At its origin, modernism is a philosophical approach, historically applied to architecture, art and design. A modernist landscape is a natural fit to a home designed with modernist principles, but is also a way to create a sleek, orderly garden on any property.
The modern aesthetic is uncluttered, simple and composed of crisp, clean lines. Often, only a few species are used and plenty of space is left between the plants and the hardscape elements, so the lines of the design remain clear, even after the plants reach their full size.
Modernism does not utilize exclusively straight lines and right angles, but it does rely heavily on them. The framing of a view is also a typical trick to modernist design, which is achieved here with a cube around the patio that lacks any functional purpose.
Despite the emphasis on angular shapes, modernist design is virtually never symmetrical, which is more typical of a formal garden. Straight lines and right angles often terminate in abstract forms, as is the case with the far end of this pool.
In general, modernist design uses randomly placed objects to create a scene that is visually arresting and unique - as the wall that rises in the middle of the hedge in the backdrop of this poolside landscape. However, the results should always look and feel balanced orderly when the composition is viewed in its entirety.
This is a good example of the use of curving, organic shapes in a modernist landscape. The cylinders in the distance are a seemingly random punctuation to the curved retaining wall. They are useful as chairs, but are otherwise an odd, yet fitting, contrast to the rest of the composition.
Modernist principles can be applied at any scale. Here, a slightly bizarre, yet highly ordered arrangement, of plants, hardscape and furnishings creates a tiny, serene oasis. Note the use of rectangular mirrors in the pebbled surface - a complementary contrast to the waving mirrored surface of the water feature behind the chair.
Modern Plant Choice
Some plants are better suited to the modernist aesthetic than others. Perennials that have huge seasonal fluctuations in their appearance are best avoided, but succulents and other species with a relatively static visual architecture through the seasons are always a good bet.
Modernism can tend to look a bit bare, but it doesn't have to. Here large-leafed tropical plants reflect their greenery serenely into a shaded pool. This style of pool where the water rises completely flush to the edge is called an infinity pool and is a popular feature in modernist landscapes.
Minimalism doesn't have to be overdone to achieve a modern aesthetic. There are numerous species in close proximity in this garden, but they are meticulously maintained to create the desired composition. The careful editing and curating of the space is even more important that overt minimalism.
Furnishings and Accessories
Any non-landscape elements that are used in a modernist landscape should be part of the overall design. Rather than just using any type of lounge chair, table or umbrella, look for accessories that accentuate the design. Ideally, they are considered as part of the original composition rather than being crammed in as an afterthought.
Creative Yet Functional
Though modernism is a highly artistic approach to design, the landscape must meet all the ordinary functional requirements of a usable space. Here, a clever approach was used to create an extra parking space with wooden beams set in a bed of pebbles. It is clearly part of the overall aesthetic composition, but it functions seamlessly as part of the driveway.
Above all, be creative. In considering a modernist approach to the landscape, less is always more and each element must be chosen carefully as a puzzle piece in the larger design.