See how a simple coat of paint can change your fence right now.
Make a Difference With Color
Credit: William Dickey

Paint a picket fence white, and you'll produce a classic cottage garden icon. But the traditional approach is not always best for your landscape. Take a look at it during the cold months when plants lie sleeping, and assess how color works in your garden. This idea also applies to arbors, gates, and even benches. Ask these questions to see if you should be thinking outside the color box.

  • Is my landscape formal or casual?
  • Does the color of the fence (or other structure) complement the landscape?
  • Does it go with the house and trim?

This color epiphany came to me one day while driving down the street toward my house. From a distance, my tiny front garden--bordered on three sides by a white picket fence--looked like a stark fortress. All I saw was fence. The soft green shades of the house and trim appeared warm and inviting, but the fence loomed over the garden, bleak and cold. Hidden under flowering vines in the summer, it looked fine. But in winter's harsh light and lacking leafy cover, it appeared naked. Then came the aha moment. It needed a new look--an untraditional shade, something rich, dark, and warm like the color of chocolate.


  • Dark colors recede. In the garden, this can be a good thing. A structure such as a fence or arbor plays a supporting role in the landscape. You want it to be a part of the whole, not stick out like a sore thumb.
  • Plant colors shine against a dark shade. Greens look greener, pastels seem more lush, and white blooms appear clean and fresh.
  • Dark colors don't show dirt. My white fence was a magnet for every imaginable transgressor, from birds to trees dripping sap. A dark color minimizes the forces of nature.

Where White Works
This isn't to say that white structures aren't appropriate in the garden. If the house or trim is white, this can be the obvious and correct choice. Use color to tie your home and garden together. Assess your style, and stick with it for a unified, great-looking landscape. And don't be afraid to try something new. Paint is an inexpensive way to get a fresh new look, even in the garden.

Another Option
If you're after a more rustic look, consider staining your picket fence. The experts at Lakeview Paint in Birmingham offer these points.

  • Apply stain on a new fence, not one that has paint on it.
  • One coat does it, with freshening every four or five years.
  • Use a solid hide stain, not semitransparent.

"Painted Garden Fences Add Impact" is from the February 2006 issue of Southern Living.