Garden trends in 2023: Xeriscaping, reusing and outdoor living
Top garden designers offer their predictions for the gardening trends of 2023
In gardening, as in many areas of our lives, a new year calls for a fresh perspective, so we asked eight leading designers to share their thoughts on the challenges and trends in garden design for 2023. Climate change and sustainability continue to dominate the conversation, with a focus on resilient planting, natural and recycled materials and minimal human impact. It’s time to view our gardens as part of a wider ecosystem.
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Garden design trends for 2023
With excessive heat and subsequent drought in the summer, along with more frequent storms and an increase in unpredictable weather events, resilient garden design has become really important. We need to be designing gardens that can tolerate current conditions but are also adaptable and able to deal with the climate of the future, which could be significantly different in a matter of years – London, for example, is predicted to be more like Barcelona by 2050. The RHS has banned the use of the word ‘pest’, encouraging gardeners to value all forms of life in the garden, and to see our gardens as part of a wider ecosystem and landscape.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is often a good way to measure trends in garden design, and many gardens at this year’s show will focus on wildlife, sustainability and human impact, including a garden I am designing for the Royal Entomological Society. The garden aims to show visitors how important all insects are, not just the popular and well-known bees and butterflies, but other less beloved and publicised species too.
We, as gardeners, are important to insects’ survival through the choices we make, from sensitive hard landscaping and habitat provision to planting for
food and shelter, and a more gentle and relaxed approach to aftercare and maintenance.
The theme of gardens as a vehicle for us to reconnect with nature and in turn support wildlife and heal the environment will continue into 2023. A long, hot, dry summer last year was tangible evidence for many gardeners that changes are afoot, and we need to adapt our approach to how we make and look after gardens.
This year will see a focus on how a more sustainable garden is something positive that can enrich our lives. I envisage an approach to sustainability that sees gardens as joyful spaces where people, plants and wildlife can be mutually beneficial to each other. A good example of this is the growth in natural swimming ponds; fun for people and great watery habitats for wildlife too.
Choice of materials will again have a sustainable focus, with particular interest in reusing materials such as crushed concrete as a growing medium and mulch, as seen in the Walled Garden at Knepp Castle. Expect to see an even looser, lighter approach to hard landscaping with the odd pile of building rubble left in the garden, like the remnants of a ruin, to provide habitat for bugs, while also freeing people to loosen up a bit when it comes to garden style and maintenance.
Finally, plant choice will become more about reliability than conforming to a stereotype of natural aesthetic. Important factors will be drought tolerance, successful planting communities and year-round colour and interest that makes us smile and is also beneficial to pollinating insects and wildlife.
I think the next few years are going to be very ‘hands on’ in design, with people doing it for themselves much more. We are planning lots of cutting and vegetable gardens, chicken coops and small paddocks. There will be far less formality; people want to feel closer to self-sufficiency. We are all conscious of our dislocation from our food sources, and people want to change that. Insecurity around the world is encouraging us to hunker down, enjoy what we have and make the most of simple pleasures: fire pits, ghillie kettles, camping out; wild swimming and being in the fresh air; keeping bees and supporting the fragile chains of the natural order of things; caring for precious resources, such as water; and generally being much cannier.
Shifts in colour
I’m seeing in clients an ever-increasing willingness to consider more soft, as opposed to hard, landscaping: planting areas coming up to the house with a sensible amount of terrace space for dining, and very much moving away from the notion of sweeping terraces across the back of the house simply for the sake of it. This is right across the board, from small gardens through to larger plots; the idea of gleaming, paved ostentation is firmly out of the window.
My planting style has always been natural and romantic, and I’m delighted to see that this is now considered mainstream. The key to the visual success of this approach is an informed use of colour. I’m currently working on a lot of plant-driven landscapes, where the shifts of colour are key to the success of the planting: seasonal changes from flowering bulbs through shrub roses and then hydrangeas to autumn foliage colour, with a focus on atmospheres created through careful plant choices.
While social media will always have its place, the search for the perfect picture can sometimes undermine the confidence of beginners, and so I’m delighted when I come across accounts and newsletters whose content is more authentic. My own The Gardening Mind, available on Substack, is intended as an honest and open conversation, something that more and more people are relieved to find.
Gardens with a conscience
In recent years, many people have been reawakened to nature and the value of their outdoor space, and are willing to invest not only in a beautiful garden, but in one with a conscience. Creating biodiverse habitats for wildlife, gardening using organic principles and sympathetic techniques, planting the right plant
in the right place to cut down or eliminate watering altogether, and using local and natural materials that have a reduced-carbon footprint and can be easily recycled/repurposed at the end of their life, are all increasingly important. My naturalistic gardens use an exciting mix of native and exotic plants that prolong the season of interest, while allowing self-seeded wildflowers in spaces between plants, encouraging spontaneity and reducing the need for weeding. I often include perennial wildflower meadows in gardens, which support huge amounts of life, subtly change over time and only need to be cut once a year.
After last year’s summer of heatwaves and hosepipe bans, and swathes of park trees losing their leaves, this year’s gardens will trend towards xeriscaping, focusing on drought-tolerant planting. Be it through necessity or choice, 2023 and beyond will see us adapting to new weather patterns, creating gardens that
are low maintenance and drought resistant.
As a design studio, we champion this sustainable ethos, choosing plants that can adapt both to summer droughts and the UK’s winter wet. We measure our schemes for their resilience and longevity, ensuring they delight our clients while being positive for the planet. It’s time to prepare for the future and embrace an increasingly available palette of plants drawn from warmer climates. Gone should be the days spent intensively watering or irrigating our borders; instead, bring on low-input gardens that give us the time to sit back and enjoy our outdoor spaces.
Clients increasingly want to make informed, sustainable choices, so we find ourselves steering them away from artificial grass due to its detrimental impact on the environment. There is greater empathy towards recycling, with a trend for existing hard-landscape materials to be reused in a design or crushed to form a sub-base for foundations. Educating our clients about permeability helps both us and them to make better material and installation choices. In our designs, we also aim for a ratio of 60 per cent planting to 40 per cent hard landscaping. More and more clients are requesting a more natural, less manicured garden with an emphasis on planting and habitat for wildlife. Rising costs are also leading to an increased trend towards growing edibles, ornamentals
and edimentals together rather than having separate kitchen gardens. The top request is for colour, with clients being more adventurous in their choices, not just in terms of floral colours, but through garden tiles, furnishings and paints.
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