Jun 06, 2023

Modern gardening ideas to transform your outdoor space

From maximalist plants to outdoor sculptures, these are the modern gardening ideas you need to know

We all know, without even knowing we know, what modern garden ideas look like in the UK: narrow borders filled with bedding plants, garden ideas featuring a small patio or decking scattered with the best garden furniture, and a lot of freshly-mowed grass.

In the summer, there will likely be a washing line spinning lazily somewhere in view – unless the BBQ has been fired up, that is. And yet, despite these new additions, it still feels incredibly minimalist in design: it's all straight lines, dip-treated fences, and right angles. It's all about functionality… and, dare I say it, familiarity.

If this works for you, then brilliant. But if you’re in the market for something a bit different when it comes to creating a unique modern garden look this way: these expert-approved modern garden ideas are guaranteed to transform your outdoor space into something extraordinary.

We spoke to a number of garden design experts to find out what the newest thing in modern garden trends is to help curate your outdoor space. Paired with our cumulative years of Ideal Home expertise (100 years and counting...) we're pulled together the best modern garden ideas that are worth stealing for your own garden.

Garden designer Matthew Childs advises that you inject some 'imagination and intrigue' into your garden by 'painting fences a dark colour, training climbing plants up them, and creating deep planting borders in front.' This, he says, will 'allow boundaries to visually disappear.'

Learning how to paint a fence isn't tricky, but make sure you do your prep work so you're not repainting every summer.

Matthew is an award-winning garden designer and has designed a diverse range of exciting landscapes both in the UK and internationally. His approach to garden design is to tailor gardens to each client and produce very human outdoor spaces which have a strong narrative, are a reflection of the people who use them and the surroundings in which they sit. Matthew believes in the power of gardens to have huge benefits for mental and physical wellbeing, but also as having an important role to play in tackling climate change and providing habitat for wildlife. His studio is passionate about creating gardens that lead to positive change.

Coming up with a long list of lawn ideas is all well and good, but if you want to add more colour to your modern garden ideas Matt suggests making a lawn smaller and flower beds bigger, because 'dense-planting will offer more interest throughout the year in terms of structure, form, colour, shape, texture and scent.'

If you're not sure what to plant in the beds, Matt suggests that you 'limit the number of varieties of plants' and that you position them 'in groups or drifts, repeating through the garden.'

If you're looking to make a splash in a modern garden, look beyond the planting and pay attention to the materials you feature.

Garden designer Jacquie Felix-Mitchell says that 'you can style up a space with a sassy water bowl made of corten steel, which gently rusts over time. This will give your outdoor space an instant up-to-the-minute feel.'

Jacquie Felix-Mitchell worked in PR and Communications for many years, before studying at Bicton and RHS Rosemoor to retrain as a Garden Designer. She specialises in oasis-style gardens (hence the name of her garden design consultancy), and often works hard to blend architectural plants with a sense of the tropical – hinting at her Caribbean heritage – with well-loved English cottage garden favourites, creating something modern and exciting in the process. Jacquie also delivers virtual and in-person talks at events and for various clubs and societies, not to mention runs design workshops for small groups on request. She has been a contributor to BBC Gardeners’ Question Time, and written for a large national women's organisation.

It is all too easy to assume that modern garden ideas mean keeping things uniform: it absolutely doesn't. In fact, making sure you mix up different-sized plants and accessories when it comes to planning your garden layout is one of the easiest ways to draw focus and create a truly exciting outdoor space.

'Use some oversized planters for a dramatic effect,' suggests Jacquie. 'You can also try using some trees for height and scale.'

Garden mirror ideas are still trending, and it's not hard to see why: they are a brilliant way to add depth, dimension, and character to your garden. In fact, a well-placed mirror could be the 'wow factor' your garden needs to 'help create mood and atmosphere,' says Matt.

Even better? Mirrors also reflect and bounce light around the duller, darker areas, helping to brighten them up – not to mention create the illusion of more space in small gardens.

There is no easier way to bring the drama to your modern garden than by introducing a sculpture – but make sure you pop it to the side, and not in the very centre. As Kunal Trehan, Design Director at Touched Interiors, says: 'You want to add your sculpture to the sides of your garden as this will not only give a focal point to your borders but also give the illusion of height and added depth.'

Kunal adds: 'If your budget is constrained, then get creative and search for oversized natural stones and rocks and use them as a sculpture instead. It will really add a designer's touch.'

A meadow landscape might sound contrary to what comes to mind when you think modern. However, rewilding and prairie-style planting (featuring flowing ornamental grasses and pollinator-friendly blooms) is a huge trend in garden design at the moment.

'I’m delighted that a wilder style of gardening is being embraced,' says Jacquie. 'Leaving places in your garden that are "a little messy" attracts wildlife like hedgehogs, which love to make a meal of slugs and other garden pests.'

Bird baths aren't just for your nan's garden: they are having a big moment on social media, clocking up an eye-watering 17.3 million views on TikTok already this year. Plus, the new iterations can look incredibly chic.

As per the RSPB, a bird bath is so much more than an attractive garden feature: it's also a vital source of water for drinking and bathing for our feathered friends, in both hot and cold weather.

Just be sure to put it somewhere the birds will have clear visibility as they bathe, with bushes or trees nearby to provide cover if alarmed – and ideally somewhere cats can't get at them, too.

Water features are a brilliant focal point for any modern garden. If you want to score points with the local wildlife, though, opt for a pond rather than a classic fountain: over time, it could become a feeding ground for birds, hedgehogs and bats – all of whom are famous for being natural garden pest controllers!

Tempted to give it a go? Try a DIY mini pond first: The Wildlife Trust has an easy how-to guide.

