Joe Swift gets to grips with the latest fashion for groovy materials, straight lines and minimalist plantings, and suggests ways to create your own contemporary garden design.
Let’s get one thing straight first - this piece is about ‘urban chic’, not ‘urban chick’. Urban chic is about up-to-the-minute cosmopolitan style and cutting-edge fashions, which in this case, since Greenfingers is a gardening website, is in relation to the gardening world. Whereas an ‘urban chick’ on the other hand is a sassy young city girl who knows all the best clubs and treats her mobile phone better than her pet dog.
Now we’ve got that straight, I always think that the best thing about being an urban gardener is that the scope to create an exciting modern garden is much greater than if you were a rural gardener. I don’t mean that there is more room to play with, since you have to be incredibly fortunate to have a big garden in the city, but there is much more flexibility in the kind of style you choose for your city garden. One of the most important things about gardens is that they feel right for their setting. In a rural area making a contemporary garden is an extremely difficult thing to achieve successfully. It can work if it juxtaposes perfectly with the surrounding landscape to make a bold statement, but more often than not it will have to remain ‘soft’ to fit in well.
In the city it’s more the other way around. An overly ‘soft’ garden with mixed planting and a large lawn will quite often look out of place. The notion of a natural-looking water feature or a rockery in the middle of an urban conurbation with the idea that they have just naturally appeared is simply too far-fetched and bordering on the ridiculous. This releases us city dwellers to go our own way and find an exciting gardening style that suits us and blends in well with the fusion of cultures, lifestyles and interiors that you find in the city.
Modern materials, like concrete, glass and steel, blend well with natural stone and wood, and can be used effectively when creating an urban garden. These materials will look pretty groovy, and also help the garden to sit more comfortably in the extended landscape.
Good modern garden furniture is the height of Urban Chic. As well as helping to create an inviting space, it is functional, and actually makes you want to go out and sit in the garden. A well-designed bench can be as good a focal point as any other, such as a pot, water feature or trellised wall, if not better.
Don’t be afraid of straight lines! Once we have accepted that we don’t have to make the garden overly naturalistic with amoebic-shaped lawns, we can put things in rows and straight lines. As well as it being the height of urban chic, it will help the garden link better to the proportions of the interior. We can embrace straight lines, geometry, uniformity and all that goes with it. After all, creating gardens has always been man/womankind’s need to impose ourselves upon the landscape, so let’s not do it half heartedly with lots of wiggles!
Minimalism is still very much alive and is the ultimate in urban chic - especially in the garden. It has been reworked over the years, but in essence can be the solution to creating a successful city garden, which meets the demands put on it. A minimal garden can realistically be a flexible space to relax, unwind, entertain, let the kids play, work in, but at the same time always look good. The principle of ‘less is more’ when applied to the garden can avoid it looking untidy, and give it space to breathe. I find it’s the same with interiors, restaurants, food, clothes and all those ‘lifestyle’ things. Bold, simple and clean rather than fussy, elaborate and messy. Why not?
You will have to be disciplined to achieve this look, and possibly upset auntie Gladys when she gives you an old-fashioned ornate terracotta pot for your birthday by hiding it or giving it away, since it will ruin the whole effect. Make sure not to clutter the space. When buying plants don’t buy six different varieties and plant them willy-nilly. It may be hard to do, but a block of six of the same plant or two sets of three will have much more impact and bring cohesion to your garden. Or save up and buy a single large architectural specimen plant such as a palm or bamboo. It will add height and a sculptural quality to your garden and as they’re evergreen will keep your garden looking the height of urban chic all year round!