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How to Create a Sophisticated Modern Garden

By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa August 11, 2022

Modern Spa Pool

Calling all lovers of clean lines, bold geometry, and streamlined style—the modern garden is made for you. This surprisingly versatile design style can work for everyone from classic minimalists to fans of the industrial to naturalistic gardeners. A sleek modern garden and modern landscaping can perfectly compliment a modern house exterior. Best of all, you can infuse modern landscaping ideas into your own front yard or backyard with thoughtful planning and a little elbow grease.

What Makes a Modern Garden?

Get out your ruler and protractor because modern landscape design is all about using the principles of classic geometry. You can play with colors, textures, and materials in a modern garden design, but it all comes back to clean lines and thoughtful organization.

Rectangles, squares, and circles will become the stars of your garden with long, linear garden beds, perfectly circular patios, and sharp, squared-off reflecting pools. Plants are at home in even the most minimalistic designs when they’re strategically placed in neat and deliberate masses instead of scattered across the landscape. Most modern gardens are characterized by a neutral color palette in the hardscape and judicious placement of color in the softscape (although some modern designers incorporate more vibrant color throughout, so don’t feel limited).

If you embrace modern aesthetics in your home, it’s only natural to bring that feeling into your outdoor space. Sharp garden beds and a sleek path to your front door will make the curb appeal of a modern home skyrocket. Continue the feeling of your sophisticated interior by opening the back doors on your mid-century modern living room right into a matching mod patio.

You can see some great examples of modern garden plans by Tilly in our Modern Backyard Landscaping Ideas and Inspiration, but this post delves further into softscape and hardscape elements that can bring your design to life.

Modern landscape design provides structure and guidance for your yard and lets your own unique style shine though. Every garden is unique to its designer, but there are some common design elements that are hallmarks of modern gardens:

  • Classic and clean geometry
  • Small plant palette
  • Repeating patterns
  • Neutral colors
  • Architectural hardscape
  • Simple or minimalist design
  • Striking focal points
  • Careful and intentional organization

Plants for a Modern Garden

While the gardening world is full of delicate flowers and bushy foliage, modern gardens leave them behind in favor of striking, architectural plants. Plants that are tall and sculpted or have bold colors or unique leaves will be perfect focal points in your modern design. These show pieces look even better framed by textural plants and low ground cover to create cohesive pockets of softscape.

Organization is key in creating an eye-catching modern garden. The focus on clean lines and geometry might make you think that you should plant your softscape in neat and precise grids, but that can create a jarringly artificial feel and is an uphill battle to maintain since plants love to spread and grow beyond a neat little box.

Instead, the strategy for planting these contemporary gardens is to place clusters of plant life throughout your landscape. Select a limited palette of plants to work with, and keep them repetitive. If you have a bed with a tall cactus with low-growing succulents at its base and a background of ornamental grasses, use those same plants together in each garden bed around your yard to add symmetry and flow through the landscape while still having abundant planting.

There’s a range of plants that can work in a modern garden, but we’ve found some favorites that we use in a variety of climates across the continent!