Drought-tolerating planting has been a big trend, and their sharp and structural shapes make them perfect for complementing a modern garden aesthetic. Plus, as they require less water and are more resilient, they are a great option for curating a sustainable garden.

'With the impacts of climate change, pressure on wildlife and a loss of biodiversity our gardens are increasingly being seen as potential green lungs, wildlife corridors and spaces where people can reconnect with nature,' says Matt.

'Sustainability is key to how we make gardens and maintain them today and as a result there is a strong trend towards gardens that incorporate resilient planting.'

'A firm lover of shrubs, flowers and trees, I think folk are becoming more appreciative of the value of incorporating places to grow produce within their plots, creating an "edimental" style,' says Jacquie.

Set aside a corner of the garden for cultivating fruit, herbs, and vegetables and learn how to grow your own. Grown in raised planters or neat containers, you can make sure your veggie patch looks more chic than country.

As part of its annual Pinterest Predicts report, the social media platform found that searches for 'rainwater harvesting architecture' have increased by a whopping 155%, with 'rain barrel ideas' also surging by 100%.

It is, as the name suggests, an eco-friendly way to water your garden: it rains, it pours, it ruins your washing... but it also fills up your rain catcher, providing you with a sustainable supply of water whenever you need it.

Matt is a big fan of using crushed concrete as mulch, noting that using 'materials that are either locally sourced, natural or reclaimed' creates a feel that is far 'looser, more natural and less manicured.'

With its striking white hue, crushed concrete doesn't just look attractive: it can also prevent soil erosion, loss of moisture, and unwanted weeds from growing around plants, too.

If you have the space for a pool (it can be as small as a simple plunge pool), Matt suggests installing a natural swimming pond – something which he has done in his own garden, to great effect.

'Every garden needs a functional element that will entice people into their gardens so that they fully utilise and benefit from their outdoor space,' he says, adding that 'somewhere to exercise' definitely ticks this box.

They can be an expensive option, costing much the same as a traditional swimming pool to build into your yard. However, the running costs are minimal, as they don't need to be heated, covered, or artificially filtered.

All you really need to worry about is safety (make sure the area is fenced off, especially if you have young children), and keeping on top of the leaf fall and vegetation decomposing in the water.

Modern garden ideas don't just need to focus on the slick and angular: why not consider giving it a maximalist spin and filling your flower beds with an ombre colour scheme of flowers?

'Myosotis – common name Forget Me Not – may seem ubiquitous, but they actually give a wonderfully maximalist feel, and act as a blanket through which to plant tulips and other beauties,' says Jacquie.

'Alternatively, geranium sanguineum makes for excellent groundcover, and will give you presents of pink flowers from June to October.'

'Modern need not mean sparse,' says Jacquie. 'If you want to encourage pollinators into your garden, check out some bee garden ideas and pack out ‘bare’ spaces with pockets of fabulous bee friendly flowers such as Alliums – an RHS Chelsea favourite.

'I love Allium crisophii, with its large showy globe-like bunches of tiny flowers.'

Matt agrees, saying: 'Every modern garden needs plenty of plants to make people smile and support pollinating insects and wildlife.'

It might rain in the UK a few more times than we'd like, so make the most of those sunny days with a modern tropical vibe in the garden. 'I love using large leaved foliage plants such as Tetrapanax Papyrifer Rex for dramatic effect and a touch of the exotic,' says Matt.

Jacquie, meanwhile, puts forward her own favourite tropical treat: Fatsia Japonica.

'This evergreen plant is happy in both large or small gardens, or in a courtyard,' she says.

'Structural evergreens such as Yew, Pittosporum or Ilex Crenata will provide a backbone to the planting,' says Matt.

Jacquie is also a big fan of evergreens, noting that they add 'structure and a sense of permanence' to any modern garden.

If you are a fan of a neutral aesthetic in your home, ornamental grasses are a great way to continue a modern look out into the garden. 'Try using ornamental grasses, such as Hakonechloa Macra or Calamagrostis Brachytricha, in your garden. If you mix them with perennials, it's an easy way to add movement,' suggests Matt.

The best firepits can work in any garden no matter the size. 'No matter how small your outdoor space is, it's a valuable asset and to fully utilise it take inspiration from the current trend of the garden being an extension of the home,' says Matt.

'Your outdoor space should be as comfortable as your living room so planning out the space ergonomically so that it doesn't feel tight or cramped is important. The key to this is simplicity – and you can maximise your space by making elements multifunctional, too.

'For example, a firepit could double up as a coffee table if you cover it with a wooden top. Built-in benches and seating, too, can also be a great space saver.'

'To me, a modern garden is a sociable space,' says Matt. 'It is a sensory environment in which friends and family can come together, surrounded by nature and plants.

'In my experience the best place to do this is around a dining table and chairs and so I spend a lot of time discussing furniture options with my clients.

'Personally, I’m a fan of lightweight, aluminium furniture which is powder-coated to the colour of your choice and is often stackable, extendable, easy to store and low on maintenance.'

Of course, you don't have to do all of the above to create a thoroughly modern garden.

The three things to take into consideration, no matter what you decide, though, are as follows: create a space for friends and family to gather, for wildlife to take shelter, and for plants to thrive.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to craft a mini pond for my own backyard. Wish me luck!

The key to creating a modern garden is to think outside the box (so veer away from the traditional lawn and narrow flower beds combo). Instead, focus on adding intrigue with water features, climbing plants, and darker fences – and try swapping your lawn for deeper beds, filled with structural evergreens, ornamental grasses, and maximalist flowers.

A truly modern garden style is characterised by its emphasis on free-flowing lines, resilient plants and sustainable materials. It also focuses on the garden as an extension of the home: there should be a place for people to sit and socialise together in comfort, as well as plenty of plants for pollinators to enjoy.

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home's Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.

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