A little while ago I discussed the practical needs of your garden, but what is the next step towards creating your dream modernist landscape?
Let’s think about your garden style and how you want it to look and feel.
A mid-century house will generally display a minimal style and that should be reflected in the garden spaces. Within this however there are a number of landscape styles that can be created to fully embrace your personal tastes.
The Bush Garden
I’ve often mentioned the Australian bush garden style on this blog. It works so well with Australian architecture and the benefits of using native or even locally indigenous plants are numerous.
Native plants are suited to our climate and soil types and provide water sensitive solutions for our gardens. The range of native species is immense (especially a nurseries such as Kuranga) and you can achieve colour and foliage variety very easily.
A bush garden can use borders or mass planted local grasses and flaxes teamed with shrubs such as Correa or Westringia to fill out garden spaces, and achieve focal elements through colourful Grevillea, Banksia or Callistemon. Native trees such as She-oak or even smaller Eucalyptus provide fast growing canopy and shade and a stunning Xanthorrhoea (Grass-tree) is the perfect feature.
This can then be teamed with rustic and natural hard elements such as rock-work, timber sleepers, gravel paths and stone paving for a wonderfully Australian setting around your home.
Working with the clean modern lines of your mid-century home, you can create a garden space that is also clean (as clean as plants, lawn and mulch can be!) and minimal.
This can be achieved by using a palette of fewer plant species and planting in strong lines and mass grouping.
The minimal gardens of US landscape architect Dan Kiley are a great example of this style. Think mass plantings of Wild Iris beneath geometric rows of deciduous trees. This style can utilise just about any species of plants as long as they are kept structured and in bulk!
Of course the geometry extends into pavement and built forms with low walls, deeply tread steps and large concrete slab steppers leading to rectangles of lawn.
Every year our senses are bombarded by images of Modernism Week at Palm Springs. The undisputed centre of the mid-century modern universe, the houses of Palm Springs ooze relaxed yet sophisticated cool.
Being an arid environment the gardens of Palm Springs are filled with stunning architectural plantings and feature Cotton Palms, Barrell Cactus, Cycads, Yuccas and an endless range of succulents within rockery beds.
These plants combine perfectly with geometric shapes, rock piles (think Richard Neutra’s Kaufmann Desert House) and slabs of concrete surrounding stunning blue swimming pools.
I’ve lived my whole life below the 37th parallel so my experience of tropical gardens is very limited. What I do know is that the modernist gardens of Brazilian Roberto Burle Marx are stunningly lush and full of colour and texture.
The great news is that there are plants that provide similar textures and colours (maybe not so vivid) and can be used outside the tropics. Striking beds of Cannas and Cliveas blended with feature Cycads or Pygmy Date Palms are perfect for a Mid-century home with a tropical feel. Large leaved Philodendrons and mats of Mondo Grass, Liriope or Yellow Star Jasmine can also create the lush deep green of a tropical garden.
The epitome of minimal beauty, the philosophies of Japanese architecture and garden design have been around for centuries. Every element of a Japanese garden is thoughtfully located and contains meaning and intent.
Japanese gardens create symbolic representations of the natural landscape and the careful use of rockwork, lanterns, water features and planting enhance distant and near views and create a journey through the garden.
The authentic minimalism of the Japanese inspired garden blends perfectly with modernist architecture.
Of course all rules of landscape design were made to be broken. No home-owner should feel like they need to choose on style and stick to it rigidly.
There are so many amazing Australian modernist gardens where blended plantings such as Japanese Maples over beds of Red-Hot Pokers, Lomandras and Star Jasmine perfectly complement the home.
The key is to maintain continuity in your hard materials and the planting palette can vary as the location and aspect dictates.