Modern landscape design is an expansion and refinement of mid-century modern or Modernist garden design, hearkening back to the 1950s or earlier when residential architecture reflected optimism and rooflines exuberantly jutted toward space. Later, things became more organized into geometric sections with polymorphic shapes. Notable 20th-century landscape architects and designers like Garrett Eckbo, Lawrence Halprin, and Thomas Church paved the path for today's modern or forward-thinking designers.
This Is Modern, More or Less
Sometimes, modern and contemporary design are confused. To make things even more complicated, back in the 1950s to 1970s, mid-century modern design was referred to as "contemporary". Nobody was aware of or referenced the then-current times as mid-century. If it wasn't Ranch, Colonial, or Victorian but it was new, then it was contemporary.
Features in a modern landscape design vary, but here's what they are and are not:
- Gardens complement and enhance the home's architectural design
- Continuity is good: Repeating colors, textures, materials, and shapes
- Lines of the garden are clean and often echo those of the structure
- Geometric shapes are emphasized
- The design is clean and uncluttered
- Colors in furnishings, walls, and plants are bold and striking or monochrome
- Use natural, local materials: Wood, stone, native plants
- Include a water feature for aesthetics
- Cottage gardens with fussy plants like roses do not go in modern landscape
- This is not the space for rusted garden furniture or rocking chairs turned into planters
Got it? Enjoy a tour of gardens that all say "modern" in one way or another.
01 of 14
The furniture is the deep-seating kind, with lime-green cushions, set back to take in the view of this casual, contemporary yard in Vancouver, British Columbia. Designed by Landscape 2000, of Vancouver, British Columbia, the space takes advantage of a wall for a bold vertical garden and features an architectural wood pergola. Lime and chartreuse plants are repeated throughoutContinue to 2 of 14 below.
02 of 14Continue to 3 of 14 below.
03 of 14
Contemporary Landscaping in Costa Rica
Jen Speirs is a plant stylist and designer in Saint Teresa, Costa Rica. She fuses local succulents, cactus, and tropical plants into eye-catching architectural (clean and simple) pot arrangements and planter beds, using local rocks and stones.Continue to 4 of 14 below.
04 of 14
Greenwich Green Revival Mod
What's a Greek Revival home in Greenwich Village built around 1840 doing in an article on modern garden design? Well, there's no hard-and-fast rule that you have to decorate like it's 1839. For the tiny outdoor space, designer Axis Mundi took advantage of the vertical space to add plants and gain privacy. Those vibrant red-orange chairs are by Paola Lenti.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
05 of 14Continue to 6 of 14 below.
06 of 14
Spanish Garden Landscaping
A walled garden in Molina de Segura, Spain, takes advantage of filtered sun to grow tropicals like bird of paradise. Designer Alberto Garcia chose hardwood furniture that resists the sun and emerald pillows as accents of color for the modern space.Continue to 7 of 14 below.
07 of 14Continue to 8 of 14 below.
08 of 14
Repeating the horizontal lines of this modern house, an outdoor patio set is right at home with hardscape elements. Designed by Huettl Landscape Architecture, those horizontal lines continue with the concrete fountain and low wall and planting bed that corral horsetail (Equisetum hyemale).Continue to 9 of 14 below.
09 of 14
Displayed at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden show, The Keyhole was commissioned by Guide Dogs Victoria. Created by James Dawson Design, the space was conceived for people with visual impairments. “It's a garden that treats the sighted and unsighted as equals,” says Dawson, who emphasized the other senses in his design:
Continue to 10 of 14 below.
- Touch: Through textured plants like the giant liriope
- Sound: A water chandelier was combined with IP-rated lights
- Smell: Strong and pleasurable scents of an herb garden
- Taste: Through gardens growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs
10 of 14
Stylish Bedford Yard
If it's worth saving, you restore. Of course, if it's a case like this semi-detached London home from the early 19th century, you go back to the drawing board. By 2011, this house had been changed beyond recognition, with two far-reaching courtyards that served as a garden. With planning consent, Nash Baker Architects demolished two existing properties on the site, kept the historic facade of the 19th century house, and designed a larger luxurious single-family home.
Two elements of the house are linked by a relaxing outdoor space designed by award winning garden designer Luciano Giubbilei. The calm city oasis features restrained planting, comfortable outdoor furniture, and a lovely reflective pool.Continue to 11 of 14 below.
11 of 14
The goals for this Las Vegas entertainer's backyard: Modern, functional, clean, and perfection. Battling the desert heat, Land View Landscapes knows what works and what doesn't. Fussy plants wither and die in the summer, while mainstays like succulents, and certain shrubs and trees survive. If a client wants a nice green sheet of grass, the design teams give them water-wise faux.Continue to 12 of 14 below.
12 of 14
Vintage Modern Landscaping
Spinning a modern take on the vintage fibro beach shacks built along Australia's Gold Coast, True North Architects combined weatherboard and hardwood timbers for an interconnected series of decks, terraces, and gardens on a sloping property in New South Wales. Continuing that modern feeling, True North used other unconventional materials, like steel and corrugated iron, which complement the silver wood.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
13 of 14
Accessible Modern Landscaping
Melissa Gerstle designs outdoor spaces that are modern but not austere: they are places where people cook and eat, children play, and dogs run around like dogs. This is a nice, normal tract home with a geometrically laid-out space that provides room for everyone's activities. It's rich with colors and textures and totally fun, as a yard should be.Continue to 14 of 14 below.
14 of 14
A historic home in San Francisco retaines its architectural features for preservation, but what goes on in the backyard is the homeowners' choice. Matazrozzi Pelsinger Builders constructed large concrete retaining walls and installed a folding door system in the den that opens to a rear stone patio. Terraced planters lead to a beautiful living wall teeming with bonsais, ivies, mosses, ferns, orchids, fuschias, junipers, succulents, ornamental grasses, and Daphnes. Joining the builders were Gast Architects, interior designer Martha Angus, and plant designer Thumbellina Gardens.