Robert Downey Jr.'s picturesque garden is a masterclass in the 3 key outdoor trends that will be big news for 2024

Robert Downey Jr.'s outdoor space is a masterclass in using native planting, hardwearing landscaping and harmonious colors

Robert Downey Jr.
(Image credit: Getty Images / Jeff Kravitz / Contributor)

Oscar-winning actor Robert Downey Jr.'s home, designed by Nicolò Bini, is an aerodynamic, environmentally conscious masterpiece, and the drought-tolerant outdoor space is just as special as the inside. 

A serene, tranquil space, the actor's garden, designed by landscape designer, Ana Saavedra, is a masterclass in naturalistic design, crafted to chime beautifully with the surrounding landscape, and the qualities that make his home shine.

Outdoor spaces have always been seen as extensions of our homes, incorporating areas for relaxation, entertainment, and dining. However, a new aesthetic of naturalistic planting compositions with a simplicity of design inspired by the surrounding landscape is emerging – creating garden retreats that look and feel completely at home in their environment. 

As our connection with the natural world ever evolves and deepens, these three key garden trends highlight the importance of working with the environment, rather than against what nature intended.

1. Drought-tolerant planting

With the challenges of climate change, there is an increasing need to select resilient, drought-tolerant planting ideas suited to the soil, aspect, site and climatic conditions, which will also increase biodiversity. 

While we may be able to escape to the shade indoors, our plants cannot. Choosing flowers and shrubs carefully is imperative if you want to achieve a flourishing flower bed throughout summer. Located in California, it was imperative for Robert Downey Jr and Nicolo Bini to choose California native planting for this outdoor space. 

Planting flowers, trees and ornamental grasses that are native to California's arid climates, such as the flora of the infamous Death Valley in the Mojave Desert, gardeners can create borders, similar to Downey Jr., that are both aesthetically pleasing and that thrive in challenging environmental conditions.

'California is one of the most diverse states in the US in terms of climate and ecosystems,' says Jeanie Psomas, plant expert and owner of The Plant Lady: San Francisco. 

'For many gardeners and homeowners across California, our plants need to be able to tolerate a totally dry summer,' says Jeanie. Incorporating planting that is native to desert-like regions across California is, therefore, a sustainable and practical option, and will not only use minimal water but will also require less maintenance. 

'Succulents, including cacti, do extremely well in California,' Jeanie continues, and most people just plant them and then don't have to maintain them... they simply thrive.' In addition, 'yucca, euphoria and various ornamental kinds of grass are a common sight in people's back and front yards.'

2. Hardwearing deck

Over the years, deck usage has expanded, and it has become the go-to material for a contemporary patio or terrace. Materials have also come into their own. The early decks were made out of first-generation hardwoods, now it's hard-wearing composites and eco products made of recycled materials that are all the rage for backyards. We are also experimenting with stains and widths to give the wood a very contemporary feel.

At its best, a timber deck is a handsome, hard-wearing surface that complements most garden settings. It’s a natural material that provides a sympathetic background to plants, blending beautifully with water, stone and trees. Timber lends itself to different styles of architecture and design. A deck can be designed in a smart, contemporary look, as easily as in a more traditional style.

But decks don’t only look good: other advantages include being relatively lightweight in comparison to stone, quick and easy to install and forgiving. 

3. Calming color scheme

'For a front yard, we like to hold back on too much color for a more welcoming and sophisticated look,' comments Amy Hovis of Eden Garden Design. 'We love using the varied shades of greens and silvers with whites, and occasionally one color splash.'

This garden is a good example. It effortlessly combines verdant foliage, high-end deck ideas, pale hardscaping, and flashes of red flora to create a drought-tolerant scheme that has an alternative look to the traditional xeriscape aesthetic. 

The result is a low-maintenance front yard that's functional, calm, and elegant, too. 

Whilst you do not need to create a desert-like garden, incorporating particular plants that can survive hot, arid summers is a sensible and sustainable approach to replicating Robert Downey Jrs.' garden.

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In terms of US hardiness zones, California tends to fall into zones 7, 8, 9, and 10, with notable hot and dry summers and mild winters. The below plants are suitable for planting in much of California.

Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.