Obviously, there are many different opinions as to the best type of fence for gardens and they all have their own values, whether it is from a purely aesthetic view, how functional they are or something as basic, yet important as cost. Although not an exhaustive list we will explore the most common and readily available types of fencing and try and help you make the choice that suits both you, and your garden.
Manmade fences themselves are a relatively new concept. Originally landowners and farmers relied on natural barriers to define areas and control cattle. Nowadays it would be almost unthinkable to not have your property fenced off to some extent, for many reasons such as privacy, security, providing shelter from the wind, marking your boundary, protecting your children and pets and obviously aesthetic appeal.
The definition of a fence is: ‘A fence is a structure that encloses an area, typically outdoors, and is usually constructed from posts that are connected by boards, wire, rails or netting. A fence differs from a wall in not having a solid foundation along its whole length’
When it comes to choosing a garden fence you have the freedom to choose whatever you wish without having to consider all of the requirements of a ‘normal’ fence. This is especially relevant if you are looking at breaking up your garden into defined areas, or adding fencing for decorative purposes as opposed to providing security and privacy.
A typical use of a garden fence may be something like introducing garden fencing to a decking area or patio to create more privacy in a specific area. Or adding a screened area to a hot tub installation. You needn’t settle for basic panel designs either – there is lots of choice within DIY stores and specialist landscaping suppliers. To get you inspired we have also added some of the cleverest fencing ideas for functionality and design.
What do I Need From my Fence
Before considering what different types of fencing are available it is worth taking a little time to ask yourself what the primary purpose of your fence is going to be. This will help you ascertain what the best type of fence for gardens is going to be.
If the primary purpose is for bordering your garden then you will probably want a tall, solid fence that people cannot see through for privacy and extra security. However, if you are looking at creating different zones within your garden, you could consider a shorter, more decorative fence with an open design. With so many types available, deciding what the primary use of your fence will be will definitely be beneficial in guiding your decision.
Height is also an important factor when deciding on your garden fencing. Do you want to be able to see over it or not? And more importantly bear in mind that if you can see out, others can see in. If security and privacy are what you’re looking for from your fencing, choose a taller fence.
Extremely exposed and windy locations will need fencing that allows the air to blow through, reducing wind resistance. A good example of this is semi-solid fencing, usually slatted, which have the additional benefit of also letting in extra light and can cast interesting shadow patterns around the garden.
The average fence height between 1.5 metres and 2 metres. No planning permission is required for a barrier under 1.8m unless it’s next to a highway or footpath. In this instance then the height cannot usually exceed 1m without planning consent. Although each county, parish and street can have different rules and regulations so it is worth checking with your local council to see if there are any restricted height limits. Historic areas and listed properties may also have specific directives on the type of fencing that’s permitted.
What is the Best Type of Fence for Gardens
The most common types of fencing in the UK are examined below, as well as some types that may surprise you. Each have their own characteristics and by identifying these your choice should be made easier. There are probably more combinations than you can possibly imagine so don’t think that you are only restricted to what is available in the local DIY merchants, or that you may as well just replace what was there before like for like. Let your imagination run free, failing that you will at least be confident that you know what you are looking for when trying to decide what is the best type of fence for gardens.
Wooden Fence Panels
These are the fences that most people are familiar with and with good reason, they are by far the most popular choice. The most common variations of these are closeboard fencing which is crafted from vertical feather edge wooden boards, attached closely together (hence the name) and strengthened with horizontal wooden rails at the back.
These offer a high level of privacy and closeboard fencing is specially constructed to withstand strong winds so if you’re erecting a fence in an exposed area, or your previous fence took a battering from storms over the previous winter, then this could be the best choice for you.
Lap fence panels (also referred to as overlap or larchlap) are constructed from horizontal boards and are a lighter duty, lighter weight garden fence. They have a slightly softer appearance than closeboard, but still provide that all-important privacy for you and your family to enjoy your outside space. If your back garden is in a relatively sheltered position, then this can be the right choice.
Wooden fence panels vary considerably in finish and appearance and this is primarily achieved by minor alterations to the edges, or profiles of the individual boards used in the construction of the panels. The most common of these are:
Feather edge fencing. This is most commonly used to make closeboard fencing, these boards have a fine edge which is created by tapering. The effect of the overlapping boards is supposed to mirror the look of bird’s feathers.
Waney edge fencing. These are timber boards with one straight edge and one rough and uneven edge that are cut straight from the tree, this is a very traditional style.
