What Is Contemporary Garden Design?

You’ve decided to revolutionize an open space in your home. Is contemporary garden design the style that's perfect for your space? Let's find out.

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You’ve decided to revolutionize an open space in your home. Is contemporary garden design the style that's perfect for your space? Let's find out.

Contemporary garden design is an easy to create landscape layout that uses strong geometrical forms and a narrowed down palette of materials that results in attractive formal gardens. These gardens can be used to entertain guests or serve as a place for meditation.

This article will introduce you to different contemporary garden design styles. Not only that, but it will also introduce you to the works and garden designers that have a hand in this design method. You can get inspiration and ideas from their work. Lastly, it will give you tips on how you can get started on your contemporary garden.

The information in this article has been curated from credible sources such as the Society of Garden Designers and Great Garden Design by Ian Hodgson. This book is highly recommended for beginners in the field and the Society of Garden Designers also recommends it to their designers whether new or extremely skilled.

Table of Contents

Contemporary Garden Styles

As shared above, contemporary garden design uses a small palette of colors, shapes and materials to give homeowners a beautiful outdoor landscape. Contemporary garden has its own categories that can be used in different environments and outdoor locations.

Regardless of that fact, that you’ve come this far in your decision-making process. It is also good practice to narrow down which style in these categories fits your aesthetic and personality.

Gardens, like any design field, are entirely dependent on personality and how you want to portray your sense of style. You also use your garden styles to share with others, who you are. It is its own form of expression.

Here are the main contemporary garden styles that you can use to help you narrow down your style preference and aesthetic:

  • Contemporary formal
  • Urban chic
  • Cottage and country style
  • Naturalistic style
  • Water gardens
  • Subtropical style

Here’s a more detailed look at these contemporary garden styles.

1. Contemporary Formal

Designers identify the contemporary formal style with four words: crisp and clean lines. Contemporary formal is the strictest of all the styles and it is the most easily identified type of style. This style utilizes strong lines, whether heavy or light, with a hierarchical structure amongst its shapes as they correlate to create one concrete and harmonious design.

The contemporary formal screams order, possibly a functional element could be included in it. Not only does it scream order, it showcases confident and assertiveness with the home owners or landscape owners that choose this style.

For those wondering if the style can be used in small spaces, nothing is impossible. You can integrate this style onto your small outdoor locations and it will flourish with the right maintenance.

Another thing you should consider is that this is a very traditional type of garden design and symmetry is key. Everything will be mirrored, from motifs, patterns and other features.

Garden designer, Paul Baines does a great job in showcasing this style. His portfolio showcases a ‘house on the prairie’ painting style with the contemporary design at the helm on a house in New England.

2. Urban Chic

When you see the word urban, you think of cities. This contemporary garden style tries to create oases in the concrete jungle. Because of the small spaces, it's possible to include contemporary furniture to achieve this look.

Designers will carefully strategize when it comes to this garden style because of the size of the spaces. Another thing, because this style is as a result of increased population in cities, designers will consider seclusion. They will take into account how they can use plants to seclude you and your garden from outsiders.

One common thing you’ll notice about the urban chic style is the use of a green wall. It brings the outdoors into your space. The downside of the green wall is that it requires assistance from a professional to help set up.

When decorating this space, take into account your own personality and taste. You could even integrate parts of your apartment into your city garden, to give that feeling of cohesion. Decorating is all up to you, what you like and what you want to see in your garden.

One thing you should note down is your building regulations. Inquire on how you can start this project with your building manager or any other authority.

Another tip to consider is how much weight that garden will take when set up. You also need to consider how you’ll have water access your garden as well as a drainage system. Consult professionals such as a credible civil engineer to help you get started.

Stuart Craine, another landscape and garden designer, does an impeccable job in giving life through the urban chic design style.

3. Cottage and Country Style

This is a flowery version of the contemporary design style. It merges different ideas such as flowers, vegetable beds, fruits and herb gardens. It brings about this romantic countryside feeling. It makes you feel as though you’re in a fairy tale.

The country design style is traditionally English. The main characteristic of this style is the numerous plants. This style heavily emphasizes on being surrounded by plants but not in a manner that feels like you’re being submerged in a forest and a little weeding is needed here and there.

It is fairly organized in an unorganized way. The plants, which are the star of the show, are organized based on shapes and size. It could be something similar to Japanese Ikebana, a form of flower arrangement, but on a larger garden-type scale.

The main limitation of this garden style is its high maintenance. Using this style in a small space is recommended because it can be easily maintained if it is in a controlled space or environment. You can do this on a large scale but you will need to carefully pick out the types of plants you will use in order to minimize maintenance.

Tom-Stuart Smith does an amazing job showcasing this iconic British, cottage and country style. The Society of Garden Designers also showcase this style with MSGD designer Andrew Newill.

4. Naturalistic Style

This style brings in the wild into your garden. Since this is a contemporary garden design, it won’t completely overwhelm you or your space. It will still use the restricted shapes, patterns and materials required for a good contemporary design style.

This is a great style for large country gardens. Nevertheless, elements of this design are also included in the urban chic design, you may have noticed ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus that are prevalent in this design style.

This style hopes to mimic and design meadows in your garden. You may notice hay meadows as one of the themes used by designers that use this garden style.

Andy Sturgeon’s portfolio is a great place to look at if you’re leaning towards this wild style.

5. Water Gardens

Just like its name, water gardens are primarily water-based. Water is the main characteristic of these gardens. Water is associated with being calming and mind opening. This garden design style focuses on using water to offer a calm and reflective effect to the garden’s owners.

Designers utilize streams, waterfalls and ponds with plants scattered around. You mainly find water lilies with this design. This is because of the traditional effect they have on having soothing the human mind.

This style uses symmetric pools that intertwine through streams or waterfalls to give that sense of cohesion. If you want to include a water body into your garden, it is recommended to add it at the lowest point of your garden just for that dramatic and soothing effect.

This is because water bodies are always found in low sea level areas, naturally. So, it tries to mimic that.

Cleve West is a great designer for reference, for this type of contemporary garden design style.

6. Subtropical

This is the fun, eccentric and exotic garden design style. It focuses on having bright and colorful flowers with large and luscious leaves to supplement their beauty. This type of contemporary design style tries to bring in exotic environments into the comfort of your home.

To some homeowners, this type of garden design style tries to ease their home sickness. Despite their colorful and vibrant, possibly noisy approach, to some owners, they fill them with nostalgia.

When incorporating this style to bring out a more contemporary look, a lot of designers or owners turn to a colonial theme. It uses verandahs and railings that integrate well with this contemporary garden design style.

This style has its own specific type of charm. Objects and accessories that bring out this charm are the best to include. For example, a thatched roof in a coastal sunnier and warmer, location would be incredibly ideal.

Sarah Erbele is a great designer to check out, if this appeals to you.

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