Great ways to turn your eyesore paling fence into a garden feature

April 30, 2016 12:00am
Copy award-winning Melbourne garden designer Jim Fogarty and paint your paling fence a dark colour to minimise it. Picture: Tony Fawcett
Copy award-winning Melbourne garden designer Jim Fogarty and paint your paling fence a dark colour to minimise it. Picture: Tony Fawcett

PALING fences are winners for marking boundaries, providing privacy and keeping kids and pets corralled but, let’s face it, they are pretty ugly. At some stage, most homeowners want to smarten up their fences.

With the amazing array of fence-disguising and decorating products now available, it has never been easier. From a quick paint job to an ingeniously artistic laser-cut metal screen, or a brush-look cover-up, there are options to suit all tastes and budgets.


Sometimes the solution is as simple as a lick of paint. The trick is to use a dark colour, such as grey or charcoal. Light colours make a fence appear more prominent, while dark tones accentuate the lushness and depth of foliage.

Before launching into the job, paint a small out-of-sight section to check it’s what you want. The quick method is with a spray unit, although a roller and brush can sometimes give a better result – first, clean off splinters and grime with a high-pressure water-spray unit.

Bamboo or cane panels are a great cover-up for tired fences. Picture: Tony Fawcett


A cladding overlay can transform an ugly paling fence into an eye-catching feature in a day. Choices include laser-cut metal screens, bamboo or reed panels, pre-fabricated modular hardwood screens and low-maintenance vinyl screens.

Buy your overlay by the panel or lineal metre, but before attaching it, consider the fence’s condition – you might need to nail or screw in a few battens first to strengthen the fence.

Blueboard or fibre-cement sheeting offers many options for the DIYer to create a decorative cladding fence feature. Painted or rendered for a textured look, it can turn the ugliest paling fence into a contemporary delight.

For a rustic look, consider brushwood panels. These are generally of various machine-compressed natural materials such as the Australian native Melaleuca uncinata, popular for its natural look and hardiness.

Whatever cladding you use, first ensure the paling fence is still sturdy enough to do its job.

Vertical slats and a VertiScape garden turn any fence into a work of art.


Vertical planting kits might not cover the whole fence but they will certainly create a highlight.

“They’re ideal for the average homemaker who wants a little colour impact to break things up,” Living Holmes Design’s Travis Holmes says. “Something like the VertiScape Mini kits are good because they’re lightweight and easily mounted on a fence. You can position them anywhere and they’re quite economical at about $50,” Travis says.

While new vertical systems are appearing on the market regularly, Travis warns against buying ‘bucket-type’ systems unless the ‘buckets’ are large enough to contain a reasonable amount of growing media.

For those wanting a bigger system, “something like the Modular Green Wall Garden is good because you can link units together for more impact, and they hold more soil and you don’t see the pots”, he says.

Lightweight and easily mounted, VertiScape Mini kits add foliage and colour to a distressed fence.


Often nature itself provides the best means of hiding an ugly paling fence. Good screening plants are available from garden centres, with more becoming available on a regular basis.

One of the best of the new is a compact and dense native lilly pilly, Syzygium australe Pinnacle. Plant it as a hedge in front of a paling fence for a screen of glossy bright green with a seasonal show of red/brown new-spring growth.

Or frame up panels of ‘reo’ (reinforcing used in concreting) and plant with creeper, such as fine-leafed Muehlenbeckia. Timber or plastic trellis can be used in the same way.


Even painting then attaching pots or ornaments will have the effect of disguising the ugliness. Consider racks of ornamental pots, mirrors, decorative screens, cute garden clocks, weatherproof artworks or cute birdhouses.


Attach a large piece of blueboard or similar to a paling fence and paint it with blackboard paint for kids to draw on.