Gone are the traditional, voluminous shapes and profusion of colours in the garden design world – contemporary gardening is leaning more into the minimalist and sparse look, comprised of clean lines, earthy colours and open spaces.
Contemporary garden design has its roots in the 1960s, when it was all about linear designs and bold geometry. Recently, more homeowners are going for this look as everything is refreshingly geometric, and the space it creates not only feels friendly and inviting, but also personalised and artful. Its streamlined aesthetic and sleek, sophisticated style also makes the garden look controlled and organised.
In this article we have put together a detailed insight on how to put together such a refined, modern look – one that is suited to the welcoming indoor-outdoor lifestyle contemporary gardeners are trying to create.
Contemporary gardens are all about tidiness, organisation and simplicity. This is why when choosing garden colours and patterns, the best choices are neutral and subtle hues.
White and green is a good base for the colour scheme. For instance, use pale limestone gravel to create a sophisticated patio area, or paint brick walls and fences white. Remember, however, that doing so may create a boring garden, so we recommend creating contrast – a large mass of ornamental grass popping out against a grey concrete wall, for instance, or red cushions on otherwise plain patio furniture.
Be selective when creating contrast, however, as too much can only make the space seem disjointed.
With its neatly organised lines, sculptural plants are one major element in a contemporary landscape. Limit your plants to a few species, and plant them in larger or smaller groups for a minimalist effect. To hold the garden together, use repeat patterns and space small trees, ornaments and box bushes regularly for orderliness and a timeless appeal.
The problem here is that these plants are rigid and unnatural, making the landscape feel like a sterile museum. A better approach would be to make sure the plants have a loose and alive appearance, to bring a sense of playfulness, liveliness and warmth. Create dynamism and highlight areas using decorative grass and perennial flowers as well.
Start with an organised palette in and around the garden. As you go further out, make sure the plants almost dissolve into the surrounding natural environment.
A move away from traditional solid pavements, a trademark of contemporary landscapes is square, cut out pavers lining pathways, planted with a grid of green where the grout should originally be. This green and white pattern creates an interesting layout of squares and rectangles, and lends a sharper look to the garden.
Elfin thyme is a good filler for the rectangular space. Not only does elfin thyme look gorgeous when the purple flowers bloom, it can also handle foot traffic.
These grids do not always need to lead you somewhere – they can be used as simple visual tools to unify the design or make the garden space look bigger.
Furniture pieces with a minimalist architectural style find its perfect place in a contemporary garden. In fact, they are treated as a sculptural element, as there is often a lack of space for both furniture and art in small gardens, which are now the norm.
Outdoor seats made from natural materials also provide contrast to the clean planting patterns and the simple white surface. Some great options include a well-worn trough and a driftwood bench. You may also opt for a metallic-framed corner sofa and large pillows to create an isolated relaxation area.
Orange and green cushions are popular in contemporary gardens, but this can easily overwhelm the design of the space. Instead, look at your plants for cues, and repeat a colour in a flower or an ornamental grass. Not only will this make the cushions blend more into the landscape, but will not likely be outdated next season.
To keep the same corner patterns, you may also build a stone wall behind the sofa and add a metal coffee table.
Lighting is essential for contemporary gardens. It provides the garden a completely different look, and makes the whole place come alive at night.
Choose appropriate light fixtures. Avoid cool-toned lighting as it gives off an eerie, off-putting glow, and go for something that can blend easily with nature. Warmer tones, such as what we have at Oakleigh Manor, create a dramatic effect.
Remember that good lighting, however, is more about what is lighted rather than the light fixture itself, so focus spotlights on elements, such as textured brickwork, battens or the repeated patterns of planting.
Water can appear as a decorative element in contemporary gardens in the form of crystal (e.g. decorative pools, small ponds or lakes), in the form of falls (e.g. waterfalls or water walls), and as running water (e.g. small rivers or springs). Not only does it add to the enchanting, contemporary look, it also delights the senses and allows the garden to achieve its main goal: to relax you.
A sterile, lifeless appearance is a common pitfall in modern garden design. To introduce more life into your contemporary garden, use plants with bold silhouettes that you can incorporate in the whole architectural design of the garden.
Some examples of plants are succulents, cycads, birds-of-paradise and grasses that complement the strong lines of contemporary design. You can also use soft plants to contrast with the strong lines of your home.
Contemporary planting also involves a ‘glue’ plant – one that is in ever border and lasts a long time. An example is the Verbena bonariensis perennial plant, which forms a haze of purple that hovers above other plants.
Now it is up to you to choose contemporary landscaping path. If your garden needs a major renovation, perhaps you need the help of experienced landscape designers from Oakleigh Manor. We use a mindful approach to gardens, which is why we are the go-to name for beautiful and bespoke landscaping projects in Kent, London, Essex, Surrey and Sussex.
This article was written by Josh