Garden Tour: A Colorful Contemporary Yard in Missouri

side of house
Aaron Bradley

Talk about a clean slate. When landscape architect Aaron Bradley was contacted by a Kansas City, Kansas, couple to design a new front and back yard, "It was a completely fresh beginning," says Bradley. "Nothing was 'sacred' except maybe the existing hardwood trees along the back of the property."

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    The Dirt

    landscaping a yard
    Aaron Bradley

    The original garden was informal and designed in a Western "Colorado" style to complement the custom-built home. Although the homeowners have updated both their home and garden through the years, they realized it was time for a change both inside and out. Because everything can't always be done at once—everyone has busy lives—the landscape was designed in phases. Phase No. 1 was the 1/2-acre backyard—with a wooded area (trees) and a big athletic court for basketball and other activities. Phase No. 2, the front yard, was addressed a couple years later. 

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    Start with a Plan View

    plan view landscape
    Aaron Bradley

    Like any good landscape designer, Bradley interviews his clients and comes up with a plan view design. In practice since 2005, the designer is known locally for unique, clean, modern work and custom details: he rolls up those sleeves and digs, plants, pours concrete, and welds, among other things.

    The Kansas City metropolitan area is almost equally divided between the two states. While Bradley's business is based in Kansas City, Missouri, he has clients in both states. "We design, build, and maintain." This particular landscape project is in the Prairie Village subdivision on the Kansas side, on a cul-de-sac with a dozen or so other homes that are mostly designed in the "traditional" style. 

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    Modern in Missouri

    front yard modern home garden
    Aaron Bradley

    The house is only one of two modern designs in the neighborhood. Reactions to the landscape design have been "pretty incredible," says Bradley. "I'm on site doing maintenance often, and it's a daily thing to see cars slow down or stop to admire. It makes me smile every time."

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    Welcome Home

    front porch modern home
    Aaron Bradley

    Working our way from the front yard to the back, we start at the rich, wood-framed door, which is warm and a blend of modern and rustic. Off to its left is a tall metal planter with a staghorn fern—something that's usually mounted on a wall or growing vertically. Combined with impatiens and lime moss, the container is a stunning way to greet visitors.

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    Front Walkway

    front walkway modern square paver
    Aaron Bradley

    Those white rectangular stones are Weston cream native limestone that was custom-cut to fit the entry, with Mexican river rock evenly framing and spilling onto adjacent surfaces.

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    Long Container Gardens

    long plant containers
    Aaron Bradley

    Long, lean containers that hold precisely trimmed arborvitae and lime creeping Jenny were custom made by Bradley and his small team, using 1/4-inch raw steel to achieve a nice rust patina. They provide a low wall and add interest to the space.

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    Let it Flow

    modern fountain
    Aaron Bradley

    Not surprisingly, Bradley also made this elegant, modern fountain which was welded from stainless steel. He designed and made most of the landscape elements at this property.

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    Modern Fountain

    Aaron Bradley

    It's appropriate that there's a fountain in this Kansas City yard—with more than 200 at public buildings, it's dubbed the City of Fountains. Bradley designed an industrial style fountain and did some of the welding himself, along with co-workers. 

    "I get my hands dirty," he admits. "We're a small company and I like that; it allows us to focus on our niche and the details necessary for projects such as this one."

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    Framing the Fountain

    modern fountain
    The sound of a fountain can be relaxing. Aaron Bradley

    Small shrubs surround the front fountain, which are framed with the cut white stone. Mexican river rock fills in throughout the bed.

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    Planter Boxes

    planter boxes with shrubs and creeping jenny
    These shrubs need to be pruned and maintained for a neat appearance. Aaron Bradley

    A closer look at that rust patina on Bradley's front planters reveals that they are deep, allowing roots to spread down and across. Creeping Jenny is an easy-to-grow spreading plant that also can be used as a ground cover.

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    Curb Appeal

    front yard modern home dogwood
    After it rains, colors and materials appear more vibrant and shiny. Aaron Bradley

    Looking at the front yard from across the street after a rain shower, the tall, slim, red twig dogwood makes a striking display. Bradley switches-out plants each season—that would be four times per year—and this was a winter design. "We order the dogwood as a cut floral item, then poke the sticks in the ground purposely at an angle to achieve a contemporary look," he says. "Last year we crisscrossed the twigs to change it up."

