World's best gardens – 5 top designers' most inspiring spaces and how to mimic them

Looking for inspiration to update an outdoor space for the summer season? These extraordinary gardens from world-class designers are a great place to start

Courtyard garden with pergola
(Image credit: Nickolas Sargent Photography / Colette van den Thillart)

The world's best gardens needn't be huge expanses. They needn't be open to the public, nor filled with expert planting. What they do need to be, though, are dreamy spaces that you want to step into and spend time in. And, more importantly, they need to inspire you to want to recreate elements of them in your own backyard ideas.

These gardens below were created by some of the world's top designers, and each is featured in the 25th edition of global design brand Andrew Martin’s Interior Design Review (opens in new tab). They are the perfect inspiration you need for your outdoor remodel. We take a look at them in detail, and find out more about their designers' philosophies.

World's best gardens

From Baltimore to South Africa, the world's best gardens have something in common: whatever their location, size or style, they feature and focus on outdoor dining ideas and outdoor living room ideas

1. A Mexican courtyard that uses color to offset planting

courtyard garden

(Image credit: Michelle Nussbaumer- San Miguel / Douglas Friedman)

Restored to suit modern-day needs yet staying true to the Mexican-Spanish colonial architecture characteristic of San Miguel de Allende, interior designer Michelle Nussbaumer (opens in new tab)’s home in this Mexican city reflects her design sensibilities. 

Known for turning Old World inspiration into modern, soulful interiors, from private homes to boutique stores and luxury hotels, Michelle is also famed for her bold use of color and an eclectic yet classic mix of striking patterns and influences from around the globe. 

The Dallas-based creative who runs agency Ceylon et Cie (opens in new tab) employed custom-made furnishings, vintage artefacts, indigenous materials and vibrant textiles to bring her courtyard garden to life. She also used outdoor fireplace ideas to the full to create a strong focal point for her outdoor dining space. Her use of neatly clipped topiary in containers is pleasing against the pink-terracotta garden walls, and contrasts cleverly with the more informal planting elsewhere.

Current projects include a family compound in Laguna Beach, CA, a beach villa estate in Cabo, San Lucas, and hacienda in West Texas. Recent work includes Slocum Warehouse in Dallas, San Miguel, Michelle’s own home in Mexico, and the Dallas Goop pop-up for Gwyneth Paltrow.

Design philosophy: passionate about setting the stage for adventurous lives.

2. A pink painted dining niche with exotic looks

Courtyard garden

(Image credit: Maximon)

Stepping off the street in Baltimore and through the massive entry into Maximon (opens in new tab), guests are immediately transported to South America and enveloped in the sounds, spirits, smells and architecture of another world with this design from Patrick Sutton (opens in new tab).

And though in a restaurant, the clever use of shape in the architecture and color on the walls demonstrates beautifully how you can create a private, shaded space for lounging and dining in even small backyards.

A leader in the luxury interior design industry, Patrick opened the practice in Baltimore in 1994. His work has been widely published, with his project Sagamore Pendry (opens in new tab) named the #1 Hotel in America by Conde Nast Traveler’s 2018 Readers' Choice Awards. 

His current work includes a new 15,000 sq. ft. oceanfront shingle style home in Rehoboth, DE, a contemporary house renovation and addition for a design centric owner in Washington, DC, and an anchor restaurant interior for a new mixed use development project in Houston, TX. 

Recent projects include Maximon (above), Chop tank seafood restaurant in the historic Broadway Market in Fells Point Maryland, and a private 25,000 sq. ft. residence in Potomac, Maryland.

Design philosophy: to tell the story of our clients’ hopes, dreams and aspirations.

3. A serene space that prioritizes the view

Garden overlooking lake

(Image credit: Steve Leung)

Defined by fluent lines, soothing colors and the generous use of wood, this understated two-storey villa in Haitang Bay, China, by Steve Leung crafts a truly holistic space that reconnects souls with the timeless beauty of nature, exuding a refined sensibility interpreted through modern design techniques and subtle Oriental touches.

The takeaway? The lounge furniture is low-slung meaning that, from inside, the view beyond over the pool and into the distance remains uninterrupted. Meanwhile, the position of the trees is purposeful for both providing shade and privacy, but also to cleverly frame the view, whether yours is as beautiful as this or not.

The Steve Leung Design Group (opens in new tab), based in Hong Kong, is one of the largest interior design practices in Asia, and the first ever to be listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. It provides high end architectural, interior and product design in over 100 cities worldwide. 

Current projects include luxury serviced apartments and hotel rooms for Address Harbour Point in Dubai Creek, an upscale Chinese restaurant for the Mandarin Oriental in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and eco-friendly residences for a Smart and Sustainable Eco-city in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. 

Recent works include McDonald’s CUBE flagship restaurants in Chengdu and Shenzhen, SLD+, SLD’s Corporate Culture Centre in Shanghai, and The Londoner Hotel & The St. Regis Bar in Macao SAR, China.

Design philosophy: design without limits.

4. An outdoor living space with high design ideals

Courtyard garden with pergola

(Image credit: Nickolas Sargent Photography / Colette van den Thillart)

It's become more noticeable this year than ever that designers are creating outdoor living spaces that are worthy of being indoors, with outdoor furniture to match the aesthetic.

Here, Colette van den Thillart has given a masterclass in how to do this, with a classic living room set up transported to a backyard. The level of detailing is incredible, and the beauty of it is that it's all shaded beneath a majestic pergola.

Colette van den Thillart Interior Design (opens in new tab) is based in Toronto, Canada. Current projects include a residence in Rome, private residences in Toronto, an ocean front condo in Miami and a Mid Century modern heritage refurbishment. 

Recent work includes a number of apartments, family homes and an executive office in Toronto, as well as residences in the UK, New York, and Los Angeles.

Design philosophy: Uplifting and experiential.

5. A roof terrace with star-gazing as focus

Pergola on roof terrace overlooking the sea

(Image credit: Maira Koutsoudakis)

If you are looking for roof garden ideas that focus on the view, take inspiration from this space by Maira Koutsoudakis.

Maira runs LIFE Interiors (opens in new tab) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Specializing in exclusive, sustainable design in 20 countries for over 20 years, current work includes listed finca homes, an eco retreat and art galleries in Segera and Arijiju in Kenya; the restoration of a six story Bauhaus heritage home in Tel Aviv; a contemporary penthouse in Lagos and a sprawling villa in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. 

Recent work includes Islas Secas, an eco retreat peninsula of 14 private islands in Panama; North Island, a private development in the Seychelles; a cluster of luxury Greek island homes in Serifos; three desert oases in Namibia, and two eco camps in the jungles of the Congo.

Design philosophy: afficionados of contemporary organic chic.

Where is the world's best garden?

The space that takes the title of world's best garden is very much up for debate, though the flower garden of Keukenhoff in Lisse, Western Netherlands, is often voted the world's best garden because it is home to more then seven million flowers from March to May, and attracts visitors from all over the world.

Lucy Searle
Lucy Searle

Lucy Searle has written about interiors, property and gardens since 1990, working her way around the interiors departments of women's magazines before switching to interiors-only titles in the mid-nineties. She was Associate Editor on Ideal Home, and Launch Editor of 4Homes magazine, before moving into digital in 2007, launching Channel 4's flagship website, Channel4.com/4homes. In 2018, Lucy took on the role of Global Editor in Chief for Realhomes.com, taking the site from a small magazine add-on to a global success. She was asked to repeat that success at Homes & Gardens, where she has also taken on the editorship of the magazine.