Your garden should be an extension of your home, but all too often, it’s a sad, drab jungle that causes you to sigh whenever you look out the window. We all love taking a walk around the incredible historic gardens we’re so lucky to have here in the UK, but they’re simply not something we want to maintain at home – even if they’re a tenth of the size!
If you’re ready to transform your garden into something you can’t wait to use but needs little in the way of maintenance, then a contemporary garden design is what you need. Read on to learn all about contemporary garden design and how you can create one at home.
What is Contemporary Garden Design?
Contemporary garden design is sleek and modern, leaning into our current love affair with sleek lines and ingenious design. Contemporary garden design doesn’t always mean it’s minimalist, but it does use clearly defined areas and shapes. Contemporary garden design leans into the use of hardscape mixed with carefully chosen greenery, often with raised beds to keep weeds to a minimum. Typically paving takes the centre stage, though a mix of different hardscape elements can elevate a contemporary garden design to the next level.
A lawn isn’t always used, but if it is, it’s neat and bordered by pathing or raised beds. Many choose to opt for artificial grass for their lawn because it’s so much easier to care for, and of course, it adds to the neat-and-tidy look of the contemporary garden.
The main aim of a contemporary garden design is to extend the living space. Think of the big, bi-folding doors that have become so popular in modern builds and extensions, that completely remove the separation between kitchen and garden. Contemporary gardens often incorporate multiple seating areas to give you different options and areas to use. The good news is you don’t need to have an ultra-modern home to gain all the benefits of a contemporary garden.
What should I consider when planning a contemporary garden design?
To achieve your dream contemporary garden design you need to consider:
1. How much space you’re working with and what you want it to do
First, consider how much space you’re working with and what you want your garden to do. Consider if…
- It’s just a place to relax on a summer’s evening, maybe sitting with a G&T at hand?
- You going to be inviting people round every week in the summer for dinner or a barbecue
- You need space for your children or grandchildren to use up their energy
- You have dogs that need space to let out their energy
- You want an area to do a little gardening or vegetable growing
Once you’re realistic about what you need your garden to do and how much room you have to play with, you can start getting into the nitty-gritty of planning your ideal contemporary garden.
The answers to these questions will guide you in how much space you should allocate for lawns, patios, decks, and flower beds or raised vegetable gardens. It may be that you envisage your garden to be primarily a place to entertain your friends and family with space for a wood chip grill or a pizza oven. If you expect lots of youngsters or four-legged friends to use it, then you need to consider making grass a priority.
On the other hand, if flowers and vegetables are your thing, then you’ll need to consider which part of your garden will offer the best growing conditions in terms of sunlight.
Be honest with yourself and this part of the design process should be relatively easy. Don’t have vast flower beds if you are not prepared to employ a gardener or put in hours of work yourself, but don’t put it all down to paving if you want to indulge the Alan Titchmarsh part of your personality from time to time.
2. Map the Natural Light
How sunlight naturally lights your garden will have a serious impact on where you place your desired spaces in your contemporary garden design. For example, if you want plenty of space to entertain and relax on sunny days, but have a north-facing garden, then putting that patio directly outside the backdoor will mean you only want to use it when it’s over 28C outside. To get the most out of your entertaining space, put it where the sun shines, and for a north-facing garden, that’s at the very back of the garden.
For south-facing gardens, especially those that are relatively sheltered, think about those hot days. Is there any shade for you to get out of the sun for a while? If not, that’s something you need to consider.
You can’t control whether the sun comes out or stays behind clouds, but what you put in your garden will affect what the natural light does. Trees, pergolas, and outbuildings will all alter the way sunlight falls on your garden. You can work this to your advantage, but not if you don’t pause to think about it.
3. Artificial Lighting (& Heating)
Most people want to increase the use of their gardens and this is where artificial lighting (and heating!) comes to the fore. Technology, particularly the use of LEDs and solar panels, means that the options available for lighting your garden after dark are enormous. Don’t ignore your neighbours though, they might not be quite so keen on floodlighting as you are!
4. How Much Maintenance You’re Prepared to Do (or Pay For)
This is a biggie and another area that requires honesty. How much time are you actually prepared to spend weeding, mowing lawns, planting, deadheading, and watering? Some plants need effort and lots of it, and grass needs cutting at least once every week from early Spring through to late Autumn, not to mention treatment with moss and weed control. For some, looking after their garden is a big part of the enjoyment, while others prefer to pay someone else to keep the garden looking at its best.
