Garden design for a more contemporary garden: 5 tips to make your garden feel more contemporary
Many of us are drawn to the look and feel of the contemporary and clutter-free houses we often see on television programmes such as Grand Designs or George Clark’s Amazing Spaces. Perhaps it’s because the day-to-day reality for most people with hectic lives is rather different, particularly if we have children or pets?
There are, of course, lots of things we can do to make our homes feel more contemporary, but many of the same tips can also apply to our gardens. A contemporary garden needn’t be boring or feel excessively minimalist, but with a few simple steps we can create a garden that feels relaxing, welcoming and interesting.
Here are my 5 tips for creating a more contemporary garden:
1. Simplicity is king (or queen)
The golden rule of any contemporary garden is to ‘keep it simple’! The garden should feel calm and understated, so we really need to reduce the clutter and avoid excessive variety. It’s a good idea to begin by focusing on our key seating and entertaining area because we are hopefully going to be spending lots of quality time here. Strong and simple lines and shapes are key. Squares and rectangles are easy on the eye, but circles and curves can also work if they are used carefully.
Creating a successful sense of flow from the house to the garden is also essential, particularly if the property has large windows or bi-fold doors. One simple (but often overlooked) way to link our garden to the house is to align our outdoor spaces with the edges of our doors and windows, but let’s also try to ensure that we give ourselves an enticing view of our main seating area.
2. Materials & boundaries
With such a wide variety of hard-landscaping materials available, finding the perfect options for our garden might seem rather daunting. Once again, however, the key message is to aim for simplicity and uniformity. A contemporary garden really won’t benefit from too many different textures or from too many differently sized paving slabs, so let’s use clean lines and keep to a restrained palette of materials.
Paving is available in either natural stone, concrete or porcelain. They all have their place, but porcelain is a very popular choice currently because it can be easier to maintain than some of the natural or concrete alternatives. Porcelain also lends itself to a cleaner, more contemporary look and is available in a variety of colours and finishes. If we would prefer a natural product, then we will probably find that a smooth (sometimes labeled as ‘sawn’) finish will look and feel more contemporary than a riven or highly-textured stone.
Our garden’s boundaries often also present an opportunity for us to add a contemporary twist. This might be as simple as painting the fence. Black or dark grey are so much more up-to-date than dark green or brown, but bright and bold colours can be really effective. Or, we could add an interesting trellis or a decorative screen. Once again, though, we are going to need to ensure that this ‘fits’ with the rest of the garden, so let’s look at colours and textures which complement our other features.
Great lighting can make a massive difference to any garden, but particularly when we are seeking a more contemporary feel. Low-energy LED lighting products are available in a range of different options and budgets, so there really is something for scenario. We can choose spike lights for uplighting trees and focal points, or recessed step lights to mark changes of level or the edges of paving or decking. Flexible LED strips can also be really useful for picking out the undersides of a bench, the leading edges of steps or the overhang of wall copings.
In the interests of keeping things cohesive, I like to ensure that all of our light fittings emit a similar quality (or appearance) of light. The ‘temperature’ of a light source is technically measured in Kelvins, but for ease I usually specify ‘warm white’ (about 2700-3000K), rather than ‘cooler’ or ‘warmer’ tones. Let’s also think about the light fittings themselves. Stainless steel is a popular choice because it tends to complement a wide range of other materials and textures, but many products are also available in a black, copper or even corten steel finish.
Providing both visual and sound interest, a well-designed water feature will lead the eye and create an added level of interest to any contemporary garden. Bringing this water close to the house or to our main seating and entertaining areas can be particularly effective because it adds extra drama and atmosphere.
For some, the perfect water feature might take the form of a formal pond or rill, but for others a simple water feature might be more suitable. Low-maintenance slate or stone spherical water features are very popular, but similar products in transparent acrylic add an even more contemporary twist. Incorporating eye-catching lighting can provide additional impact and ensure that the water feature can be enjoyed over an extended period.
Creating a planting scheme which feels more contemporary needn’t be complicated or difficult. As ever, simplicity is vitally important, so let’s focus on leading the eye with our planting rather than having too many things competing for our attention. Statement ‘block’ planting can be really effective, especially if we limit it to a small number of different varieties. For example, lavender, alliums and verbena can look glorious together.
Other popular plants for a contemporary-feel include shrubs such as Phormium (New Zealand Flax) and Euphorbia wulfenii (Mediterranean spurge), perennials like Salvia x superba (ornamental sage) and Eryngium (sea holly), and ornamental grasses including Miscanthus zebrinus (Zebra grass) and Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass). For trees, we might want to consider Betula jacquemontii (Himalayan birch), Amelanchier (juneberry) trees or Prunus serrula (Tibetan cherry).
Follow these 5 simple steps and see how easy it can be to create a more contemporary garden. And please don’t be put off if sharing your garden with children or pets means that a contemporary feel seems out of reach…perhaps you could apply these steps to part of your outside space? Even the smallest corner of a garden can be given a more contemporary twist and provide the tranquil haven so many of us long for.
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.