Sometimes useful things are ugly. I don't like ugly things. The general rule for me is that things should be USEFUL or BEAUTIFUL and 90% should be BOTH. In fact, I have gathered my DIY postings into those categories because that is truly how I think of things when I make or buy them. Is it gorgeous? Is it super useful? Is it useful AND beautiful? If the answer is yes, then it can stay. If it is ugly, it goes (unless it is something super useful like a toothbrush or a bottle of mouthwash). If it is useless it goes (unless it is beautiful like silly paper garlands). If it isn't a strong collaboration of the two is goes. For example, the skewer sticks are ugly in their packaging, but beautiful stored in a glass pitcher. So, the pitcher and skewers stay, the packaging goes. You get it, right??
#1 GREEN IT
Buy a green fence, or paint it green. If your fence is anywhere near lawn or plants, it is going to disappear a bit if it is green, right? Right. If your fence is in the middle of a bunch of pavement, then you have bigger problems than an ugly fence, and silver or grey will blend right in.
#2 USE IT
Chain Link fences are perfect for plants because a) they are absolutely perfect for climbing plants and b) they can help deliver nitrogen to your plants. Climbing plants climb by twirling around supports or gripping onto them, and the size and design of a chain link fence is perfect for both. I planted a clematis and have a climbing rose on my fence, but need many many many more! The clematis is especially perfect because it weaves its way in and out of the links, blooms beautifully and then leaves these wonderful little poofy seed pods.
So what about the nitrogen?
Lightning fixes the nitrogen in the air making it available to plants as nitrogen oxides. When your plants are hanging on and planted under a metal chain link fence, the chances of attracting lightning are quite high and while you don't want to be around if lightning is anywhere near your metal fence, the plants will love the extra nitrogen. They gobble it up and put on new growth the next day. Gardeners are known to string copper wire around their tomato plants and cabbage patches to harness this benefit for their plants. At the moment though, if we could get just a drop of rain, I believe the plants would be happy. It is so blisteringly hot and humid, but without a hint of rain OR lightning. Poor plants...
#3 HIDE IT
Your fence is already green, so the next step is adding more beautiful green plants to help break up the prison look of mile after mile of metal links. One of my favorites for a chain link fence is a hibiscus plant. They are tough, they come cheap on clearance at any nursery or big box store, and they are easy to propagate. ...AND they have GORGEOUS blooms. GORGEOUS!
Of course mine have not bloomed quite yet, so I have nary a photo to show, but even the buds are quite nice...see?
Hibiscus sends of new shoots every spring in a cluster straight up from the ground. The stems are strong, yet flexible, so they are perfect for a chain link fence because they weave themselves on either side of the fence, camouflaging both sides from view. They grow about 3-5 foot tall generally and are the perfect base plant for your fence. To propagate the plants, simply chop off a cutting and root it or layer your plant. (Just click those green links for the how to articles!) I layer a stem or two each year to create a bank of them along one side of my fence.
After you have a climber and some base plants (like clematis and hibiscus), a few large, tall anchor plants give variety to your plantings. My favorite is this old fashioned mallow. I have no idea what variety it is, but it is a large, beautiful plant that is hardy as all get out. It is a relative of the hibiscus, so the blooms are similar, but are only about 3"-5" wide as opposed to the huge dinner plate sized hibiscus.
As I mentioned, my fence is around a pool, so my plants are a bit more tropical by design. Along with white clematis, hibiscus and mallow, I also use large green and varigated grasses, red flowering cannas, various evergreen bushes and red climbing roses. If your fence serves a different purpose you could certainly substitute other plants such as these:
Climbers: rose, clematis, sweet peas, peas, ivy, cup and saucer vine, trumpet vine (be careful...this one is beautiful, but invasive)
Foundation: Hydrangea, various conifer shrubs in rounded habits, daylilies, peonies, Montauk daisies, holly
Tall Accents: annual sunflowers, hollyhock, cannas, grasses, various conifers with vertical habits...the list could go on and on and on...