Garden Style: How to Create a Modern Garden


With the return of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week and reasonable weather on the horizon (well, as reasonable as it gets in Britain) you may be inspired to grab your spade, dust off the mower and transform your garden into a show-stopping plot worthy of a Chelsea ‘Best in Show’.

The only problem is knowing where to start. How do you decipher your modern minimalist gardens from the wildflower, country cottage garden and how exactly do you achieve the perfect look? What plants should you use? What sort of layout works best? And then there’s the paving and landscaping!

At Yorkstone Supplies, we’ve put together a definitive guide on how to achieve each garden style, so you can achieve your dream garden in no time…

The Modern Garden

The modern garden is all about hard lines, pared back planting and mixing materials with structure to create a high impact outdoor space, perfect for the family home. Although modern gardens tend to have a fair amount of ‘groundwork’ (there’s more landscaping involved than most styles), the end result can be one that’s not only beautiful, but low maintenance and functional. Ideal if you’re not especially green fingered.

To achieve a successful modern garden, planting variety needs to be kept to a minimum, but that doesn’t mean boring. Use strong profiled plants, mixing heights and textures to create stunning beds that complement the crisp edges of a minimalist design.

Modern gardens are easy to design around eating and socialising, which makes them a popular addition to the family home. If your garden will be used by little ones, be sure to add a softer area with plenty of grass space, which will be more forgiving if they fall.

We recommend starting with hard landscaping, preparing your layout, pathways and walling first before you start softening up with planting This gives you the option to ‘test’ different planting schemes in different locations; sometimes trial and error plays a part in individual gardens and what plants will or won’t work.

When thinking about landscaping such as paths, raised beds and patios stick to straight lines and 90 degree angles but use a multitude of materials to add variety and prevent the garden design from becoming repetitive. Usually, lighter stone and paving is contrasted with richer cherry and teak coloured timber to both contrast and complement a limited colour palette planting scheme.

The Chelsea Telegraph Garden 2014
The Chelsea Telegraph Garden 2014: Made great use of differing materials and straight lines. (Source: Karen Roe)

The Design

For modern garden designs to work, the overall approach needs to take a ‘less is more’ attitude. Firstly, planting should follow a limited colour palette; two or three tones maximum, with one taking precedent throughout.

When planning your design, don’t add too many features, instead, choose one and do it well. Whether it’s a pond, summer house or dining area, to maximise potential in your modern garden, execution is half the battle.

Focus on geometry with your hard landscaping and consider horizontal lines as well as vertical (including walling and fences) which can be created using a combination of natural and ‘honest’ materials.

Whilst some modern gardens choose to replicate the angular feel of the overall design, we feel that softer grasses and ‘looser’ planting compliments this style better and removes some of the ‘ultra modern’ edge; particularly in family homes.

The Planting

Modern walling, angular paving and sharp decks can be softened up with wilder, loose planting, particularly using grasses and low trailing plants to blend the hard edge of pathways.

A common theme in modern garden planting is a tri-colour palette, predominantly white, purple and green, generally using green shrubs as the mainstay of the design. We also suggest adding bunched yellow plants in a limited number of areas to add variety! There’s still a place for stronger, structural plants though, make use of geometric planting in smaller bursts to tie the theme together.

Tall and strong, the Allium casts a structered shadow over softer bedding, bringing the whole modern garden design together. Plant behind heavier planting for long lasting effect.

Another structural plant that really stands out in beds of grasses. Keep well watered in summer, but less so in winter.

Heavy leaf plants such as Monstera make an excellent 'filler' and backdrop to add colourful splashes. Source: MonsteraCo

When using daisies, think about different variations to create more interesting beds; using Oxe-Eye can give a little bit of linear structure for example, whilst Marguerite bushes can quickly fill up larger areas.

Grasses planted on border edges play an integral role in the modern garden, a backdrop for colour, as well as softening up hard edges.

Box and Ball Hedging:
Becoming popular in the last few years, shaped hedges are a mainstay of any modern garden design. Use Buxus in clumps to serve as a backdrop for Allium and Agapanthus.

The Landscaping

Sawn Paving
‘Honest’ materials (materials that have had very little alteration from their original form) are the order of the day when it comes to achieving a modern look, making natural stone the perfect choice for paths and paving. Sawn York Stone is perfectly smooth, which means it doesn’t overcrowd the overall design; stick to greys for an ultra contemporary look.

Sawn Yorkstone Path
Greys work best in modern gardens. The choice of smooth or texture paving is yours, depending on how far you want to take the overall minimalist look.

Linear Fencing
Add horizontal lines to your design using wooden lat style, linear fencing. Leaving gaps between each piece of wood creates enough privacy, whilst giving you the opportunity to soften up the design again, using climbers or wedging planting between.

Finish wise, we recommend oils and stains to enhance the fences wood character, although some prefer to go bold with dark colours such as an Urban Slate or Ash.
Linear fencing, avoiding the usual ‘panel’ approach helps enhance the structure of the modern garden. Source: Karen Roe

Integrate Water
With an abundance of hard edges and unforgiving surfaces, adding water can bring a much needed element of tranquillity and comfort to an on trend design. Think about adding running water between stepping stones for a sense of fun and involvement, or use raised areas to add a pond.

The Extending Space Garden by Nicole Fischer and Daniel Auderset marries hard materials, angles and water with great effect. Source: Karen Roe

Modern Garden Top Tips
Stick to straight lines and 90 degree angles
Use ‘honest’ materials for landscaping
Mix soft grasses and loose planting with structured individual plants
Use a limited colour palette for your planting scheme, usually three colours maximum
Think about your lifestyle and add areas that you can use
Mix in water to soften up the overall design and add interest
Keep low maintenance plants in mind if you have a busy lifestyle

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