Functional Modern Landscape Design Inspiration | Platt Hill Nursery | Chicago | Blog & Advice

Distinct from contemporary landscapes, modern design has a style and philosophy all its own. With an emphasis on straight lines and geometric shapes, modern landscapes offer an uncluttered, balanced, and organized look. This, combined with a concern for functionality, means that modern designs yield both highly aesthetic and practical landscapes. If you’re looking to bring a modern design aesthetic to your backyard this year, here are some great ideas to inspire you and we offer landscaping near you out of our Bloomingdale and Carpentersville stores.


What is Modern Landscape Design?

While the terms “modern” and “contemporary” may seem interchangeable, they mean two very different things in the design world. Contemporary design refers to any style that’s popular in the present moment, such as the current trends of minimalism and neutral color palettes. Modern design, on the other hand, is a specific style born out of the mid-century “modern” art and architectural movement, featuring straight lines, bold geometric shapes, and understated, balanced simplicity in its landscapes. 

This clean look is in stark contrast to the overflowing flower beds of cottage gardens and the wilder, untamed look of natural gardens. In fact, modern design has much more in common with classical gardens, only without the need for symmetry and often using low-maintenance plantings.     


-modern fireplace backyard-Platt Hill Nursery-Chicago

What Is Functional Landscape Design?

Incorporating functional design into a landscape is never a one-size-fits-all undertaking; rather, it depends entirely on the type and degree of functionality you want to include in your space. Do you want to use your yard for outdoor dining, meditation, reading, or as a play area? Do you want to prioritize food gardening, wildlife habitat, or biodiversity? Are you more concerned with low maintenance and simplicity than you are with functionality? Whatever functions you desire, the modern style makes it possible to bring them to life in your landscape! 


Inspiration for Functional Modern Designs in Illinois

Here are some of our favorite ways to marry modern designs with different landscape functions. Use these as inspiration to transform your current landscape into your ideal modernist space, perfectly suited to you and your family!


  • Modern Pathways

If a functional pathway is what you desire, the modern aesthetic is your best friend! Modern designs feature broad, sleek, smooth, and straight pathways that make walking, snow clearing, and wheelbarrowing a breeze. One downside is that they often feature smooth, sealed surfaces that are great at catching water, resulting in pooling and slippery walkways after a good rain. However, when combined with a proper water drainage system, you can have the glistening aisles of a modern pathway without any unintended water issues. 


-modern planted garden-Platt Hill Nursery-Chicago

  • Modern Plantings 

The use of repeating rows of low-maintenance plants is a trademark of modern designs. While this may seem like it’ll make your gardening work a breeze, modern designs are notorious for ignoring the microclimates of a landscape, and planting a single species everywhere while ignoring the particular moisture, light, and soil of each location could inadvertently cause your plants to struggle. Therefore, if a low-maintenance garden is your goal, use your creativity and choose a variety of well-suited plants to add some diversity while still enjoying the evenly spaced symmetry of a modern look. 


  • Modern Balance 

While a cottage garden impresses you with an abundance of flowers, the wow factor of modern gardens comes from their keen sense of balance and scale. In these landscapes, you won’t find any clutter or mess. Instead, everything feels like it’s in its proper place. This emphasis on moderation and restraint lends itself to easy maintenance and creates an atmosphere of calm and peace.      


-modern stone seating area-Platt Hill Nursery-Chicago

  • Modern Surfaces 

Modern designs often feature clean surfaces, whether walkways or patios. The intention is to create a low-maintenance, unblemished look, but the irony is that these surfaces are oftentimes the hardest to keep clean. That’s because the great outdoors is inherently messy, with things constantly blowing around and falling from trees, not to mention all the mud and dirt. The cleaner the surface you choose, the harder it will be to maintain.   

For better functionality, remember that your yard is not an indoor space and that things will get dirty. Opt for easy-to-clean materials that won’t show or hold onto stains from mud, grass, leaves, or falling fruit, and avoid situations where small gravel or mulch will mix or spread onto your pathways. 


  • Ornamental Grasses and More  

In their pursuit of simplicity and minimalism, many modern gardens feature little more than a row of ornamental grasses surrounded by mulch. While this design does have a unique style, there are many other ways to achieve a modern design. 

Modern design emphasizes balance, scale, and understated beauty. That means avoiding excess and extravagant flowers, but it doesn’t mean you have to turn 90% of your landscape into a mulch bed. Instead, feel free to plant a variety of subtle, proportionate plants in combinations that celebrate diversity while maintaining a clean, polished aesthetic. 


landscapers planting garden-Platt Hill Nursery-ChicagoThe Unseen Potential of Modern Design in Chicagoland 


With all of its simplicity, the modern style can be a tempting way to avoid design altogether. It gives you the freedom to plant a row of oat grass, lay down some mulch, and call it modern. However, the truth is that modern design offers so much more. It’s not an excuse to forego any creativity or inspiration while designing your landscape. In fact, it’s the exact opposite: modern design is a distinct medium within which you can freely exercise your imagination to create a unique space that is both beautiful and functional!    



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For more modern landscape design inspiration, visit our garden centers in Bloomingdale and Carpentersville, or contact our landscape design team! Our team of local experts are always eager to help you turn your dream landscape into a reality! 


Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery.