Clever garden ideas for creating the perfect outdoor space

From your plant palette to subtle colour pops, these clever ideas are key to keeping your garden as stylish as your interior 


Keep it monochrome

Gardens with just one dominant colour are always intriguing. Legendary early 20th-century gardener Vita Sackville-West’s white (and silver) garden in Kent, England, is one of the most famous and thousands trek to her former home at Sissinghurst to see it every year. In this millennium, monochromatic themes are perfect for the simple, often minimalist outdoor living spaces we inhabit, where there simply isn’t room to have too much going on. And what could be better for a contemporary garden than a cool and crisp black and white theme? And there’s no worries if your garden is more traditional, as black and white is a classic colour combo that works with any design style.

Decide on a plant palette

Planting needs to be soft and harmonious so it doesn’t compete with your black and white colour palette. Think about green-on-green – no flowers, just blocks of foliage plants, such as grasses, reeds and succulents plus neatly trimmed evergreen hedges and screens. Nature features so many different greens it won’t be difficult to create subtle colour variation. If you love flowers and fragrance you could go for a serene green and white theme using perfumed plants such as daphne, freesias, alyssum, roses, wisteria, gardenias, frangipani (warmer gardens), Murraya paniculata and stephanotis.


Add texture

With any monochromatic colour scheme, the best way to keep it interesting is through texture. Make a vertical feature wall using terracotta pots, add wicker hanging seats and couches, cover walls with tiled panels or painted trellis, and lay knitted throws over your outdoor seats to keep guests cosy on chilly nights.


Lighten up your look

To lighten the look even further, complement your black and white elements with natural or neutral materials such as timber for decking, furniture, screens, walls and fences (coated with a clear finish) and metal chairs, tables and pots. Opt for pale stone or concrete paving, too.

Don’t go overboard with black

Don’t go overboard on your black. Use it for fences, walls and other structures but soften it with lots of green planting. And make sure you have plenty of clean, fresh white to balance the more sombre black tones – think black-and-white striped patio umbrellas, awnings, cushions, throws, even a cute child’s tepee.


Make vibrant colours sing 

Colour favourites for this spring are anything but subdued – lime, aqua, tangerine and lemon hues are very much on-trend. The secret to using these bold colours is to pair them with materials in more neutral tones to make the vibrant colours really sing. Bare wood furniture teamed with vibrant cushions is a great example.


Add a pop of colour

Sometimes all you need is one strong pop of colour to create impact. We love how the yellow ottoman in this beautiful courtyard (below) contrasts with the relaxed theme of the main colour palette of blues, creams and natural wood tones, adding a clever touch of dramatic tension.

Try pimping up pallets

Vertical gardens are as popular as ever. That’s understandable if you consider how small our outdoor spaces are becoming. When there’s little room outside we need to maximise every centimetre. Innovative gardeners repurpose old pallets or build their own vertical gardens, like this stunning lemon-painted creation above, which also doubles as a clever storage area for garden tools and accessories.

Make it lush

Subtropicals are the ideal candidates to consider if you’re looking for plants that work well with your brightly coloured outdoor furniture and accessories. Flamboyance is the byword of subtropical flowers such as bird of paradise (strelitzia), hibiscus, vireya, tibouchina, orchids and passionflowers. Add the dramatic lush leaves of taro, heliconia, ligularia, ornamental banana, ginger, palms and other foliage plants to the mix and the garden will soon feel like a subtropical oasis.


Take it outside

Our love affair with bathing and showering outdoors continues. After all, who wouldn’t want to shower or bathe amid the scent of flowers and the sound of birdsong in spring and summer? If you live near a beach, outdoor showers are useful for washing off sand, and for pool owners they’re perfect for rinsing off chlorine. Outdoor baths and showers are also ideal for cleaning up messy toddlers and dogs, or washing off dirt after a hard day in the garden. If privacy is an issue, use lightweight screens of bamboo, trellis or brushwood. Living screens of fast-growing plants, as well as climbers such as star jasmine and native clematis trained up vertical supports, can also be effective.


Don’t forget the hen house

Who doesn’t love freshly laid eggs? Raising chickens is becoming such a popular pastime the designer hen house is now a must-have item in many gardens. This sleek black and white example (right), complete with its own personalised signage and hanging plants, would not look out of place in most contemporary outdoor spaces.


Grow up 

In the earth-friendly garden, vegetables and herbs are, of course, the star performers. If space is tight you can use vertical planters, pots, hanging baskets or even a herb planter on your window sill to grow your own edibles.

Think about the bees

Beekeeping is the hobby du jour for gardeners and others concerned by the growing threats to these plucky pollinators. However, it does take a reasonable amount of skill (and bravery) to keep your own hives and for those not so blessed in the fortitude department there is an easier option. Now, you can rent a hive from a company such as, which manages the hive for you and you get to keep the honey. You’ll also be helping to improve the pollination rates in your local area, a win-win situation for everyone, especially the bees.

Give earth-friendly garden a go

With our bees under threat and a great awareness of the impact that chemicals are having on our soil (and our health), earth-friendly gardening is no longer considered a passing trend. It has become mainstream practice. And it’s not only rural gardeners who are growing wildflowers and raising bees, we’re doing it in our towns and cities too.


Go wild

Planting a wildflower meadow – no matter how small – is one of the best things you can do to provide food for our hardworking bees. If there’s space in your garden, why not remove the lawn in one sunny corner – below fruit trees, for example, to improve their chances of pollination – and replace it with wildflowers? There are plenty of wildflower seed mixes on the market and many of the plants thrive in poor soil, so you don’t have to spend hours preparing the ground. Just remember to give the area a thorough weed beforehand so the weeds don’t compete with your wildflowers.

Bring things back to life 

Re-purposing unwanted household objects is being adopted with increasingly witty inventiveness by eco-conscious gardeners. A rustic fence adorned with recycled metal basins, plus pots and chairs used as plant holders is a good example. Many household objects can find new life in the garden: old spoons as herb markers, dressing tables can store garden equipment, and bath tubs, gumboots, tyres and wine boxes can be used for planter beds. We have even seen a row of old toilets re-purposed as raised flower beds.


Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Maree Homer, Robert Reichenfeld, Brooke Holm, Martina Gemmola /

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