How to mend a fence - and really make it your own

Argh, the fence fell down. My neighbours and I had two days of golden bliss with newly laid lawn either side of the bloody thing, then kaput. Now the broken bits are leaning up against their house and I am halfway through digging a hole to take out the far-too-substantial foundations. (Well, far too substantial where the fence post was buried below the surface of the soil so it could rot.)

Fencing is not just an urban preoccupation: anyone who's ever seen ITV's Neighbours from Hell knows that boundaries make lawsuits, making great television. Our original fence went up in pursuit of a bit more privacy, but I could now fall into my neighbours' garden if I so much as momentarily lose my footing in the open-cast iridium-style mine I have created trying to get to the bottom of the apparently bottomless concrete. They say they don't mind, but I can't help thinking they probably do.

I could call the guys who did it originally and yell at them, but this time I'm determined to do it properly, myself. There are plenty of fencing products available at your local DIY shop, and some of them are more useful than others. I know this because I put up the fencing in a different bit of the garden and it's still standing 16 years later.

Metpost post-holders, in heavy-coated steel to make them rust-resistant, were invaluable (and only £6.98 from B&Q diy.com). Mine are set in concrete – a "narrow concrete collar" as the official advice puts it. And after years they still don't wobble, though they have a huge Clematis montana and a rose "Albertine", both in rude health, weighing them down.

Another useful delight is a post level (£4.49, screwfix.com), a dinky little spirit level which rests on the top of a holder or post, letting you keep your hands free for moving the post into position or banging it with an enormous mallet.

And when you're freaking out about the David Dickinson-like colour of the new fence panels, reassure yourself: there are plenty of shades a new fence can be painted, most of which can be watered down to an acceptable level of neutrality (choose a water-based tint such as Ronseal Woodland Trust, and mix half and half with water).

After that, you get the treat: debating which plants will clothe the boundary. Fast-growing and beautiful? Consider a passion flower, often described as "rampant" (try Passiflora caerulea, £9.99, crocus.co.uk, above in white, with the purple morning glory "Star of Yalta"). Your main task after the first growing year will be cutting out the messy stems of deadwood to keep it looking nice.

But the truth is that the horrible bit of the job is just getting the broken stumps out of the soil, along with their enormous concrete boots. You can comb the internet for as long as you like, it turns out, and there's no short cut, bar a trip to Travis Perkins to hire a breaker (from around £35 a day, travisperkins.co.uk). Fencing contractors, I curse you all.

Fence frills

1. The scent

Ask my neighbour what she's looking for in a fence plant, and she'll tell you: evergreen, not too rampant, fragrant and flowering all summer long. For a wonderful summer scent, put in a star jasmine. £12.49, crocus.co.uk

2. The climber

Campsis is suitable for a shelt ered urban south-facing fence. Orangey-red flowers in late August give a totally tropical feel. £19.99, crocus.co.uk

3. The danger

Keep heavy plants such as ivy off fences. Its weight increases annually and will eventually take the whole fence with it; keeping it under control to start with is greatly preferable

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