Hard landscaping is at the core of many gardens. We’re talking about all the big bits here like patios, pathways, walls and raised beds.

It’s these key features that form the very bones of the garden. They ultimately define where you’re going to sit, walk and plant so you want to get them right. You’ve more than likely got some hard landscaping in your garden already. If you do, and it fits where you’re going with your new design, then keep it – don’t feel like you need to start from scratch if you don’t want to. How much hard landscaping you decide really depends on how big a project you’re looking for. A simple decked patio at the end of the garden, or curved retaining walls with sunken seating areas and raised platforms, all possible ideas for your outdoor space.

There are plenty of beautiful and interesting materials to choose from that will look amazing in any garden – from sandstone, granite and slate, to steel, aluminium and glass, and hardwood, concrete and render. Instead of using too much of one material and risking making the space look a bit sterile, choose two, maybe three, contrasting materials to work with. The mixing hot and cold, light and dark and smooth and rough. A mix of cool steel with warm oiled wood, dark slate with a bright white rendered walls, or smooth granite with rusty weathering steel.

The natural blur of the lines between your home and garden draw your eye to areas around you. Choosing similar flooring materials or colours in the hard landscaping can help pull the two zones together into one seamless living space. Whatever materials used, it’s really about showing them off for their natural characteristics. The feeling of style and confidence is key in the garden, embrace each material for what it is and enjoy the effects you see.

Plants with strong silhouettes look great against architectural features and rendered walls. Trees with a tall vertical structure make great backdrops, and planting in neat lines adds to the geometric design of the garden. Because gardens are built so heavily on the hard landscaping, the planting needs to work all year round to keep the interest going, making evergreens like grasses a good choice.

The harder structure of the garden also means you can add softer, wilder-looking plants without things looking messy. So don’t be afraid to mix in a few flowering perennials in with your main structural plants. Try planting in drifts with just one or two plants repeating throughout the design for a unifying look.

Because of the sheer amount of hard landscaping and integrated features, lighting and water involved in a contemporary garden, planning couldn’t be more important. It’s probably most like the principles of more formal gardens, with neat, clipped plants, carefully chosen colour schemes, the use of bigger groupings of fewer plant types, planted in repeating patterns and regimented lines, and all contained within neat borders, raised beds and planters. It’s sharp and sophisticated with a less is more approach. Keep planting limited to key areas and be bold with your plant choices.

Architectural plants like palms, yuccas and phormiums help to define the style with crisp outlines. Use closely clipped box or yew in rows or blocks and spiky bearded irises in regimental lines for uniformity. Drifts of soft grasses like stipa add movement and elegant screens of bamboo add vertical lines and height.

Just like you’ve used contrasting materials, shapes and colours in the rest of the garden, do the same with your plants. Let tall pompoms of giant agapanthus sway above low-growing foliage, plant blocks of vibrant red-leaved heuchera next to neatly mown grass and break up softer grasses with the spiky form of phormium or agave.

Compensate for the use of fewer plants by positioning more eye-catching varieties in more prominent spots, like the corner of a bed or next to paving or decking. Trees with graphic shapes, such as Japanese maple, work well against smooth painted walls or screens. Use planting as a way to break up and define other elements in the garden like lawns, paving, decking and pools.