What kind of a landscape design works well with a modern house? It doesn't all have to be concrete and a few well-placed bamboo trees (though if done right, this can look great). When thinking about your modern landscape, ideally one should start the site planning before even figuring out where the house goes. If your house was built by a good architect, they already planned a lot of sweet treats for you in this area.
1) Start inside. What are your views? Where are the access points to the outdoors? Think about how to maximize these - manipulate perspective and take advantage of the best views. Think about built works versus the greater context. Think about leading the eye and framing views.
2) Think about entry. What kind of mood do you want to set with the entry? How will you guide the approach? Is it welcoming or do you need some privacy from the paparazzi? Think about the experience you want guests to have as they approach your home. Will they be covered? Will they be skipping up stepping stones or clanking up a boardwalk? It sets the tone and makes the first impression!
3) How do you want to enjoy the outdoors from indoors? Do you have large glass doors that extend the view from indoors to out visually? What do you want to step out on? Can you play with stairs and terraces that work with the topography and the architecture? Do you want the floor to continue right outside or do you want to make more of a demarcation between indoors and out?
4) Think about how plantings will affect you while indoors. Do you need all of the light you can get or are you in a hot southern climate where shady trees will help lower your energy bills? Modernists think green.
5) Related to that, you have to realize that a landscape evolves over time. It is not going to look like your vision right away. Look up how tall and wide your plants will grow and how long it will take. Remember that generally that the faster a tree grows, the weaker its wood is.
6) Don't get caught up in the foundation planting trap. You should plant at least four feet away from your house to allow access between shrubs/trees and the building for maintenance. With a modern structure, make sure to play with geometry and the forms of the plants as they mature. Do you want some soft, round shrubs? Straight vertical plants? Sculptural ornamental trees? How will these shapes work with the structure of your home? Should they compliment it or contrast with it, or both? Mess around with it...
7) Take pictures of the elevations of your home and draw and collage right over them. Literally cut out pictures of trees, shrubs, sculptures, fountains, et. al. and play with placing them. Of course if you are photoshop saavy, it's a little less messy to do this on the computer screen, but if not, make it an art project on the kitchen table. I promise it's fun and it will give you a good idea of how things will look before you dig your first tree pit!
8) I know I say this over and over, but think about how you will use your outdoor space. Do you need shade or do you want full sun? Will you be eating outside? Are you lucky enough to be planning adding a pool and/or tennis court? Pick furniture you like before planning out patios and decks to see how much room you will need. Look at the house and lot in plan view to help you figure out the scale of elements like fire pits, pools, fountains, patios, decks, expanses of lawns, etc. Play with the geometry of the house in plan. You may want to repeat or reflect rectangles, squares and curves from the building (see the pool picture below to see what I am talking about). You may want to overlay a grid on top of the entire lot and work from that.
9) Now that you've done the hard part, it's time to think about a color palette and texture. Do you want to keep it limited or incorporate some bursts of color throughout the seasons? Remember that it's not just about flowers - there are leaves, bark, berries, and fall and winter colors to consider as well. Think about the color and materials on the house. Create a collage/inspiration board (this can be digital as well) of materials just like you would for a living room, but instead of fabric, carpet, and paint swatches, think of gravel, succulents, wood and concrete.
10) Finally, remember to keep an open mind. I've tried to amass a great variety of modern landscapes here so you can step out of the stark concrete patio with gravel yard mindset! The landscape architects and designers featured here have done a great job of looking at masters like Garrett Eckbo, Dan Kiley and Tommy Church, honoring precedents and updating to create designs that succeed in 2010.
Some other ideabooks with even more modern landscape inspirations are: