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…

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

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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…

Register on this page:

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:

Fence or Hedge Your Garden – Which is Best?

I’m often asked by clients if they would be better off with a fence or a hedge to surround their garden. There are pros and cons to each. Here are some of the main things to consider:

Fence Benefits                       .  

Fence Downsides

  • Instant
  • Can be less maintenance if right materials are chosen   .
  • Security
  • Cost – will depend on materials but the end price can be significant
  • Cheap fences can deteriorate and need regular repair
  • Harsh or abrupt looking

Hedge Benefits                        .  

Hedge Downsides

  • Nicer aesthetically
  • Usually less expensive than fences                        .
  • Natural
  • Can take a long time to establish
  • Need at least yearly trimming
  • Can take moisture & nutrients away from plant borders


If you are keen to have a hedge but need to screen or secure your property, one approach is to put up a temporary wire fence and grow the hedge along one side of it. Eventually the hedge will grow through the wire.  (Just be a little careful when you are trimming it.)

You can grow almost any shrub and train it into a hedge.  Some obviously work better than others, but it’s definitely something you can have fun with. Before you get too carried away with an over the top hedge choice, here’s one thing to bear in mind…

Traditional Works Well For Good Reason…

What are you going to put next to the hedge? For example, using a variegated shrub with bright pink flowers may seem like a good idea.  But if your plant border is also full of red and orange flowers, it may not look so good when everything is flowering together!

This is why I like to be pretty boring with my hedge choices.  I tend to go for plain green because it’s a good colour backdrop for everything else I want to do in the garden.

The same goes for fence colours. Yes, I know you can get vivid cerise fence paint but that doesn’t always make it a good choice with everything else you have in your garden!

Favorite Fence Styles:

Featheredge Fence

I prefer hand-built fences made in situ in the garden rather than pre-made panels.  Hand-built fences tend to be stronger, and you can make them fit the size of the area.  Pre-made panels rarely fit exactly how you’d like, which means you typically need to cut them to fit the space. This type of hand-built featheredge fencing (see photo at left) is very popular here in the UK.

If your existing fence is still strong but looks ugly, or it happens to be the neighbour’s fence, my favourite trick is to cover it with willow screening.

Willow screening attached to old fence

For a modern look, I love using simple tile batten (approx. 1″ x 2” wide pressure treated timber). It’s not ideal for total privacy but it does work for simple screening.

Tile batten slat fence


Favourite Hedges:

Laurel hedge

Laurel is the king of hedges. It’s got beautiful large evergreen, glossy leaves. It can take shade, sun, dry and wettish conditions (but not waterlogged soil).

Yew hedge arch with low box hedge

Yew is another favourite of mine, but it can be rather slow to establish and doesn’t cope well with wet soils.

Native hedge

Native hedge mix is probably the one I use the most because it blends well with English countryside locations and is great for wildlife. It is also fairly inexpensive when bareroot plants are purchased. The only drawback is that it’s not evergreen.

Good Suppliers:

It’s worth hunting around for a good fencing stockist rather than just what’s in the local DIY store because quality and prices can vary dramatically.

A good nursery or garden centre can help you with hedges.  If you put your order in ahead of time for a good quantity, you likely be able to negotiate a discount.

Other News – Success Story

I recently received an email from Karen Sprinkle that totally made my day. She watched a free video tutorial on how to design your garden and she was then able to go off and solve the garden problem that had been totally bugging her for years! She’s written about it on her clear the clutter and mind blog, go take a look!

And just click on the link if you’d like to view the garden design video tutorial that helped her so much. Or if you are looking for step-by-step tutorial on how to design a garden all by yourself, check out these Online Garden Courses.

What Are Your Favourites?

Which fence or hedging plants have impressed you most and why? Please leave your comments below.

If you would like the Successful Garden Design cheat sheet and video on how to add the WOW factor to your garden  please add your email address below (don’t worry we don’t spam and will NOT pass on your address to anyone else!).

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