Straight edge fencing. This offers a simple, unfussy look, whereby timber boards are cut in a straight line and work well with modern gardens. These are sometimes referred to as square edge panels.
Picket fences are constructed from rounded or pointed pickets in a row with gaps in between. These are also sometimes referred to as paling or palisade fencing. These are often found in smaller heights than the fence panels above and are more appropriate for front gardens, where you are just marking your boundaries, as opposed to being constructed for security or privacy. The picket fencing design is great for sectioning off a vegetable patch for protection from pets and children.
The majority of wooden fence panels are available already pressure-treated and protected against timber rot. This can be done in one of two ways. Dip-treating means that the timber is immersed in a water based preservative to provide a protective coating. A water-based treatment will need to be reapplied regularly to keep your fencing looking good, there are numerous products readily available for this at a relatively low cost.
Pressure-treating, although a little more expensive, offers a longer lasting defence against the elements. With this method a preservative is blasted into the wood at high pressure before it is stacked and left to dry. This provides much longer lasting protection than dip-treating alone and the higher initial expense is countered by the longer gaps between applying restorative treatment.
The final variables (excluding colour), having identified what different types of fencing are available, are the shape and finish of your wooden fence panel. Usually there are three profiles – straight, curved and domed. Similar to the straight board edges, straight profiles are quite understated and classic, whilst the soft lines of the domed and curved panels tend to complement a more cottage style theme.
When making a decision about the finish of the wood, planed boards will create a smooth, modern look that is smoother to the touch which makes them a popular choice for gardens with children. Alternatively, you can choose a rough sawn finish which is more suited to rustic outdoor styles.
Wooden fence panels are usually constructed between either timber, or concrete fencing posts that are sunk into the ground. They are usually built to a standard width of 1.8 metres however, they do come in various thicknesses so ensure that you take note of this when comparing prices and suppliers. Dependent on the type of ground this is usually set into a ground spike or, for a more permanent solution into concrete / post-mix. Wooden fence posts are commonly used for gardens and perimeter fencing for homes, as they match the most common fences and give a natural look however concrete posts, although not as aesthetically pleasing, are almost maintenance free and will not rot as a wooden post eventually will. If using wooden fence posts then retaining fence clips are used, if using concrete fence posts then the panels slide into a specially designed recess built into the post.
If you are looking to fence an area where the ground slopes away, or is uneven and unsuitable for wooden fence panels it is possible to create your own fencing design with the wide range of timber fence boards that are available. Because your fence is assembled from individual planks it is a simple task to cut these to a bespoke height to compensate for any undulations. Additional advantages are that these can be built in one continuous run and individual boards can be replaced if damaged, rather than having to replace an entire panel.
These are also available in a range of finishes and are usually either dip treated, or pressure treated. As above pressure treating is the preferable option.
Pros and Cons
- Provide a natural look, after all nothing is more natural than wood
- Can be painted or stained to alter appearance
- Wide range of designs and style are available, easy to self-install
- Probably the cheapest form of secure, private fencing available if self-installing
- Can be the environmentally friendly option, but opposite can also apply below
- Wood panels weather quickly and lose that as new look very soon
- Require annual maintenance to keep structural integrity and looking good
- Highly weather dependent and can be easily damaged by rain, storms, summer heat and winter cold
- Wood can, and will rot away, also warps and can be significantly damaged by insects
- Has a much shorter lifetime than other available fencing materials
- Wooden fence posts can fail, leading to the fence panels falling, potentially causing damage to adjacent property and gardens.
- Variable quality, ensue that you are getting the most durable that you can afford
- Non sustainable wood production is a major cause of deforestation
Metal railings will provide a finish that is more classically decorative, these work really well when used for garden dividers, driveways and front gardens and can even be installed on top of walls or decking if you are after that extra decorative finish. However, they are not as effective as a security or privacy measure.
In the last few decades, steel fencing has replaced the previously favoured option of wrought iron as the premier form of high quality fencing, this means that their longevity can be expressed in generations, rather than years!! Metal railings are usually constructed from steel and zinc and powder-coated in black to prevent rust and corrosion. These are usually finished with a variety of decorative tops, including spears, balls, swirls and many more. More ornate finishes are also available that include various twists and spirals in the railings. The choices and combinations are truly endless.
