The fundamentals of modern garden design

Good modern garden design always starts with a good plan. While some people are able to plan their garden by just walking about in it or working in stages, most of us need to start out with a clear drawn out plan.  

Start by thinking about what you want from the finished garden – what kind of a look and feel do you want to achieve in the end? Clarify your needs from the off and then decide in your own mind what kind of garden would meet those needs.  Modern garden design gives us many choices and the final choice will depend on a number of factors.


As gardens in modern homes tend to be much smaller than your more traditional homes, we’ve had to re-think modern gardens design. Over the last ten years or so we have seen the rise of the urban garden, and there’s even a special category for these small back yard gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show.  

How much time do you want to spend working in the garden? If your idea of gardening is sitting on your Lazy Susan Emma chair with a glass of wine and a good book, a traditional garden with lots of high maintenance planting is probably not for you. 

The traditional rose garden for example, is just not that popular these days. They require so much maintenance, and as our lives get busier, many of us just don’t have the time for that level of gardening. We now just tend to plant the rose as a focal point or in large containers to make them a little easier to look after.  

If your garden is small and you want low maintenance, then you might want to consider paving the area and using containers for your planting. Easy to look after, easy to change if you get bored with the plants.

With our focus now on the design as much as the planting, it is easier than ever before to turn your garden into contemporary show stopper.

Over the last decade we’ve seen modern garden design draw influences from more classic styles and techniques such as the Japanese garden. And many elements from this ancient form of gardening are being adapted to Western tastes.

As a form of gardening it is easily adapted to a small space and is a great way of helping to create the illusion of space. This great video on YouTube from the Deco Bliss is a great little introduction to how you can create a Japanese garden:

The Mediterranean garden is also becoming popular source of inspiration, and again, this is perfect for a small space and can be easily achieved in a small back yard style garden.  

Painted white walls to reflect light, raised beds, exposed brick and terracotta pots filled with plants like geraniums or oleanders. Its easier to achieve than you think!

Modern garden design is all about chic style and fashion, so it doesn’t work in every garden. By its very nature it lends itself to the city garden. Good gardens should be a reflection of your home and the surrounding area. An ultra modern garden around a rural cottage will jar. Im not saying it can’t be done, that you can’t break the rules, but its extremely difficult thing to achieve successfully.

However, when done well, this juxtaposition of the old and new, can be stunning. But for many of us we’re safer keeping things simple, following the styles in and around our homes.

In the city you have a little more flexibility, you can embrace the modern if you you so wish. Use modern materials such as concrete, glass and steel. Mix them up with the more traditional stones and timber, in the city garden anything goes.

Of course, modern garden furniture is essential if you want to fully enjoy your newly created urban oasis. As well as helping to create an inviting space, it is functional, and actually makes you want to go out and sit in the garden.

A well-designed bench can be as good a focal point as any other, such as a pot, water feature or trellised wall, if not better (although we’re biased).

Less is definitely more when it comes to the (often) smaller city garden. This will help to prevent it from looking untidy or cluttered, give you space to use it and move around comfortably. Keep planting simple, use materials and accessories that pull the space together.

So what are all you city dwellers waiting for, go modern and transform that boring concrete yard into your own little urban paradise! And if you’re still stuck for inspiration, then Channel 4’s City Gardener Matt James is always a good starting point for me.

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