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Modern Garden Style and Nature Therapy

Simplicity! The Hot Trend in Everything

When it comes to achieving a modern garden style the verdict is out: curves are "out" and minimalism is "in!" In accepting this grim reality (which is changing, as trends do, as we speak), I'd like to offer a perspective from my own philosophy.

Too often, I see newly installed landscapes featuring rows of identical, evenly spaced succulents in a rectangular planting space, next to a planting of just one type of grass.

Plants, Artemisia and Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition'
Versatile combination: Artemisia and Blue Grama Grass

In my own design practice, I enjoy planning a variety of trendy garden styles including low-water, native gardens, Mediterranean, mission style, Cali Bungalow as well as minimalist styles such as modern and Japanese gardens. (My favorite is a cottage garden, which is timeless and informal but that's another post for another day.) The style should suit the home and its inhabitants. But in my opinion, garden design does not have to be overly simplistic in order to feel modern. I believe gardens that are too simplistic are the result of two things, which together result in what I like to call...


Bob the Builder's Garden

Thing One: the Builder's Garden

hyper modern house and garden
A freshly built, hyper-modern house and garden

The garden designs I see too often, are those which can be quickly designed and installed by home builders and landscapers. These types of businesses are experts on construction and are rarely Crazy Plant People. Their goal is to create a landscape that efficiently meets the expectations of their client. It must be broadly appealing, and thus generic. Efficient to generate, and thus, simple.

If one compares this norm to a garden produced with the help of a landscape designer (a Crazy Plant Person), you would see gardens full of rich and tantalizing diversity. The garden designer's own home gardens tend to showcase a love, if not obsession with plants. It is sure to feature mature plants allowed to grow into their natural form and size. Showcase gardens are also always thriving ecological communities that are the result of years of experimental additions and plant-centered adaptations.

Thing Two: Life in the Matrix

boring plant combination
When simple is a bit too boring

The oversimplified view of modern gardening and the trending minimalist aesthetic is partially influenced by Scandinavian design. However, I believe something more insidious is secretly at play here. I believe that we are designing our outer worlds to mimic the artificial world as we see it on our devices. The series of white rectangles that our walls and gardens have become resemble the white squares on our screens. Gardens in the real world increasingly look like drag-and-drop computer-generated images; with rows of identical plants set in a space devoid of complexity. Although this level of cleanliness and control has its appeal, especially in interior design, let me cry rebellion at the idea of applying these principals to gardens. Certainly, there is room for formal structures and geometry in the garden. However, when we design our gardens to look like our virtual worlds, we are really and truly "missing the boat."


Gardens as Nature Therapy

Nature therapy, modern garden
A modern, yet restorative garden in San Jose

Increasingly, we are rediscovering the concepts of nature therapy. Practices such as the Japanese concept of "forest bathing" are getting hot press. There is now an impressive body of research that shows that a view of green space and time in nature is very good for us, if not downright necessary for our mental and physical health. As a society, we have become increasingly more aware of this, at a time when caring for our mental and emotional health has become critical. Doctors can now issue a "Parks Prescription" for their patients to get out and "get green" when they are feeling blue. Science has shown that gardeners add years to their lives, and patients with views of green space recover faster.

Our garden is our own tiny slice of the the broader landscape, a place where we can invite nature into our private space to nurture our own well-being. If we allow it to, the garden can offer our souls with refreshment. It can ground us by connecting us with the rhythms of the seasons, and awaken our senses and our sense of wonder. A garden is not merely a combination of design materials. A sustainable garden is the product of organisms thriving as a community, in perpetuity. A successful garden is a relationship of reciprocal care between the land steward (us) and the plant kingdom.

California Lilac or Ceanothus
California Lilac (Ceanothus)

Our gardens reward us with bounty and delight us with surprises. They are comforting exactly BECAUSE they are somewhat beyond our control and remind us that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. Combined with the magic of human intention and attention, the garden becomes more than the sum of its parts. A healthy garden isn't just earthly - it is alchemical, ethereal, and transcendent.


Back to Simplicity

modern garden
Modern garden style done right

I urge you to welcome simplicity into your life by making more space for nature as therapy in your day to day life. The ethic of simplicity may be taken quite literally when it comes to our schedules, our minds, and our indoor spaces. However, I do not believe it should be taken literally into the garden by introducing a spare diversity of plant-life or boring designs. Diversity is good in our diets, our experiences, and is a product of the natural world. Our gardens must be home to a variety of plants if they are to serve as effective therapy. A more diverse garden is also better at supporting wildlife and the ecology of the greater landscape.


Need Help?

Me and my team of Crazy Plant People can help you grow and maintain your own little slice of paradise! Email to learn more.

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