Contemporary garden design fundamentals with Helen Ellison

Choosing a garden design is a big commitment and not just a financial one. Gardens are extensions of our homes and to a certain extent a reflection of our personalities. Creating a vibrant and contemporary garden that emulates your style and requirements is no simple task. Garden designer, Helen Ellison, shares some of her thoughts on the fundamentals of contemporary garden design.



A large part of designing a contemporary garden is getting the layout right. Creating a simple clean contemporary garden requires the use of simple lines and shapes. This doesn’t mean you have to use straight lines and squares to divide paths, lawns and features. Bold circles and curves can create the same contemporary effect if they are clearly defined and separated.



Choosing the right materials to match your contemporary design is crucial. Try not to use too many different colours or different kinds of materials. Instead use materials with clean lines, defined edges and similar colours to create consistency and clarity throughout the design.



Plants in a contemporary garden should reflect the aesthetic principles that have been used elsewhere in the design. Species like the Japanese Maple with its purple, finely cut leaves or the New Zealand Flax with bold sword shaped leaves create stunning contrasts that look great in modern gardens. Their bold colours and defined shapes perfectly match modern design.




Lighting is a massive part of garden design, as at night, lighting transforms the way a garden looks. During the long summer nights garden lighting allows you to entertain guests outside and enjoy your garden for as long as you please. In winter lighting will make your garden visually accessible while you’re snuggled up indoors. In a contemporary garden lighting can have a dramatic effect by highlighting individual features like raised flower beds and seating areas. Inset lighting can be used to mark out path ways and patio areas making your garden safer. Clear and frosted lighting is quite common but the use of coloured lighting will add a bold effect that will really make your garden stand out from the crowd.

garden lights tulip



Features and functionality

What we do in our gardens and how they look is mostly defined by the features we include. Deciding what you want to have in your garden is a big part of the design process. Being imaginative and creative means you can make the most of your available space, regardless of how big or small it is. Clients we speak to are often surprised by what they can fit in their garden once they start thinking outside of the box.


BBQs have always been popular but more people are now taking things a step further by designing their very own outdoor kitchens. Although the thought of including a kitchen may go against minimalist principles, if you love the idea it can still look great as part of a contemporary garden. Cooking areas can be designed to look clean, simple and modern. However ensuring you continue the theme of materials used for the rest of your garden is essential! For example if you used decking elsewhere in the garden continue the timber theme when designing the kitchen. Otherwise it may start to stand out and disrupt the theme you’ve already worked so hard to build.

Water features can be used to create a strong focal point. They also provide the added dimension of sound which can help to block out disruptive noises like traffic or aircraft. Stainless steel, glass and natural rocks make fantastic water features as they look great in contemporary gardens and can easily be manipulated to reflect modern design



Overall designing a contemporary garden is about being consistent and thorough with the design concept you’ve chosen. As with any form of design there are no rules, but sticking to the principles we’ve discussed will allow you to create a design you can enjoy and be proud of for years to come.

Garden designer Helen Ellison designs gardens for Floral and Hardy who specialise in garden design in Kent as well as covering the rest of the South-East.