Pros and Cons
- Steel fencing is stronger than any other fences, will not rot away and is highly resistant to all weathers
- Minimal maintenance required once installed
- Offers excellent durability, and subsequently great protection
- Aesthetically pleasing, numerous choices of styles and finishes
- Initial cost usually much higher than any other type of fencing, however long term durability negates this over the lifetime of this material
- Quite complex installation required so not ideally suited to most DIY projects
- Does not provide an overly high level of security
- Will not have a significant effect on privacy
Modular fencing is a relatively new concept that is described as ‘bringing indoor style to your outdoor space’. This fencing range is completely customisable and allows you to totally individualise your design using premade components to create your own eye-catching look, although it not the first thing that springs to mind when you are wondering what different types of fencing are available. Almost like Lego for fences!!
The combinations of wood, composite, acrylic and metal materials used allow for sophisticated decorative designs utilising high-quality materials. The strength of these materials can offer great resistance to extreme weather conditions and once assembled are almost maintenance free. However, they are susceptible to brittleness in the usual UK weather cycle of hot, cold, dry and damp. This probably explains why they have not really taken off in the UK. These are usually manufactured primarily from PVC and vinyl.
Pros and Cons
- From a distance can look like real wood
- Usually low maintenance once installed
- Wide range of designs and style are available
- Does not splinter so safer for children and pets
- Not ideally suited to the UK environment, regular construction and expansion causes brittleness and potential failure
- Cannot be painted or sprayed, once you have the colour that is it for the life of the product
- Can be prone to mould, mildew and algae which once established, can stain and is difficult to remove
- Initial purchase costs can be expensive, but must be balanced against low maintenance costs
Other Types of Fencing
Obviously, the above list is not exhaustive and there are other options that may be considered when looking at fencing your garden. These ideas do not immediately spring to mind when considering the best type of fence for gardens but they all have their place. Some of these are suggested below:
If, for example, your garden extends to a field or wonderful view, you could utilise galvanised wire cattle fencing with the addition of a prickly hedge for security, so the view isn’t totally lost whilst still retaining some privacy.
Hedges can also suit a traditional setting and can be bought in a variety of heights, this is obviously extremely useful for creating a screen for a wire fence straightaway. Small shrubs will also do a similar job but they will obviously grow more slowly and it may be some years before your vision comes to fruition.
Willow and Hazel Hurdles
If you wish to go really traditional then you could consider Willow or Hazel hurdle fencing. These are perhaps the oldest British form of fencing and date back to Neolithic times 5,000 years ago. Ecologically friendly and aesthetically extremely pleasing they can help create a truly natural and unique look for any garden. The woven construction of these hurdles also provides a perfect environment for climbing plants to latch onto.
The key difference between Hazel and Willow hurdles is the thickness of both the horizontal and vertical branches with Willow tending to be slightly finer and Hazel offering a more sturdy, robust construction. Because of the fact that the branches are coppiced this fencing is probably the most sustainable of all the materials above. Harvesting of this wood uses the same methods that were used thousands of years ago, taking only what is needed, allowing room for the next seasons growth.
If you want to screen off different areas within your garden, then privacy and strength will not be as important, and you can afford to use a fence design that is less robust. Traditional square or lattice trellising is a good choice for creating zones within your garden, and are ideal for sectioning off a separate sanctuary area without blocking out sunlight. Additionally, it is perfect for growing climbing plants against to create a living wall.
A slightly eclectic choice however the effect of an industrial steel design against the softness of nature can create a stunning look. These can be treated or untreated and sometimes a rust colouring will contrast wonderfully against a flowering green border. Additional customisations can be implemented by having patterns etched into the surface or cut right through, a cut out design would also lighten the effect if you are not looking to go for a full on industrial look.
Another alternative would be planting some tall growing plants such as bamboo to create a living border. This will provide a much softer finish although be careful not to overplant and be aware of the potential damage that some plants may cause with their roots.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned that we would try to identify the best type of fence for gardens and the benefits and downfalls of the more popular types. As you have probably observed from the above there are numerous options available to you and so many factors that need to be taken into consideration before making an investment in your fencing.
Hopefully now that you know what different types of fencing are available as well as having a mental shortlist of the best type of fence for gardens you should be able to make an informed decision regarding your next steps and will soon have a fence that perfectly suits not only your requirements, but your environment as well.
A well installed, aesthetically suitable fence can really make a difference to your garden and can also significantly change the overall visual appearance, as well as physically redefining some aspects of your garden and relatively speaking, can be a cheap way to make a really significant difference to the overall look and feel.
Finally, please consider leaving hedgehog holes under solid fences so these now endangered creatures can move freely between neighbouring gardens.