Contemporary Garden Style – Garden design in the twentieth century has become both a profession and an energetic contributor to the development of modern ideas about space and form. The term ‘contemporary garden style’ rather defies definition, but it is useful for drawing together the many different strands in garden design thinking, from the Bauhaus in the 1920s to the present day. The best contemporary gardens do capture the mood of society at a particular time, and reflect the particular lifestyles of their owners.
They also show an understanding of the various components and materials used, both in hard and soft landscape terms. This makes the best gardens timeless.
Many of the best contemporary gardens have been created by professionally trained landscape architects. Where such designers score over garden designers is in their educational background, which at its best allows for cross-fertilization with other professions – graphic artists, architects, or fabric designers.
Today a new generation is seeking to create landscapes that not only reflect their surroundings but also incorporate a far wider range of plant material. Form and texture of foliage are as important in a contemporary garden style as flower color, and the current trend is to weave this into an increasingly simple hard landscape structure that bases itself on the geometry of the building, respects the materials used, and then flows into and integrates with the wider landscape setting.
There is also a welcome trend to introduce native wildflowers, to use indigenous plant material, and to encourage wildlife – at least in certain parts of the garden. This interest in the environment and in the naturalization of plants is sound and also refreshing.
A number of designers, are also investigating the uses of materials that are common in other industries but not in the garden: plastic for flooring; polyester for fencing; lightweight alloys for buildings that can then be covered with non-rot translucent fabrics. Lighting, too, has enormous potential, and the use of lasers, holograms and fiberoptics is playing an increasing role.
Garden design should be an ever-changing art form; the most successful contemporary compositions embrace that philosophy to the full.
Plants are used in the contemporary garden in much the same way as they are in the formal garden: they play a subordinate role, and are merely components of an overall effect. In the formal garden identical plants are grouped, as in a hedge, to create simple geometric shapes; in the contemporary garden their task is to act as ‘soft’ architecture. In both cases their individual beauty is unimportant.
In the contemporary garden, ecological considerations are important. Stress is laid on the garden’s place in the wider landscape. The wilderness has even been invited to invade the garden. This relatively new interest in native flowers, which can be traced to anxiety about the accelerating loss of natural habitats all over the world, is a departure from the desire garden owners have historically shown to shut out the world.
Contemporary garden style, and the minimalist approach in particular, does not appeal to those for whom the pleasure of growing a wide and associated range of plants ranks high. For others, the contemporary garden means the pursuit of a specialism: alpines, cacti, chrysanthemums, old roses. Here, the garden as a whole is less important than individual plants, although the results may be very pretty.