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Minimalist Gardens



The idea of using a minimal range of components in a garden design is not new, but it is the hottest idea around today in landscaping. Clean lines, contemporary landscaping materials, and bold colours and textures are the basis of minimalist gardens. It’s a style which appeals to those who have a sense of adventure and are not afraid to try something new.

And best of all, a minimalist garden doesn’t require much maintenance!

What is it?

A minimalist style garden has the following features:

· As the name suggests, minimal elements are used. Less is more and every element is carefully selected for maximum effect.

· here are lots of hard surfaces and not much greenery.

· Materials are used in unusual and innovative ways.

· Strong lines and some symmetry hold the design together.

· Plants are used as ‘soft architecture’, usually in repeat plantings. Foliage, colour and form are more important than flowers.

· Colour and texture are very important.

· Contrasts can be quite dramatic, but the overall effect is of a harmonious design.

· Contemporary outdoor art is often featured.

It’s a style which is well suited to inner-city living, with its use of hard materials and strong geometric lines. It’s most often used in small outdoor areas, especially courtyards where the paving and walls create a hard-edged look, although the concept can be adapted to more open suburban gardens whose owners are looking for a simpler, less maintenance-intensive design.

Why do it?

· Fewer components reduces clutter and gives a feeling of spaciousness. This is especially important in courtyards where space is at a premium.

· Maintenance is reduced (if the design is done properly).

· It looks cleaner.

· Depending on the design, the garden may be restful and peaceful, or exciting and different.

· It’s good for non-gardeners who enjoy outdoor living, but haven’t the time or interest to maintain a traditional garden.

· It provides a good backdrop for displaying sculptures, modern outdoor furniture and outdoor works of art.

· It can look good all year round, particularly with the use of lots of bright colours if you live in a colder climate.

· The garden can be left for long periods of time without it falling apart.

Designing a minimalist garden

Regardless of whether you have a courtyard surrounded by a converted inner-city warehouse, or a brick veneer house on a quarter-acre block, the principles for designing a minimalist landscape remain the same. Start off by thinking of the garden as a room … with walls and a floor. Then fill in the details, adding furniture and ornaments. Keep the style clean and simple, don’t clutter the space with knick-knacks, and don’t be afraid to try out new ideas.


In a small space, walls can be pretty overwhelming, but instead of trying to minimise their impact, minimalist designers often take an ‘in your face’ approach, either painting the walls in stark, neutral colours so that they act as a backdrop for the other elements in the garden, or painting them in bright colours as a feature in their own right.

The key to making bright colours work is to link the colours with other elements in the garden. For example, one wall could be painted bright pink and the others a softer shade of pink. Bright pink accessories, such as cushions and a tablecloth, could be used to tie in outdoor furniture with the strongly coloured feature wall. The main criterion is to use restraint – just highlight one or two elements and don’t go overboard with a whole range of contrasting colours and textures.


Like walls, the floor is a dominant feature of minimalist landscapes. Similar to walls, the best impact is gained by keeping the floor plain, just using stone or concrete pavers, or adding one or two contrasting elements, such as pebble insets.

Many modern designs use pebbles and stones due to the exceptionally low maintenance required. The occasional removal of leaves that have blown onto stones is all that is required.


Plants are rarely a key feature of minimalist landscapes, but those that are used are chosen for their impact, either having bold outlines or interesting foliage colours and textures. Repeat, massed plantings of the same species are used to maximise their impact, for example, beds of fine-leaved grassy plants.

Plants are also used as living sculptures, for example an Agave in a brightly coloured pot surrounded by smaller succulents.

Choose plants that have similar cultural requirements, require minimal maintenance and generally look good throughout the year.

Furniture is very modern in design, constructed from plastic, metal or other refined or recycled materials. Like other elements of the garden, the style is usually simple, and often eclectic.

They often double as architectural/artistic pieces. Keep in mind that the size of the furniture will depend on the available space and the number of people likely to use it at any one time. Be careful not to overcrowd with furniture.


Ornaments and other accessories are a matter of personal taste, ranging from home-made

sculptures to expensive contemporary works of art. Keep ornaments to a minimum – one large ornament has much more impact than several small pieces.


Most courtyard gardens have a water feature, and minimalist gardens are no exception. The complexity of the water feature depends on how it fits in with the rest of the garden. If the rest of the garden is fairly low key and restrained, the water feature could become the main focal point; if there are several other eye-catching features, a simple water channel or a large glazed water bowl might be more appropriate.

If you don’t want the bother of maintaining a water feature, blue glass pebbles could be set into the paving to give the idea of water, possibly in the shape of a stream.

Some variations on minimalist gardens

Japanese minimalist garden – A courtyard with white painted walls, raked pebbles, and a couple of large weathered rocks.

Desert minimalist garden – A courtyard with pebbles or concrete pavers, a few large cacti and succulents.

Suburban garden – More challenging, but still possible. In larger gardens you will probably have to keep the lawn (which is a good alternative ‘floor’), but you will need to simplify the overall planting scheme. Use as few species as possible; massed groundcovers are especially good for giving the garden a clean, simple appearance. Simplify the lines in the garden, either having all of them in formal, geometric lines, or all in fluid curves. Keep spaces as open as possible, and use uniform edging materials to link the spaces with the house.

Problems with minimalist gardens

· They can be stark.

· They can be boring if not done well.

· There is the potential for weeds, litter, graffiti/damage/stains, etc. to be more obvious.

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