then goes in the path, patio etc. This makes a very disjointed and uninteresting looking garden. If you take a little bit of time to plan the shape of all of these elements together, even if you don’t put them all in at once, it will make for a much better looking garden.

A well-designed garden is like a jigsaw puzzle, everything has to fit in it place or doesn’t work. Great looking gardens are not a series of unrelated features, everything ties in together and has been thought about.

So consider sweeping your path from one side of the garden to the other, or having it curve around a circular lawn to get you to the shed or the other end of the garden.

What materials should you use for your garden path?

This will all come down to your tastes, style of garden and budget. Traditionally, brick paths have been very popular. If you’re going to use brick, do not use house bricks because they are not frost proof enough and will crumble over time. You need to use clay brick pavers which are specially designed to cope with the frost. Pavers are solid and do not have the indentation underneath them that house bricks do.

If you’re looking for a budget path option, then gravel is going to be the cheapest option. It is not always the most comfortable material to walk on, so if you hate walking on gravel, then adding a few steppingstones through it will make it nicer to walk on.

If you want a contemporary feel to your path then smooth natural paving will work well.

Pebble mosaics can look fabulous, though they are very time-consuming to do, but if you’re feeling creative you can have a lot of fun with them.


Construct your path properly

A lot of times people think that they don’t need to use concrete when they build a path because it only has foot traffic on it and sand will do. Unfortunately, you can’t just put paving stones directly onto the soil or sand, because they will move and then become quite a dangerous tripping hazard. Brick paths can be laid on sand, but they will have a consolidated hard-core base underneath the sand and the edge bricks will be concreted into position to hold everything in place.

So, I encourage you to get creative with your path, but do put it on paper first and check that it’s going to work with the rest of your garden.

BUT do be warned, nice paths alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

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