What a Little Paint Can Do


In my last post about my new back garden I thanked Rant readers for their design tips, all of which I incorporated.  Well, most of which – until now.  The super-honest Christopher C wrote to tell me that he CRINGED whenever I posted a photo of my neighbor’s privacy screen, shown below, because it looked like a beat-up old pallet.

Veteran bloggers like myself are known for their thick skin but I’ve gotta say, that kinda stung.  But in a good way, an inspiring way.  So I anxiously researched my co-op rules and learning that paint is allowed, determined to make this one purple – the primary color I’ve chosen for the plants.  (Following Thomas Rainer’s directive to choose a color scheme and stick to it religiously in a space this small).

But then another super-honest gardenblogging friend came to visit and immediately nixed the purple idea and while she was at it, expressed HORROR, I say, HORROR at the sight of my bright green garden hose.  (Not the one above, which doesn’t look bad but was damaged.)

Being a faithful follower of suggestions – at least when my gut says they’re right on – I set out to find a better looking hose (done! Post to follow when it arrives) and chose this deep green for the screen, a color destined to be less controversial with the neighbors than purple.  It also A, matches the Adirondack chairs perfectly and B, is an actual color that colored stain comes in; purple isn’t even on offer.

So Christopher, it’s not the light green you suggested but has it at least put an end to the dreaded cringing effect?  I sure hope so.  It’ll soon be festooned with the evergreen vine Bignonia (crossvine) that you see here in its first season.

In the corner is a ‘Blue Maid’ holly that’s supposed to grow to 6-10′.  The groundcovers in this little court are the vigorous Sedum takesimense for sun and Creeping Jenny for shade.

Me, I love the big dose of color, which also looks good from the living room, where it’s a prominent feature out the window.  I just hope it stays this way, despite my failure to follow directions for applying it.  I declined to use the wood cleaner  I was supposed to use first; the chemicals in it are SO NASTY I couldn’t stand the idea of washing them down into my garden soil.  So, time will tell.

Paint Rules!

I’d painted garden walls before and recommended paint many times for the unsightly sheds and garages of my clients and agree totally with the sentiments of Maureen Gilmer:

I believe in paint.  It’s cheap.  It makes huge changes in a matter of hours.  Paint is the poor garden maker’s Yellow Brick Road to bold, beautiful spaces.

Click that link to see her excellent examples.  Googling “painted garden walls” also led me to an example by designer  Shirley Bovshow, who uses a slightly lighter green to cover a cinder block wall.

I did manage to find an example in purple by an English designer who’s far bolder than I am.

Searching for “painted garden walls” on Houzz yields a few good examples, like the fabulous one below.

Eclectic Landscape design by San Luis Obispo Landscape Architect Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture

Anybody else using paint in their garden?  And why do you think we see so little of it used?


  1. I have a pair of Adirondack chairs I’ve been meaning to paint for YEARS. And a front door. And my shed needs paint. And now I’m thinking the wood fence that faces the street could use some stain. I think most of us just don’t think of paint as a garden tool, but obviously it can provide some dramatic effects.

  2. I love using paint in the garden! A friend of mine has a somewhat standard trick of hers for small gardens: she takes a standard brown outdoor paint and stirs in a tube of lampblack. Stirs it lightly, so you get subtle dark matte variations in the paint. Totally makes a small garden look bigger.

    For me? It’s all about blues. That pic you posted is a phenomenal example. My favorite is cobalt or teal. I did a blog post called “Talking a Blue Streak” where I found examples of plants contrasted with blue walls all over town. Blue is the perfect, goes-with-anything, color!

    Love your color choice for the privacy screen. Personally, I was not at all offended by the naturally aging wood. I liked it. I’ll like your screen even better once it starts fading and weathering! And being offended by the color of your hose? Somebody needs to get over it. 🙂 How about a hose pot instead? (I tend to err on the side of practical and pick hoses based on length needed and quality of hose over color of hose.)

