Small modern gardens in the city can feel crowded and oppressed by their surroundings.
Transforming such a space into an oasis of calm can feel hopeless and phoney at best—and even a little jarring in design. But the key is to captivate the senses.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the only way to shut out distractions is with a garden that's even more distracting.
Create an oasis with sand
Sand is an excellent alternative to paving for modern gardens in London. And it can be used in much the same way—whether as a focal point or to line the whole space.
The great thing about sand is that it contrasts almost entirely with an urban environment. It's soft, light, and malleable, and conjures happy memories of the beach.
It's hard not to feel relaxed around the sand. Adding a fire bowl or chiminea will transport you even further from the city, with its harsh, synthetic light. And a hammock will complete the look.
Pave your way to privacy
Paving isn't always a bad thing, though. It doesn't have to mean flat, angular lines. Flowing arc lines and clean, light stones can add a peaceful ambience to London modern gardens.
Again, the key is to make it alluring. Tiered planters and living walls can give the impression of depth in an otherwise tiny paved space. They can also add privacy to your garden. But choose plants for their aroma as well as their look. Creating a totally different headspace must involve a range of your senses. So think scents, sounds (e.g. wind chimes), and touch, in addition to visual appeal.
Deck the space with lots of texture
Wooden decking has a wonderfully tactile appeal. And the right choice of finish can make it a focal point on its own. Complement its natural texture with beautiful plants, and perhaps experiment with sand or grass to visually separate your space into zones.
Floor cushions are another way to add visual and tactile appeal to modern courtyard gardens. They're also a great alternative to garden furniture when the available space is so limited. Weather-resistant cushions can be cleared out of the way or placed as needed—for entertaining or spending time on your own.
Submerge your senses and drown out the world
Fountains, pools, ponds, cascades, waterfalls—you name it. There's nothing like the sound of running water for a truly tranquil space. Not only is the sound soothing in itself, but it also obscures and softens the sound of the world outside—be it neighbours, traffic, or planes flying overhead.
But it’s not all about shutting out the world. Some parts you’ll want to invite in. A water feature can attract birds on its own, but how about adding some bird feeders too? The appearance of birds, not to mention the sound of their song, will enrich your outdoor space. And you'll be doing London birds favour too.
Of course, water features can host other wildlife as well—from koi carp to frogs. And they can suit any courtyard theme. Classical, contemporary, natural, playful, exotic, and many other styles abound. Some don't even look like water features, but rather sculptures or art installations. Giant polished marbles, for instance, or stainless steel pipes look great in London courtyard gardens.
So, to answer the question 'can modern courtyard gardens in London ever be truly tranquil?', The answer is undoubted: Yes! But it's going to take a keen eye for holistic design.