When I started writing this blog post about Designing Beautiful Modern Gardens I realised its been almost 18 months since my last post, which is sort of sad as I always enjoyed writing these posts and never planned to stop. But since I started my business in 2015 it has grown year on year and one day I just ran out of time, which I suppose is a nice problem to have. But since lockdown started most of my projects have come to a standstill so suddenly I have time for things I never used to. My garden has never looked so good, and I’ve finally restored, refurbished or recycled all the crap stored in my garage and shed.
For those of you that follow my social media feeds you will know I have also been running a series of daily posts called Idyllic Lockdown Locations. I started these posts just to provide my small community of followers with a little daily escapism and a chance to engage if they wanted to, and I’ve had some lovely feedback from people saying how much they look forward to my daily posts. Some have even said it’s the favourite thing in their day, which just proves how tough lockdown is for some! My posts started out short and sweet but of late I’ve been adding tips so I thought I would add Day 52’s post to my blog. I hope you like it.
Day 52 of Idyllic Lockdown Locations – Designing Beautiful Modern Gardens
When I get asked to design gardens I always tell customers that I am not a garden designer, there are trained professionals for that. But I can design them an outdoor living space, which is how I see modern gardens. They are very much an extension of our homes, an extra room or two, or even three depending on your garden size. And I approach the design of these outdoor living spaces or modern gardens the same way I would a house. I consider style, layout and colour palette. I look at the practical aspects of flooring, heating and lighting, and then include furniture, soft furnishings and accessories. And if the customer needs a planting scheme I bring in a garden designer, as what grows where and well is definitely not my bag.
So if you’re looking to design your own modern gardens this year these would be my 10 top tips:
1. Modern Gardens are structured
The key difference between modern gardens and traditional gardens is that they are far more structured. That doesn’t necessarily mean straight lines but if you’re planning any curves these should be neat and well defined.
2. Planting can be lush but never wild
This structured approach extends to planting as well as physical structures and borders. In modern gardens the planting can be lush but should never appear wild or untamed, which is often the beauty of a traditional English garden. Modern gardens tend to focus more on foliage than flowers but there are no rules and it’s always good to have a splash of colour in any garden. I have one area in my garden with no flowers but a variety of ferns, herbs and small trees all with different coloured foliage.
3. Use different levels and height to create interest
Modern gardens use different levels of height to create interest. This works well if you live in a town or housing development where the gardens are long and rectangular. If you can’t create levels then use different height planters including some taller ones to create a similar effect.
4. Creating zones will make the space appear bigger
Whether you vary the levels or not having different zones with walkways between them is another way of creating interest and making the garden look bigger. In modern gardens these zones could be functional, i.e. play, seating, dining, or areas with different planting or landscaping or water features.
5. Simple surfaces, sharp lines, different textures
Texture is just as important outside as it is in interiors, and when it comes to “flooring” you have multiple options in modern gardens, but you want to keep it simple and sharp looking.
- Keep paving smooth and confine any loose stone, gravel or pebbles to well defined beds or paths so they don’t spill over.
- Timber decking is a great way of breaking up a large space just don’t overdo it. Like any hard surface, too much of the same material ends up looking bland and unappealing. If your budget can extend to composite decking then it’s worth the investment and the hassle of painting it every year.
- The artificial grass market has really upped its game in recent years so now you can have a lush lawn and zero maintenance.
- Consider a tiled area shaped like a rug in your seating or dining area as if this was indoors. Just remember to use tiles that will withstand frost or they will crack. Alternatively there are rugs on the market designed for outdoor use. I’m road testing one this year to see whether it can cope with the Cumbrian weather.
6. Contemporary fencing
Fencing is another area where there are now more modern options. Consider panels with horizontal as opposed to vertical slats for a more contemporary look. These can also be used to mark out a zone, especially if you need a wind break. Composite fencing is also available but I’ll be honest even in modern gardens I do like to see some natural timber to soften the edges. I also don’t mind when it weathers into that beautiful silvery grey finish.
7. Invest in lighting
If you can only make one major investment in your garden my advice would be to make it lighting as this will give you a space you can use after the sun has gone down, and there is nothing more beautiful than a garden lit at night. Consider wall or fence lights, path and perimeter lights, and make sure you include lighting within your planting for that soft concealed light.
8. Consider an outdoor fire
Adding an outdoor fire will allow you to enjoy the investment you made in lighting. For environmental reasons I avoid gas or electric heaters. Building an integrated fire or firepit is one option but there are also many stylish modern firepits and chimneas to choose from these days.
9. Keep furniture neutral and accessorise with colour
When it comes to furniture in a modern garden keep the style simple and the seat covers neutral so you can add bright coloured cushions and throws which can be easily changed when you fancy a different colour. If you take a peek at My Garden you’ll see I favour cobalt blue. Always make sure you have somewhere easily accessible to store any cushions if you get an unexpected downpour!
10. Consider wall art to break up vertical spaces
For modern gardens with a lot of fence or wall space tall planting will break it up as will wall lights, but also consider hanging a mirror, planters or other decorative items, or painting sections a different colour.