A fence delineates property lines, affords privacy and should complement the architecture and landscaping of your home. A backyard fence might fulfil some or all of these roles but still look a bit shabby or utilitarian. Rather than replace the fence with something more to your taste, camouflage it, saving the material from a landfill and saving you some money.
Chaotic Cottage Style
Cottage gardens are overspilling with beds and planters of wildflowers, flowering vines, lush vegetables, green perennials and winter foliage. Make sure your backyard fence has its own planting of honeysuckle and morning glory vines, which not only cover the fence but draw bees, butterflies and hummingbirds in spring, summer and into autumn. To keep the fence presentable over the winter, plant sections of it with ivy that will withstand all but the most severe freezes. Contain the ivy, though, so it doesn't overwhelm the more-fragile flowering plants that will appear again in the spring.
Plant running bamboo along the fence for a fast-growing green wall that hides old planks or chain link. Running bamboo is aggressive and invasive, so prepare the ground, unless you want the neighbours and the rest of your yard to be overwhelmed by tall, rustling canes. Dig down about 2 feet and set borders of impenetrable root barriers along the channel where you want the bamboo to grow. Check it periodically and chop out any rhizomes that creep over the top of the barrier and threaten to escape. Slicing into the ground with a sharp shovel blade along the root barrier will sever any bamboo that's managed to outwit your careful borders. If you have the luxury of time, plant clumping bamboo and wait for it to mature. Clumping bamboo will grow thicker and taller than running bamboo and is not invasive.
Creative Crayon Box
Paint your wooden fence. Because it's in the backyard, you can be as colourful as you like. The exterior of the fence might be a nice, calm sage green or a wood stain, but the interior can burst into blossom with a crayon box of colours. Paint vertical boards in different hues; try a graduated series of one colour from light to dark shades, or splash out with a rainbow of mixed colours. Plant tall sunflowers against the fence for a cheerful summer and fall, and add movable container evergreens in winter for a touch of living green. When selecting paint colours, "Southern Living" magazine suggests going with dark colours, because plant colours pop against dark shades, and dark colours visually recede, keeping fences from standing out.
Inside the Box
Use reclaimed lumber to build simple shadow box frames that you can hang securely on your backyard fence. The boxes can hold container plants. Try a selection of succulents or, in a drought-plagued area, plant cactus. Set pots of spring flowers in the shadow boxes and replace them with summer flowering vines and hardy flowers such as petunias and impatiens. Mix and match, adding a few Gerbera daisies, a couple of hostas for attractive foliage, and some clusters of pansies in regions where the summer heat won't wilt them. If you cook, plant a small herb garden in the boxes.