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    Mixed Textures Need Little Maintenance

    Mexican river rock are often used in modern landscapes. Aaron Bradley

    Leaving the entry, a ground-level view reveals the mix of textures. Using pavers and stones (pebbles) ensures the area will look good most of the time, rather than seasonal, high-maintenance grass or fussy flowers.

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    Around the Corner

    garden path modern home square pavers
    Aaron Bradley

    Turning the corner along the side of the house, the plants becomes more varied. "For a landscape as big as this, it's surprising how short our plant list really was. We stuck with plants we know do well in this area and then snapped it up a bit with a few more unique items."

    Standards for the region that were incorporated into the design include boxwood, yew, hornbeam, and colorful ornamental grasses.

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    Mixing it Up

    Aaron Bradley

    In addition to the "safe" plants, Bradley introduced more unusual specimens: bamboo, horsetail, and atlas cedars. "One of the fun things about contemporary landscape design is taking something as ordinary as boxwood or ornamental grasses and treat them differently than you would typically see."

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    Visual Punch

    contemporary landscaping
    Skylights are especially beneficial on cloudy days and during the winter. Aaron Bradley

    Bradley likes to experiment with plant placement. "We set all of the ornamental grasses on a strict grid pattern and used this along with the concept of mass planting large areas for a dramatic visual impact. We also played with sharp lines such as steel and accentuated with softer items for visual interest."

    In addition to creating a geometric, contemporary look, those same custom-cut white pavers guide you from the front to the back yard.

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    Path to the Deck

    side of house
    The pathway leads to a multi-level deck in the backyard. Aaron Bradley

    Working with four seasons, Bradley selects perennials that usually return each year. In the Prairie Village project, "We have designated display areas where we change out annual plantings and bulbs each year on a seasonal rotation. It keeps it fun and fresh." 

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    Pavers and stones provide continuity throughout the landscape. Aaron Bradley

    His client at this particular project doesn't like the color yellow. "I wouldn't call that unusual, it's just funny to me since I don't care for it either." Each fall, as the temperatures get cooler, flowering plants are changed out. Bradley and crew planted the area in front with about 100 red/orange chrysanthemums in the bud stage. Once they bloomed, a lone yellow mum popped up, right in the middle. "It stuck out like a sore thumb; you could see it a mile away," recalls Bradley. A phone call from his client requesting an immediate removal followed. "We both laughed and I switched the li'l booger out quick."

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    Backyard Deck

    wooden deck
    Aaron Bradley

    The white pavers lead to an ipe multi-level deck that wraps around a corner and offers a nice view of the backyard. The patio furniture is weatherproof to survive summer rainstorms.

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    Multi-Level Deck

    multilevel deck
    Aaron Bradley

    The deck is made of ipe, which is a tough, weather- and insect- resistant hardwood that is often compared to teak. It should last for many years.

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    Horizontal-Plank Fencing

    horizontal fence
    A trend in recent years is horizontal plank fencing for a modern look. Aaron Bradley

    Horizontally placed hardwood planks were used to build modern fence panels that are placed several feet apart to achieve a dramatic effect, especially at night. 

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    horizontal fencing
    Backyard fences are staggered in placement instead of a traditional continuous line. Aaron Bradley

    The ipe panels were also installed to add privacy to the property. Using the same wood as the deck provides continuity in the landscape.

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    Private Athletic Court

    athletic court
    There's plenty of space on this court for basketball or other sports. Aaron Bradley

    While most properties in metropolitan areas don't have room for outdoor amenities like a private basketball court, if you have the space in the 'burbs, why not?

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    Front of House

    front of house
    Aaron Bradley

    Bradley's favorite aspect of this project? "The contrast we achieved. Everywhere you look, you find it: between the ipe privacy panels paired with the vast green lawn, or the blue hue of the Mexican river rocks and the stark white walkway entry stones. Or, the contrasting play of raw and rigid steel elements paired with the natural softness of boxwood hedges. Contrast comes alive in this design."