What is a Modern Rustic Garden?

Updated: Jul 18

modern rustic garden

modern rustic Japanese garden

I have found that by adding modern and rustic elements into the garden we can balance a natural lifestyle with our busy modern world. Contemporary gardens seem too cold and rustic gardens are a little too unorganized and rough. This style combines the best of both garden styles.

So, what is a modern rustic garden? A modern rustic garden brings together the best of two worlds; a contemporary and creative garden with a natural and rustic aesthetic. It aims to connect the home and our indoor-outdoor lifestyles and also create a space that is both calming and exciting at the same time.

A modern rustic garden can mean different things to different people. I draw from my experience in Japan and having seen how they have mastered the art of blending contemporary and rustic gardens. There should be a goal of harmonizing these two polar concepts, but everyone is working with their own garden space and hence the ratio will be different.


For example, if you are living in an urban place with a very limited amount of space you may lean toward adding more rustic elements into your concrete space to try to bring more nature to the scene. Oppositely, you may have a house in the woods or overlooking a roaming farmland and you may wish to bring a more contemporary style to your rustic landscape. In either situation a goal of contemporary warmth is what you should be aiming for.

For the rest of the article I would like to take a look at a few main garden and landscape elements that will help us better understand what type of modern rustic garden is best for our situation. Garden styles change over time and they best serve the needs of our current lifestyle. Borrowing techniques from the past and implementing them into our modern lifestyle is a great way to create the best space for us.

· Define the Space

It should be clearly defined where the garden space begins and ends. A stucco wall or fence may provide the barrier needed for the garden. However, and evergreen backdrop may be a more natural definer of space.

If you are able to use the background as a borrowed view then definitely you should incorporate that into your garden space. Even if you have a forest or mountain view, there should be some type of buffer between the garden space and the wilderness. You want to highlight the creative side to a garden and it’s balance with nature, but you don’t want it to get lost in the scene or overpowered by the distant or surrounding landscape.

· Hardscaping

Another great way of defining the garden space is to start with the ground. There are many types of hardscaping that can easily define the garden space. A concrete, stone, or tile could give you a clean and contemporary look that would contrast nicely in a more rural atmosphere. A low wooden deck could provide a softness that a city space would need to feel more comfortable.

If you have enough space, breaking up the solid pattern of concrete, wood, flagstone pavers etc. with natural planting here and there is a great way to start blurring the lines of modern and natural. Your plants can also be the perfect Segway from your garden to its surroundings.

Modern Japanese Pruning

Modern Japanese Pruning

· Modern Rustic Pruning

This is an area that can really make your garden come alive and separate itself from others. There are two older older garden traditions of pruning that we should look to for guidance; Japanese garden pruning techniques (niwaki), and English pruning and topiary. These to countries have developed a high level of skill in controlling and maintaining trees and garden shrubs. Highlighting a very well pruned tree or thinned out branches and leaves or pine needles shows the viewer that this is a work of art that was created with intention. Intention needs to be present in a modern rustic garden.


Now you nestle a tightly pruned dome shape boxwood next to a naturally rougher ornamental grass and striking difference can be beautiful. A sculpted Japanese maple in front of a bushy evergreen backdrop can also be a wonderful contrast of human beings and nature.

Rustic Garden Art

Rustic Garden Art

· Garden Art

Adding in a focal piece of garden art could bring a nice balance to your landscape. A highly original, odd shaped, handmade steel object could bring some creative modernity to a rustic scene. Oppositely, a more rustic item like something made from reclaimed barn wood or an old farm tool could soften a more contemporary garden.

· Creating Visual Lines

Rustic spaces can benefit from straight lines. A stucco wall or wooden low retaining walls add an automatic clean and intentional space divider. This can be great for controlling a large space with a wooded backdrop and showing depth. It also creates a comforting feeling of closeness to the home and a separation from the wild.

On the other hand, modern spaces can benefit from curves or winding paths. A curved path breaks up the hardness of a contemporary landscape and can also symbolize a winding stream.

Curves and paths in the garden

· Modern Rustic Garden Lighting

There are a few different types of lighting features in a garden. One is practical and should light up and area for safety or guidance, like along a pathway. Sometimes low knee-high lights will be perfect for keeping the pathway lit.

Another type of lighting is exterior landscape lighting that highlights the surrounding area or a specimen tree. If you have a deeper surrounding woods then having the light lower and aiming it upwards can highlight specific trees here and there, instead of large floodlights that drown the whole area in light. Remember the shadows are just s important as the light and having the light here and there will create depth and more atmosphere.

Modern garden designs are meant to be a part of the home and an extended indoor-outdoor space. With that in mind you need to plan on being able to use the space in the evening as well so you have to plan the lighting. If you are going to a patio furniture with garden tables and possibly even a bar or modern outdoor brick oven, then you need to make sure the area is properly lit to increase the comfort. Too bright is off putting but well lit creates a sense of security.

Check out this article if you’d like to see some interior modern rustic lighting ideas: Back to Basics in Modern Rustic Lighting

· Water elements

A major part of nature is its inclusion of water. This could be displayed in a few different ways in a modern rustic garden. You could go a traditional route and have a small pond, maybe a koi pond, but this will definitely require more maintenance. More likely than not you can have some type of water feature, whether it be a modern concrete waterfall contrasting with a rougher surrounding or a small waterfall with stones and boulders.

I have used a large handmade artistic ceramic bowl and sometimes made sure a few of the seasonal leaves were floating at the tope. This is going to be the least amount of effort and probably the least maintenance, other than bringing it inside for the winter if your area has freezing temperatures. A stone or granite bowl would also work well for a year round look.

Related Question

What Type of Home Works Well With a Modern Rustic Garden?

If you are drawn to a modern rustic garden style then you should make some effort to have your home flow seamlessly with the garden. A contemporary garden is an extension of the home therefore you should have a modern rustic feeling inside as well. A modern farmhouse could very easily pull this off as well as a mid-century modern type of home. One important concept is to want to have nature be a part of your everyday life. So large windows, glass walls, or sliding doors should be very prominent. With more large picture box windows or floor to ceiling windows on the first floor the more you will be able to appreciate your garden space year round.

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