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What is Contemporary Garden Design?

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What is Contemporary Garden Design?

What is contemporary garden design?

Contemporary garden design can seem quite a vague and ill-defined style that many people find hard to pinpoint clearly. In the truest semantic sense, a contemporary garden is just that, a garden that is designed in line with current design preferences and taste, however, there’s a little more to it than that. 

Read on to discover what constitutes Contemporary design, how that translates into garden design and whether it hits the spot for you.  

Recently, we delved into the cool world of Mid-Century Modern gardens, so I thought it fitting that we take a jaunt up the design evolution ladder from the mid-century to today to discover Contemporary garden design and explore the difference between the often mistakenly interchangeable aesthetic movements of Modernist, Mid-Century Modern and Contemporary garden design.

All three movements have similar and strong principles and each has evolved from the preceding movement. In Mid-Century Modern gardens, we saw how the Modernist design movement emerged in reaction to the decorative style of Art Nouveau, as groups like the Bauhaus School swept away the organic, nature-inspired motifs and swirling curvilinear contours with the crisp, straight lines and pristine geometric shapes that built on Art Deco themes. 

By the mid-century, post-war optimism and advancements in the manufacturing of materials took these minimalist designs and added daubs of bold colour and texture to the mix, as well as re-introducing the notion of dissolving the boundaries between outdoors with indoors. 

Contemporary design remains deeply influenced by the Modernist movement and informed by Mid-Century progressions, following a mostly minimalist approach but blending these overarching ideals with the current decorative trends of the day, as they appear. 

When projected onto garden designs we can see these different styles in particular elements. A Modernist style will tend to use very clean lines in the hard landscaping and make use of earthy materials like wood. It employs symmetry and champions minimalistic planting. 

For Mid-Century Modern styles, Hai Fat’s lair from The Man With The Golden Gun is a brilliant example, with its earthy tones mixed with manmade materials and vibrant pops of colour. It makes use of generous terraces and an emphasis on specimen trees and shrubs in particular. The naturalistic landscapes are planted with less floral, but more architectural plants. 

A Contemporary garden design takes the clean lines and minimalist landscaping of both its forebears but brings it up-to-date with cool hues, modern finishes and sleek materials like polished concrete, porcelain, metal and stone. Whilst harking back to the two previous styles in their planting, it is softened and romanticised with looser planting styles. Foliage and texture are key with an emphasis on grasses and prairie-style planting, though flowers are making a return to glory.

The palette is light and airy with a focus on creating a sense of space and tranquillity. Water features are a popular element with their gentle babbling adding to the sense of serenity. Rills, in particular, lend themselves to the Contemporary garden, reflecting the straight lines of terraces and raised beds. Lighting too plays a key role. 

There’s a good example of Contemporary garden design on display at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year, so if you want to see this garden style up close (and about as up-to-date as you can get), then bag some tickets now and take a stroll down to the Royal Hospital’s gardens to see The RSPCA Garden

It’s laid out along very clean, straight lines in both the hard landscaping of the paved areas and seating, as well as a hide structure that lies in one corner of the plot. 

The lines are echoed by a Corten steel representation of a ‘dead hedge’ that’s made from recycled garden materials and designed to attract wildlife. 

Designer, Martyn Wilson, has chosen to reflect the lines back by the linear form of a rill and a natural stone feature wall.

The whole is loosely planted with muted tones of greens, whites and RSPCA blues. A brilliantly executed example of Contemporary garden design.

Perhaps, this Contemporary garden style will win your heart? If you’re enamoured, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your garden vision

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