Contemporary landscapes have structural plantings with an emphasis on balance and defined forms and materials.

Contemporary Landscape Ideas for a Small Front Yard

by Renee Miller

Contemporary or modern landscaping design relies on oversized grid patterns, straight lines and geometric patterns, which create an overall appearance of organization. The focus for contemporary landscaping is typically on hardscape materials such as wood, metal and stone, and structure within the yard, rather than vegetation. This emphasis on simplicity makes this design style ideal for small front yards, because you don’t need to include a lot of elements to create a contemporary look.

1. Choosing a Modern Base

The grid element of contemporary landscaping is usually contained on the ground and serves as the base for additional elements. For example, instead of a front lawn full of grass, cover all or part of your yard with large natural stones, or use large paving stones and allow ornamental grass to grow between the pavers where grout would usually be poured. Another option is to pour concrete in square sections and leave equally spaced gaps large enough to allow low-growing ground covers to peek through. The combination of clean, stark materials and texture with a dash of color creates an appealing, but clean, contrast.

2. Decorative Elements

While contemporary design requires a clean look, this doesn’t limit you to just concrete or stone. Add the warmth and natural appeal using decorative elements such as wood. For example, install a wooden bridge-style walkway up to your front door instead of the traditional stone or gravel path. Fill in the remainder of the yard with dark gravel or patio stones to provide contrast, and line the edges of the bridge with sleek solar lighting. Add pops of color and texture with large metal planters containing succulent plants along the sides of the walkway.

3. Planting Structure

Choose plants with a defined shape and clear lines and plant in groups of odd numbers, such as threes and fives, arranging your groupings in straight lines. If you want to add some color, consider a single mass planting of three shrubs or five mounding or clumping ornamental grasses within a grid of pavers with a flowering plant at the center. For example, ornamental grasses are decorative, but their blades create defined lines. Blue fescue (Festuca glauca) is a mounding, semi-evergreen ornamental grass with finely-textured blue-gray foliage that is ideal for contemporary landscapes. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8 and loves full sun. Reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) is a wheat-like ornamental grass that is dormant in the summer and hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. Succulent plants, such as agave or century plant (Agave Americana), come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes that create a stunning focal point. Agave are hardy in USDA zones 8 through 10 and are drought tolerant. Another ideal focal plant is kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos flavidus), which produces red, purple, green, orange or yellow flowers and is hardy in zones 10 through 11.

4. Minimal Color for Contrast

A main element of contemporary landscape design is to create bold contrast with whatever materials you use. This doesn’t require a lot of plants or that you fill your small yard with bold or bright color. Consider a single mass planting of ornamental grasses against a concrete porch, or a large planter filled with colored glass in the center of a grid of pavers. Don’t apply this element to the entire front yard. Contemporary design is simple, so choose about two spots in your yard and add one element that contrasts with the colors in that section.

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