The secrets of contemporary garden design (on the cheap!)

August 11th, 2019
Posted In: Garden trends & design, Town gardens

Garden designer Jane Beedle has turned her own muddy back yard into a stylish, colourful contemporary garden in just four months. All on a tight budget.

Contemporary garden design makeover

Jane’s garden is 52ft long and around 30ft wide. Four months before this photograph it was just a muddy puddle with a shed and an old patio with concrete pavers.

You may know her as Jane from the Great British Bake Off, as she was one of the last three finalists in Series 7. But she is also a garden designer and has just transformed her own 52ft town garden. Here are her contemporary garden design tips.

Garden designer Jane Beedle

Garden designer Jane Beedle was a finalist in GBBO 2016 has since won one of the GBBO Christmas specials. Find her on Instagram at janebbakes.

Think about what you’re going to use your garden for.

Jane wanted to use the garden for: entertaining and family eating, to have somewhere to perch for a morning coffee and a large shed for storage.

Panorama of a contemporary town garden

A panorama of Jane’s garden showing the different zones. This was taken in May, when the planting had just gone in.

So she divided the area into three zones. One has a small bistro table and four chairs for that morning coffee. The central area has a large table and sofas for eating. And the shed is at the back of the garden.

The more practical parts of the garden are down the side return of the house, where she has a folding clothes dryer on the wall.

Mark out the garden ‘zones’ with borders

‘In a 52ft garden, you can’t hide the shed,’ says Jane. ‘And it is a pretty shed. But I wanted to break up the view.  I wanted the eye to pause, before seeing the shed beyond.

The garden in three zones, divided by planting

The garden broken up into three zones, divided by planting. The bistro chairs and table offer a ‘place to perch for coffee.’

So the first thing you see is a bed of glorious colour immediately outside the kitchen doors. The main outdoor dining area is just beyond, veiled by the dancing flowers of verbena bonariensis.

Another border separates this from the shed.

Make the garden look wider by running borders across

The two main borders provide a riot of colour. They run across the garden, not down the sides. This means you can enjoy the planting more. And the garden will seem less narrow.

Mark out the garden zones with planting

Two borders run across the garden, not down the sides. Two olive trees in pots mark out the division in the first border, bridged by airy planting from verbena bonariensis. There is also miscanthus but this isn’t yet tall enough to be seen above the rest of the planting.

Lawn or no lawn?

Contemporary garden style often means no lawn.

And there are practical reasons for this. It’s hard to maintain a lawn in a small space. You need storage space for the lawn mower. And Jane and her husband, Ray, have two young dogs who turned the area into a mudbath every time it rained.

Lawns have many advantages. They’re wildlife-friendly, good for worms and help prevent run-off and flash flooding in heavy rain. Covering a large area of garden in paving can mean more flash flooding and fewer benefits for wildlife.

However Jane has compensated by having large borders for planting. These are bursting with colour and buzzing with pollinators. There is lots of soil for earthworms and to absorb sudden rainfall.

Paving made more sense. ‘I’m very aware of the cost of paving,’ says Jane. ‘And I didn’t want that multi-coloured look that you get with some cheaper sandstone pavers. So she chose an inexpensive grey Indian sandstone.’

Large pavers for small gardens

Jane chose large 60x90cm pavers. Large pavers give a contemporary garden look and they are surprisingly good for smaller spaces.

‘It’s a mistake to think you have to have small elements in a small garden,’ says Jane. ‘We’ve made this feel more spacious by using the larger pavers.’

Large pavers feel more spacious

Large pavers laid across the width of the garden make it feel wider and more spacious.

She also laid the paving across the garden, with the long edge running from side to side. ‘It makes the garden feel wider.’

Minimising the costs

One of the hidden costs of landscaping is having materials taken away. When you replace a lawn with paving, you’ll have to remove topsoil, turf and any buried rubble. And when the old patio was taken up, there were concrete pavers to be disposed of.

Jane’s solution was to buy gabion baskets. Ray cut the old concrete pavers so that they had a straight line on at least one side. It’s hard work but it gave them a stylish edge for the gabion baskets. Any other rubble was used to fill the gabion baskets. And they created raised beds behind the gabions with the topsoil. ‘So we never had to hire a skip or pay for disposal,’ says Jane.

Gabions – the latest in contemporary garden style

Gabions used to be used in engineering works and sea defences. They started to appear in contemporary garden design last year.

Contemporary design detail raised bed gabions

Raised bed gabions under the lime trees. They also offer a home for wildlife in the crevices between the pavers. And they meant Jane and Ray never had to hire a skip.

The gabions have several functions. There is a row of lime trees down one side of Jane’s garden. They are very useful in creating privacy, but you can’t plant under them. Especially as they are by a wall. ‘I could have put pots there, but that’s too high maintenance,’ says Jane.

The gabions are the right height to perch on, so with the addition of a cushion they make useful extra seating.

And they are effectively raised beds, so Jane can plant a variety of shade loving plants under the trees. The gabion wire prevents the soil and rubble from going right up to the tree trunks – the trees would not do well if their trunks were buried in soil.

There are more contemporary garden ideas here from the RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival. BBC Gardeners World Live is also a great source of modern garden design inspiration.

Contemporary garden planting

Jane says she started by thinking about having a very calm, cool scheme with the odd splash of colour. ‘And I think I’ve achieved that along the side of the garden with gabions. But I just love plants and there’s alot of grey in the garden. I’ve got grey garden furniture and grey pavers, so I decided to go for vibrant colour and plants I love.’

Contemporary garden planting

Two olive trees mark out the space, with a line of verbena bonariensis in between.

The first border delineates the space. Jane marked out the division between the zones with two olive trees in pots. ‘I thought about having three trees, but I wanted to keep the feeling airy.’ So she has planted miscanthus and verbena bonariensis.

The rest of the planting is wildlife-friendly and vibrantly colourful. ‘There are a few clashes and some things I think I’ve got wrong,’ says Jane. However, the total effect is wonderfully uplifting.

See more of the garden in this video

More about contemporary garden design for small town gardens

If you like wildlife-friendly, naturalistic plantings, then see how to create a mini meadow in even the smallest garden. Find out why curved gardens are back in a big way.

And for the latest contemporary garden ideas, see this post on the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

But ‘contemporary’ doesn’t have to mean ripping everything out. This ‘garden with a sense of place’ retains many plants and garden buildings, yet feels incredibly modern and fresh.

You can buy gabion baskets like Jane’s from Amazon (note: links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure).  If you’re looking for a wall-mounted dryer similar to the one featured at the end of the video, there are a couple of choices on Amazon. There is a premium version, the Hills Supa  Fold Duo Indoor/Outdoor 23 m clothesline dryer.  And there is a much cheaper Minky fence or wall mounted dryer with just 13m of drying space.

I’m often asked for recommendations, so I’ve compiled some useful lists of the gardening tools, books and products that I use personally on The Middlesized Garden Amazon store.

Pin to remember

Pin to remember contemporary garden design tips.

Contemporary garden design secrets for small gardens

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