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Don't take offence at a fence: do this one, simple thing...

Everyone needs boundaries 

Is there anything appealing about a standard, timber fence? Close-boarded, featheredge, palisade, waney edged, overlap… a fence’s purpose is to dictate a boundary and to provide some sort of screening and security. It’s just about essential in every garden, so the utmost respect should be shown to fencing specialists!

But how does an orange-toned vertical collection of boards sound to you? Probably about as good as it looks. So let's do something about it...

Garden table and two chairs with picnic and afternoon tea A cosy garden scene, but that fence isn't a thing of beauty.
We all have choices

Of course, money can buy excellence.  There are pleasant, decorative timber options such as picket, hazel woven hurdles, post and rail, railway sleepers and other variations of imaginative fencing. And less desirable wire options such as chain link, stock fencing or chicken wire. There's no doubt that we all need fences and boundaries (ask any parent of toddlers!), but the majority of properties have fairly basic examples.

child looking through a wire chain link fence Chain link fencing isn't a thing of great beauty

Whatever you have in your garden, it doesn’t have to look you in the eye. A collection of basic fence panels, however well erected, is no great thing of beauty. But it’s a starting point and you can make your fence work to your great advantage. What it provides is a vertical surface which can be decorated in oodles of ways.

a red and yellow watering can hanging on a timber fence The fence is a bit boring, but it looks great as a storage surface for colourful cans
How to brighten up your space

You could use your fence posts or panels as a base on which to hang a garden mirror, thus making your space look larger and brighter.

garden mirror in an outdoor space Garden mirrors need a solid vertical surface on which to hang

You might want some sort of garden artwork out there, perhaps. But, most importantly, the planting potential is enormous. Clothe a fence in a variety of climbers and you will extend your garden upwards. In the process you’ll blur the boundary and help the garden blend into the surroundings. Hiding a fence will also allow you to ‘borrow’ the landscape beyond as you’ll, effectively, take away the barrier, allowing the eye to roam beyond the space. It’s basically the opposite of a ha-ha, but it achieves the same sort of outcome.

Pink Clematis climbing up a timber support Any vertical surface is capable of acting as a support for plants.

In simple terms, just one fence panel of standard 1.8m height and width (6ft x 6ft) provides more than three square metres of planting space. So in a garden measuring 9m x 9metres, which is fairly typical for a modern property, that’s 15 fence panels, amounting to nearly 50 square metres of potential. Wow!

Climbing plant suggestions for garden fences

Here’s a selection of climbers suitable for growing up your boring fences:

pinky purple clematis called Ernest Markham Clematis make eye-catching climbers with flowers during different months of the year. This one is C. 'Ernest Markham'.
  • You can have one flowering every single month of the year. Just make sure that you choose a variety suitable for the position – i.e. some are happy in a north-facing site and others need more sun. Check the height and spread potential too: you might not want one that grows to a height of 8m as it will be free-ranging in your neighbour’s garden too.
Honeysuckle Lonicera climbing plant Honeysuckle is a great climber that also attracts bees. The flowers are generally highly perfumed.
  • Choose a scented variety if it’s to be planted near the house. You’ll get the benefit of a natural perfume wafting through your windows on warm days. Insects love the flowers and it's a great plant for biodiversity.
Evergreen star jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides The Star Jasmine isn't a true jasmine at all but the evergreen climber Trachelospermum jasminoides
Star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides.
  • This isn't actually a member of the normal jasmine family but this evergreen climber does produce wonderfully scented, star-shaped flowers in summer. It’s a great plant that likes a sunny, sheltered spot. You might need to keep it pruned as it can reach a height of 6m tall. There’s a variegated version too.
Rosa 'Golden Showers' has yellow blooms This ever-popular climbing rose is called 'Golden Showers', for obvious reasons.
  • There are many different climbing roses. Be prepared to tie in the stems to a support as they will flop if they’re not anchored firmly. Train them out horizontally for maximum flowering potential. Climbing roses have the capability of flowering repeatedly throughout the summer, provided you deadhead them. Rambling roses tend to flower just once per year.

Shrubs such as Ceanothus.
  • Choose an evergreen, slower-growing variety such as C. ‘Concha’ and plant in full sun. The vivid blue early summer flowers contrast well with the glossy dark green foliage. This plant is also useful as a support for Clematis too – extending the flowering period.
green ivy climbing on a garden wall Ivy is a great climber for a shady wall
  • This climber is perfect for a north-facing fence. You don’t have to have the dark green variety, there are many variegated forms too.
Passion flower Passiflora and roses This passion flower, Passiflora, look stunning, particularly with the white climbing roses in the background
Passion flower (Passiflora):
  • Choose your variety carefully as some are more hardy than others. The flowers are captivating and they come in various blues, purples and even white.
Actinidia kolomikta is a climbing kiwi vine Actinidia kolomikta has the most unusual leaves that look as if they have been splashed with paint.
Actinidia kolomikta,
  • The decorative relative of the kiwi wine really is eye-catching as the green leaves appear to have been dipped in white paint, with splashes of pink too. There are hardy kiwi vines which can produce edible fruit too, although they might be a little too vigorous for your fence.
Abutilon 'Big Bell' is a half hardy colourful climber Half hardy climbers such as this Abutilon 'Big Bell' are well worth using just for the warmer months of the year.
Half hardy climbers are well worth finding a space for.
  • Campsis radicans, the trumpet vines, are particularly colourful and Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’ is a fine climber that produces the most unusual pendulous clusters of orange/yellow and red flowers right through until the first frosts. Consider Thunbergia, the black-eyed Susan, for their long-flowering season. Also the bluebell climber, Sollya heterophylla, for its unusual blue flowers.