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Contemporary Garden Design Ideas

contemporary garden design
by Ally North Ally North

Less is more! Contemporary garden design is clean, minimalistic and calm, with simple blocks of planting or single specimens planted in containers.

This really is a garden for busy people who need their gardens not only to be low maintenance, but to serve multiple purposes - they need to be spaces for relaxing, entertaining and even working. The look really suits smaller urban spaces, with backyards and balconies particularly well represented in show gardens I’ve seen. The overall design should be calming and clutter free - the ideal retreat from the stresses of your day. Read on for our contemporary garden design ideas to incorporate planting into your modern space.

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Planters and landscaping

I’m going to start with these because they really are some of the most defining elements of a contemporary garden. Your hard landscaping (the paving, seating etc.) needs to be designed with strong, clean lines and geometric forms such as squares or rectangles in the beds or planters. The best materials to use are natural ones such as stone, slate and wood - white is very popular, but grey slate can look very effective. Try to avoid too many colours as well as gravel, stepping stones and curved paths, which can unbalance the design.

This being a style used mainly in smaller spaces, I’ve seen a lot of clever use of walls too, with green walls, reclaimed timber panelling or mirrors adding a bold touch. Planters are typically large and range from the highly polished and modernistic look of glossy ceramic or metal containers to those with a focus on sustainability such as the container gardens at the RHS Chelsea show which used recycled oil drums and shipping containers. Plant them with buxus balls, cordylines or grasses, hostas, shrubs like euonymus, ligustrum and viburnum or small specimen trees like acers.

corten steel planters

Vertical growing

A pergola makes a useful addition to contemporary gardens, maximising your growing space and enabling you to grow climbing plants like clematis, jasmine and even grapevines. As well as looking (and in some cases, smelling) fantastic, these can also be a valuable source of summer shade in an exposed space like a yard. You could also add a coordinating sail canopy to your pergola, enabling you to use your seating area all year round. Don’t forget the walls and fences - a fast-growing ivy or Virginia Creeper will disguise any structures that don’t fit the theme and help you get the most from your growing space.

ivy on wall

Colour scheme

Many contemporary gardens feature a simple but effective green and white colour scheme, focussing mainly on foliage plants like grasses, hostas and heucheras with pops of tall white perennials such as agapanthus or achillea, or highly textured plants such as eryngium. Make sure you include some evergreens, to keep your garden looking good all year round.

It doesn’t have to be monotone or muted - if you love colour, you can achieve a wonderfully vibrant effect by picking out a bold red, orange or blue and matching a wall, a seat or a planter with the same shades of flowers.

And don’t think you need to stick to neat, highly cultivated plants - some of the best contemporary gardens I’ve seen are full of grasses, meadow flowers and prairie-style perennials. It’s a great way of encouraging pollinators into your garden!

hosta and heuchera

Sensory elements

Focussing on the contemporary garden’s role as a relaxing retreat, what could be better than adding some sensory elements to your space? A tactile peeling bark tree like Paperbark Maple or Tibetan Cherry is a must and glossy bamboo can be used as a screen or in a pot. Tall grasses and plants such as agapanthus, Allium and Kniphofia will provide gentle rustling and swaying sounds, a bubbling water feature will add to the sense of calm - and to add birdsong to this dreamy soundscape, plant a tree like a small rowan or crabapple. Add edible flowers and herbs near your seating area for the scent - you can also pick them as fresh garnishes for your drinks. A highly fragrant jasmine or honeysuckle overhead completes the scene.

modern garden

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