Exterior Worlds
Contemporary Garden
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Contemporary Garden

A contemporary garden is distinguished by its emphasis of hardscape and geometry over softscape. Vegetation is minimized in favor of a deliberately Mentalist view of the world. Gravel, stone, sculpture, water, and art take the place of vivacious colors, and mind-oriented design take precedence over passion. All of this is done to establish the sense the world has now become a place where Man dominates and controls his environment through the power of thought.

This is not to say that plants are completely absent in a contemporary garden. Plants play a very important role—only from a less is more perspective. Shape, color, and texture are carefully chosen to create a feeling of stark absolutes that conform to the manmade structures that constitute the primary substance of the form. Many species known for their strong shape, texture, and color lend themselves well to this application, including, but not limited to, bamboo, and fruitless olive. Shrubs like boxwoods are generally preferred above brightly colored grasses and plants because the darker colors of the leaves better compliments the colors of gravel, stone, and hardscape.

In the absence of an abundance of vegetation, water is very often used in a contemporary garden to convey a feeling of the essence of life without giving specific form to life itself. Again, this communicates very well the emphasis on human consciousness over Nature’s natural selection that this entire style of gardening is meant to portray.

Water fountains in this setting do not need to be traditional in any sense of the term. There are many ways to cause water to spring up through rocks and pavement that do not require a visible basin or spout. Silent pumps and skillfully concealed water jets can make a fountain leap from between rocks, stepping stones, gravel, or even from a grated surface on a concrete slab. If the contemporary garden is built in levels, water can also pour through its entirety in the form of an artificial stream.

Waterfalls can also be built instead of water fountains if the homeowner wants to create drama and special interest in this part of the yard. Something as simple as a mirror or stainless steel wall can serve as the backdrop for cascading sheets of water that disappear into gravel or coalesce into a pool that feeds a hidden irrigation system that waters the Spartan plantings of greenery that punctuate the garden bed.


Stone and gravel are two other elements that are very important in a contemporary garden. Due to the necessity of keeping greenery to a minimum, rock and gravel serve a vital function as replacements to grass. They can also be used to break up larger segments of a hardscape made out of concrete pavers or very large stone blocks. By filling these areas with gravel, we can avoid having to replace the hardscape with vegetation that would, for lack of a better term, create too much of a green patch for a contemporary garden.

It is much better to lay down gravel or stone, then plant specific and very hardy species in the midst of the stone that will suggest a very controlled feeling of life emerging out of an absolute realm of geometry and methodical construction.

Once the basic elements and water features are in place, many forms of art can then be added to the garden at will. Metal sculpture works very well here due to the way it can be worked in so many different ways. Mirrors installed near plants can create the illusion that the amount of actual vegetation changes relative to position and movement.

In some cases, masonry contractors may be brought in to add architectural walls, retaining walls, planters, or seat walls to the setting. These structures create vertical impact and lend a sense of order, symmetry, and boundary to the entire scene that again reinforces the power of thought and its ability to influence and direct the flow of life. For more the 20 years Exterior Worlds has specialized in servicing many of Houston’s fine neighborhoods.