Garden fences have improved enormously in recent years, many are now appealing features in their own right. But old fences cry out for an attractive climber, and even stylish ones benefit from some vertical planting. In small gardens in particular, fences provide a valuable opportunity to grow climbers and carefully chosen shrubs.
It’s important to choose the right plant for the right aspect - sun-lovers like morning glories rarely thrive on a north facing fence. The RHS Plant Finder can help with choice.
Size and vigour are important too. Instead of choosing a rip-roaring clematis such as ‘Bill McKenzie’, select ones with neater growth like ‘Amethyst Beauty’ (striped purple) or ‘Diana’s Delight’ (soft blue) which only reach 2m. The same applies to roses, ‘Kiftsgate’ will soon take over the whole of a small garden and its weight can bring down fences. ‘Madame Isaac Pereire’ (pink) and ‘White Cockade’ (white) are far more manageable.
Evergreens are invaluable set against less picturesque fences, and also make attractive nesting sites for birds. Pyracanthas have the bonus of cat-deterring spines, but I find choisyas not only provide good cover and plenty of nest locations, and then there’s the flowers and fragrance too.
Some climbers and shrubs are more easily trained flat against the fence to allow extra border planting space: the fuchsia-flowered gooseberry, Ribes speciosum (red) is easy to keep trained fairly flat, as are the many flowering quinces (red, pink and white).
Annuals are good on sunny fences, and can provide change from year to year. If Cobaea scandens (purple) proves too vigorous one year, try a morning glory such as Ipomoea ‘Grandpa Ott’ (purple) the next year. The Chilean glory flower, Eccremocarpus scaber (orange), will overwinter in mild areas and throw self-sown seedlings. And there’s always the colour and fragrance of sweet peas.