9 Ideas for a Sleek Urban Garden

Is it a garden if there aren’t many plants? Yes. Turn a plot into a minimalist escape that’s perfect for city living

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Urban calm

Design: Beth Mullins, Growsgreen Landscape Design; growsgreen.com

With planting space limited to containers and wooden planters, it’s easy to imagine this inviting outdoor living room as a city rooftop garden or modern backyard.

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Play with texture

“My obsession is contrasting different textures,” Mullins says. She blanketed the ground in crushed oyster shells for a bit of shine. That played off the rustic wood of the bench and planters, which in turn sets off the smooth concrete tabletop. The interplay of textures “emphasizes what’s unique about each of them,” Mullins says.

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Create mini-rooms

Use furniture to carve up space outdoors. Although the garden has a small footprint, Mullins packed it with multiple destinations: a table for eating alfresco, an oversize L-shaped bench for lounging, and a fire feature, left, with a heated bench for chilly nights.

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Plant strategically

Mullins wanted to put something green overhead. It’s minimal—just two potted Swan Hill olive trees—but bringing the canopy closer to the scale of a human makes an urban space friendlier. Mullins created geometric containers for two Swan Hill olive trees by screwing together 10 slatted triangles and painting them for an ombré effect. The ombre paint job softens the lines of the geometric planters.

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Amp up the cozy

A modular outdoor fireplace alongside a heated bench encourages guests to linger outdoors after the sun sets. Urban campfire: Modfire; Heated "Love" bench: Galanter and Jones.

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Protect privacy

Pay attention to backgrounds. Mullins put a planter in the backside of the bench and filled it with Pittosporum tenuifolium, both to be a soft shield for anyone who sits there—and to add silver sheen to the space.

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Entertain away

An oversize L-shape bench made from recycled wood creates a perfect seating area for hosting or lounging. Slate-grey cushions and graphic pillows coordinate with the hand-poured concrete table.

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Harmonize the palette

Dudleya succulents pick up on the silver and gray colors in the furnishings.

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Highlight containers

Glazed ceramic containers filled with a pale green agave (Agave attenuata) and trailing silver dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’) pop against a dark painted wood background, and the cool blue hues are soothing to the eye.
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Celebrate functional style

Stacked wood (for use in the firepit) becomes quiet art.