Modern garden design not your style? Here’s how to weave in some classic character
Houzz UK deputy editor. I’m an interiors journalist and editor, previously for the… More
We see a lot of incredible contemporary garden designs on Houzz, and they get a lot of love. But if you live in an old house, or you’re fond of antiques indoors and like the idea of that style spilling outside, or you simply don’t want to create clean lines or add geometric tiles or structural planting, these ideas may just float your boat.
Savour the shade
This walled townhouse garden, which features a pond and a bridge, shows you don’t need a large – or south-facing – country pile to pull off supersize outdoor ideas.
The early Georgian, Grade ll-listed home, built in 1720, used to be a factory and what is now the garden was once the factory floor. Its high brick walls define the space and give it plenty of character.
While you may not have aged bricks like these, or the interesting feature that the RSJs have created, you can still borrow ideas from this shady, characterful space.
If you do have any features with an aged patina, get them out and let them shine; failing that, source some. You could try pre-loved terracotta pots, aged metal containers – rust spots will only add to the interest – and salvage yard treasures, such as a statue, vintage bird bath or water feature, as here. Covered in moss? All the better.
Add deep green, shade-tolerant climbers to conjure up a comparable Secret Garden feel (and to embrace the compromised sunlight), and opt for gravel rather than slick, modern paving.
Three key elements here define the mood of this dinky rooftop space. The chequerboard floor has clear Victorian connotations; it’s a larger take on the classic front garden path that still exists in many houses of that era. The delicate cast-iron furniture is a million miles away from boxy, water-resistant rattan or colourful moulded plastic. If you were going to go for wood, consider it for antique-look benches rather than table and chair sets for a period-sensitive effect. Traditional-style brass outdoor lighting completes the mood.
You might have three other staples in mind – perhaps you have Victorian-style French windows you can highlight as a feature, a pretty, antique-style greenhouse, or an interesting old urn you could turn into a water feature or planter. Keep everything else to natural materials and, again, go for lots of dark leafy plants rather than structural, jungle-style foliage for an olde-worlde feel.
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Seek out second-hand
Non-contemporary doesn’t have to mean ‘antique’ or Victorian, of course. Simply choosing features that are second-hand or salvaged, rather than crisp and sleek, will add character and a sense of history to an outdoor space.
German bierkeller tables are suddenly everywhere and look excellent in gardens. Extracted from the likes of Oktoberfest, the trestle tables and matching benches, typically with green metal folding legs on both, make a striking centrepiece in a garden dining spot.
You’ll easily find a good selection online. Look out for examples that show their wear and tear with pride.
A mainstay in a lot of contemporary gardens – and for a reason, as it can look lovely – is the rendered wall. Imagine the brickwork here smooth and painted bright white. You’d have a very modern and sharp-looking patio. But if you prefer a relaxed style, and a sense of your garden’s former life, keep those brick walls as they are. Don’t try to get them to match – the different finishes and varied bricks will only boost character.
Mismatched cushions, vintage fabrics and salvaged furniture are good companions.
Find a garden designer in your area
Angles and clean edges, perhaps with brushed steel and glass in the mix, are the terrain of the contemporary garden – which is why circular designs and features can do a good job of un-modernising an outdoor space. It’s not just the flowerbeds that curve here – there’s spherical topiary and blousy, ball-shaped hydrangeas, as well as the decorative brickwork and dining furniture.
Adding curves to a lawn and chopping into or building out from rectangular beds are low-key ways to introduce this idea to a garden when a full redesign isn’t on the cards.
Keep it simple
Something as standard as a good, solid, old-fashioned garden bench can go a long way. Forget built-in seating or rendered planters with slatted hardwood zones for perching. They are things of beauty, but for classic styling, this is your answer.
To really ramp up the romance, fix a rose arch above it to frame your seat with some of the most traditional of all scented blooms.
Follow the brick road
Brickwork or cobbled paths are a classic piece of garden design. Mix with rope-top lawn or flowerbed edging, wrought-iron furniture and soft country planting.
Let a trellis take centre stage
There’s a huge variety of decorative trellis panelling out there that’ll complement an older home or garden. Buy it in ready-made pieces or have it made bespoke. This is quite different to the softwood stuff you’ll get at garden centres and DIY stores for attaching to the top of your fence for climbers. It’s far sturdier and comes with all sorts of interesting detailing.
Painted trellis, like this, is especially suitable. Keep colours muted and classic – cream, pale grey or sage green are all good options. Steer clear of fashionably ‘contemporary’ hues – your deep greys or blacks or vibrant shades.
Show off a garden gate
If you’re lucky enough to have an original specimen like this, let it shine. Trim back those creepers, give it a good scrub and treat it with wood protector (choose a discreet or invisible finish; test a few somewhere out of sight first – the last thing you want is to accidentally make it look brand new with orange-y fence protector).
If you don’t have one of these hanging around already, or even a suitable opening to affix one to, could you find a lovely weathered version and prop it decoratively against a prominent wall as a feature? Surround it with plants that will soften its edges to help it to settle in.
How would you describe the style of your garden? And which ideas from here would you steal? Share all in the Comments section.