Where to start with garden ideas

garden ideas
garden ideas

The principles that inform modern garden ideas are about horticultural elements blending in harmony with nature, and minimising structural elements.

There are almost too many options for modern garden ideas nowadays. With so many possibilities, even figuring out where to start takes some guidance. So here’s the best advice we can offer you: start with your house.

The architecture of the house will determine the best kind of garden design. Putting a modern garden around an old weatherboard cottage will look wrong. And putting a pretty cottage garden around a highly designed black cube will jar. The design of the garden is always led by the design of the house.

Following that, there are a few tips we have for someone looking for that bit of garden inspiration.

Where to find garden ideas

Before you start thinking about structural elements or plant types, ask yourself: what do you need from your garden? If you have a young family, for example, you’ll want different things from your garden than a retired couple. Do you want to spend more time in it? Do you want to sit and drink gin and tonics looking at your beautiful garden or do you want to have a veggie garden?

We don’t believe it’s useful for designers to tell people what they have to have. It’s their garden; we’re just helping them create it. If they only have a vague idea, we bring books, images and examples of past work to the table. We work together to firm up their vision. 

Having said that, we will challenge people. Rather than accept a request, we will ask why they would like that element in their garden. If the answer is, ‘I don’t know, that’s what everyone else does’, then that opens a discussion. We see it as an opportunity to do something interesting and suitable for the site.

Structure vs nature

The big decisions for modern gardens involve balancing the structural and horticultural elements. Structural elements are sometimes already present in a garden. Or someone may feel they need a retaining wall to level a particular area out. But structural elements can overwhelm the horticultural ones. A garden is really all about the plants.

I sometimes find clients want to build a retaining wall to put the plants on a level area. We can do that—but it’s a large investment to achieve something that isn’t necessary and doesn’t use a lot of space. People assume a plant needs a level, but nature’s not level.

You can often get a better and cheaper outcome by contouring and sloping a space and planting a feature tree in it. 

A level space for a table and chairs is a must. You also need a level space to get your car into the garage. There has to be a level path to the front door. But everything outside of all those spaces, we can contour and shape and make it feel softer than a wall. If you have a wall, most people then want to plant in front of it—to hide it.

Go with the original

I’m the only horticulturalist/structural landscaper in the Blue Mountains. That’s the point of difference for Masters Landscape. Some former staff who I’ve trained are in opposition now, but when that comes up, I ask, “Do you want the original or the copy?” Although, I confess, nowadays, I limp a bit more than them.