There are planting schemes you can choose that, together with a weed-suppressing membrane, will minimize the work required to keep your plants in tip-top shape. There are also artificial plants available that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing and require no looking after.
If you must have real grass but don’t want the bother of cutting it then you can buy robot lawn cutters that will do the job for you and are almost silent as well (though they don’t come cheap, leave an uncut edge around objects, and are best for small lawns, so do your research!). Or what about laying an artificial lawn? They look just like the real thing and stay in peak condition all year round with no care required.
Be realistic here – if you know you like the idea of gardening more than you actually like doing it, then just give yourself a few raised beds to play with and use pots and troughs for additional greenery. If you need to, you can always put more raised beds in later, but taking them out is a much bigger and more complicated affair.
5. What Materials Do You Want to Use?
This is one of the fun parts of contemporary garden design but can be bewildering. There are just so many options available to the garden designer: concrete, porcelain, natural stone, gravel, decking, you name it! A quick Google will show you just how many choices are out there. Take your time, what you settle on will have a major impact on the look of your garden.
Look around you, make a Pinterest board, and look at the general costs involved. If you plan to work with professionals to bring your vision to life, have a good idea of how you want each element to look in colour and texture, but be open to suggestions on the actual materials you use. In most cases, they’ll have more experience with the materials, how they are to work with, and most importantly, how they age.
The way you work with plants is also vital. What plants you choose and where you put them can’t be left to chance. Soil, climate, and light all impact your choices but so does the architectural impact of the plants, the colour, and the scent. This is another area of garden design where bringing in the help of an expert may be the best option. A professional will be able to suggest planting not only based on the environment and micro-climate of your garden but more importantly, how much work you’re going to have to do to maintain them.
6. How Much of Your Garden Design Are You Prepared to DIY?
Do not underestimate the work required to bring your vision into being. Hard landscaping is exactly that – hard! While some relish the idea of hiring a digger and getting stuck in, most will baulk at the idea of spending days or weeks shovelling soil and rock, and living with a constant building site. If you’ve ever embarked on a big renovation on your own (like replacing the floor or even your kitchen), you’ll know the feeling of the moment you wonder if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
As with any other area of your property, don’t DIY something unless you’re confident you can see the job through to completion. Like the foundations of a house, ground preparations are key to the perfect patio. Get that wrong and you are looking at a paving disaster.
7. Your Budget
Depending on how money-minded you are, this may be the first thing you think about when you start planning your contemporary garden design, or you may have a partner who will look at your design and ask, “just how much is this all going to cost?”
Yes, considering the budget is boring! But no one has unlimited amounts of cash to spend on a garden makeover and if you don’t consider budget before starting, you’ll inevitably end up spending more than you’d like. You need to sit down, see what you can afford, and cut your cloth accordingly. (And then stick to your budget!)
Working out the cost of materials is pretty easy but the cost of ground preparation? In garden design, it is often the unseen elements that cost the most and certainly the thing most likely to be underestimated. Don’t make that mistake. Laying a patio is a fairly fast operation but preparing the ground is not. The work required to takes time and skill and that doesn’t come for free. Ground prep will likely cost more than the actual finishing surface.
If you are going to attempt going down the DIY route just make sure you know what is involved and don’t skimp. Be prepared for some pretty hard work and a considerable number of hours.
Don’t underestimate the price of plants either. You might not want to wait years before your planting looks the way you imagined it when going through the design process. This may mean going for larger, more mature specimens but they do of course cost more. You also need to get your plants from reliable and respected suppliers if you don’t want to face disappointment.
The best thing to do is read our article on budgeting here, plan your ideal contemporary garden design (or brainstorm some ideas), and then talk to the experts to get quotes so you can rework your ideas to best suit your budget, if necessary.
Need a guiding hand?
Designing and creating your dream contemporary garden is quite a project! There are so many variables involved and so many wrong paths you can go down. This is why it may be better to work with a professional design service that can streamline the whole process and get you the garden you want within the budget you can afford in as short a time scale as possible.
If you’re in Essex, our Garden Design service is your best next step. We’ll work with you to create your ideal contemporary garden. One that will add value to your property and give you a garden you can enjoy year-round, providing you with all the entertaining, gardening, or play spaces you need. To learn more about our Garden Design service, click here.