  • Succulents and cacti: Succulents and cacti thrive in dry, sunny climates and are natural fits for this style thanks to their striking angles. Succulents tend to be low growing and come in a range of shapes and colors. Cacti can be petite or statuesque plants the size of trees. The perfectly round barrel cactus stands out as a perfect fit to add geometry to your modern front yard landscaping!
  • Allium: These ornamental cousins of the onion look like pom poms on a tall, slender stalk, combining straight lines and clean bubbles in one plant. The conventional purple-flowering variety is a great option to add a little pop of color to a neutral color palette.
  • Ornamental grasses: Tall ornamental grasses are the perfect way to add some texture and movement to a modern garden and create a pleasing contrast to the sharp lines elsewhere in the garden as they bend and sway in the breeze. Karl Forrester grass, black mondo grass, pink muhly grass, and fountain grass are ideal for modern designs and landscapes.
  • Japanese maple: The vibrant fall foliage and star-shaped leaves of the Japanese maple make it an excellent specimen tree in a modern landscape, while the gnarled branches add a touch of naturalistic appeal to an otherwise clean design.
  • Boxwood: Boxwood trees and shrubs are perfect topiary plants and can be sculpted into whatever shape you desire to continue the geometry of your hardscape into your softscape. Perfect spheres, flat-topped columns, and even rectangular shrubs are possible with the boxwood.
  • Snake plant: These common houseplants make for durable and forgiving outdoor plants in warm and dry climates! They have large, striking leaves that stretch toward the sun to add height to any garden bed. Snake plants come in a variety of patterns that include subdued dark greens and vivid neon lime stripes.
  • Bird of paradise: These tropical showpieces provide height and spectacle with long stems and broad ovular leaves. With patience and careful care, they can produce spiky and vibrant tropical flowers that look almost too perfect to be natural!
  • Palm tree: The classic palm tree is a popular option to line a driveway or frame a house in the front yard of a modern landscape. They have incredible height, spiky leaves, and beautiful movement in the breeze, making them a natural fit for the modern aesthetic.
  • Agave: These slow-growing succulents are in a category all their own thanks to their massive size. Agave has the signature spiky look of haworthias and other small succulents that would be at home in a mini pot on your windowsill, but the largest varieties of agave can grow to be over 10 feet wide. Plus, when they flower, they produce a large mast which can grow to be 40 feet tall within a few short weeks.

Hardscape for a Modern Garden

Stylizing traditional landscaping elements can help to instantly add modern appeal to your backyard landscape. For instance, laying a sharp angular or circular patio in sleek tile or concrete instead of scattered, organic stone pavers will begin to give you the feeling you’re looking for. Little changes add up to cultivate a clean and contemporary appeal in every corner of your landscape.

There’s a whole range of hardscape features that are perfectly suited to a modern garden:

  • Horizontal slat fencing: While vertical fence posts evoke the cozy and classic feeling of a picket fence, horizontal slats provide the same geometry with a more modern feel. Wood fences add a naturalistic element to your modern landscape, while vinyl and metal keep things sleek and contemporary.
  • Clean edges on garden beds: Precise plant placement is essential for maintaining the sleek design of a modern garden, and a good edging along your garden beds will help keep the look sharp. Skip the round, natural stones and go for a more modern garden edging idea like metal borders, sharp poured concrete, or precise brick edging.
  • Modern outdoor furniture: Rattan garden furniture isn’t going to look at home atop your ultra-modern patio. Instead, opt for furniture pieces with similarly sharp angles and smooth lines. Sleek concrete benches, angular metal furniture, and even rounded mod retro furniture will complete the look.
  • Rectangular pavers set in grass: You don’t have to pour solid concrete everywhere you need a path to keep things looking modern. Neatly arranged angular pavers nestled in the grass instantly add a path anywhere it’s needed and provide geometric shapes with easy installation.
  • Outdoor lighting: Nothing highlights your immaculate landscape like a literal spotlight on your hard work! Good lighting placed both high and low throughout your landscaping will make it look just as good at night as it does during the day. Skip the quaint lanterns and fairy lights and opt for circular spotlights, columnar outdoor lamps, and large, round hanging lights.

modern backyard designTilly plan with modern wood deck
modern 3d render for a Tilly planA modern design with square pavers
built in plantersBuilt in planters with Snake Plants
planters in a backyardModern planters used to create privacy
modern outdoor kitchenA modern outdoor kitchen

With a wealth of modern garden ideas under your belt, you have everything you need to start planning out your dream modern landscape. If modern isn't your style, our team has depth in all different looks including tropical, Southwestern, cottage, English-inspired gardens, zen gardens and more. Comment below with any questions, or give us a call so we can help bring your design ideas to life!

Read more about: Landscape Design Tips, Gardening Tips