    • Actually, the hose color WAS practically neon, not like the sedate-looking green hose in the photo here. (Sorry!)
      Thought about a pot but I doubt I’d be patient enough to USE it. I ordered a hose that’s olive-colored AND lightweight. Can’t wait.

      • Ahh, fair enough. No need for neon hoses. 🙂 I think the basic standard run-of-the-mill green is fairly benign. If the hose totally dominates the color scheme and draws your eye to it, then it’s worth replacing. Or at least hiding when people are gonna see the garden… And I tend to leave my own hose strewn all about. I get ya on the hose pot.

  3. I use paint in my garden. I painted my pergola a lovely shade of compost brown. And every year I update my clay pots and garden art door with a different color, just to perk the place up a bit.

    I like your color choices and your cozy little space.

  4. I think that a lot of gardeners tend to be more on the “eco-friendly” side of things, which means that they’ll go to extreme lengths sometimes to make their gardens not look good. We’re already doing so much for the environment by growing at home in promoting the message of gardening to family and friends that I think it’s okay to go ahead and decorate!

    That being said, I love the way that your garden turned out!

  5. Love it! I think folks are generally afraid of color. It is the easiest and most inexpensive fix!

    Have you ever seen Richard Hartlage’s Bold Visions for the Garden? Great inspiration…. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I use paint to update old, ugly, cheap pots. I love big pots but find them so extremely expensive so I get whatever is cheap and fix it up with paint and/or a little decoupage. Glad you followed the suggestion and painted the wall! It looks much better.

  7. I love paint! Especially in my dry, prairie climate where things are brown for much of the year. I add colour with paint all over the place! I paint structures, pots, and even my house fun colours! Enjoy your lovely fence and new garden,



  8. Susan, I love the green, it looks wonderful. I don’t paint, I stain! I have a marvelous rich purple stain that I used on chairs and fences in my garden. I prefer stain ~It might wear off but, there’s no chipping, sanding, etc, just add another layer when necessary. Happy gardening! gail

  9. I was worried at first that you were using paint, but saw you refer to ‘stain’ once, so I”m glad, But as one poster said, stain is the way to go for outdoor jobs.

    Paint is going to peel and look bad for a number of years before the average person motivates to scrape and paint it. Stain on the other hand doesn’t peel, it just fades, which just makes for good wabi-sabi.

    Also in terms of color I strongly advise my clients to choose darker colors–in a humid climate you’ll have mildew and/or algae and/or mud splatters on your fence. So with light colors it will be more obvious–like having a light colored carpet in a house full of dogs and boys. Dark colors don’t show the dirt, but more importantly, by being a darker color than the medium green of most plants, the hardscape plays second fiddle to the brighter plants.

    But anything looks better than the dead grey of pressure treated wood, So bravo, well done, Frank Hyman

  10. I can think of at least two reasons why people avoid paint in their gardens. As mentioned above: fear of choosing color is one reason. The other reason is the ongoing maintenance of painted surfaces outdoors. The latter can be improved by following the paint manufacturer’s recommendations for both primer and paint, both essential in my opinion. Better yet, consider stain…and you can find purple stain, Susan, although I think you found a more successful solution for your application. More about painting and much, much more about garden furnishings and materials in my new book coming out next summer: “The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings” via Timber Press.

  11. Love your “new” fence! After 10 years, it needs repainting now, but I had a very shady area with a narrow gate to the front garden, so I painted the fence a very bright yellow (“Sunny Side Up” is the name), and I think it brightens up that corner wonderfully! I had to plant lots of vines and upright shrubs to hide the bulk of my very close neighbour’s bright blue wall, and the yellow draws the eye away from it as well!

  12. I LOVE purple in the garden. Real purple….not lilac. Three purple porch rail window boxes on sale from a mail order catalog, filled with yellow Million Bells and purple Angelonia absolutely wowed the neighborhood.

    Friends scratched their heads when I told them I was going to paint an iron patio set (chairs and a glass topped table) purple, but agreed the end result was stunning. As were two large purple frogs.

    Admittedly, I have a large area to fill, but spots of intense color bring zing to any space. Be brave. If you don’t like the result, it’s easy to change.

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