5 dramatic ways garden design has changed in four decades – according to the experts

The revolution in garden design has shaped our exterior spaces – these are the most significant changes

Changing garden design habits, large garden with a sunset
(Image credit: Garden by Acres Wild)

Trends come and go in a heartbeat, but how often do we stop to think about how our gardens have changed over time? These ever-evolving spaces have recently experienced mass transformations – from the rise of outdoor living to the fall of shrubs and built-in brick BBQs. Plus, after an extraordinary year of investing more time in our green spaces, many time-honored garden trends have never felt so unrecognizable. 

In the wake of the Society of Garden Designers' 40th anniversary, we caught up with the industry experts who revealed the five key ways that our exteriors have changed in the past four decades – and we're feeling completely nostalgic. 

  • See: Garden ideas – inspiration and ideas for outdoor spaces

1. The rise of outdoor kitchens 

Outdoor kitchen ideas

(Image credit: Subzero Wolf)

While outdoor kitchens may have seemed entirely extravagant only a short time ago, designers suggest it is just one of the increasingly popular elements of a recreational garden. 

'Long gone is the built-in brick BBQ, the terracotta urn placed on its side amongst pebbles dribbling water and the gazebo in the corner of the garden,' shares designer Robin Templar-Williams FSGD. 

Expert Sarah Eberle adds that the rise in outdoor kitchens is down to the warmer climate, which allows us to spend more time outside. 

'More elaborate entertainment areas have also become more and more popular tied in with people's dreams of a multi-functional garden,' adds James Scott. 'Outdoor seating areas have really caught people's imagination in recent years, with features like the firepit extending the use of the garden later into the evening and into the colder months.'

See: Outdoor kitchen ideas – create a food prep station in your backyard

2.  The revolution that is indoor/outdoor living  

Changing garden design habits

(Image credit: Little Greene)

We're currently enjoying a garden renaissance – and it's centered entirely around our interiors. Yes, the trend doesn't end with outdoor kitchens, as homeowners look to create a flow between their indoor and outdoor spaces – and bring their living spaces into their gardens. 

'When I began designing 30 years ago, people viewed their gardens simply as a place to be gardened. Over time, that perception has completely changed, with gardens increasingly being seen as an extension to the house and offering the opportunity to be styled in the same way you might style a room,' shares James Scott MSGD.    

Consequently, 'garden design has grown-up' according to Juliet Sargeant FSGD. Juliet says that gardens 'have become far more sophisticated and now incorporate a wonderful variety of materials, features, and plants that weren't even considered 20 years ago.'

See: Patio ideas – for living and dining outdoors, stylishly

3. The readiness to venture to the wild side 

Changing garden design habits

(Image credit: Garden by Wilson McWilliam Studio)

Following the New Perennial Movement of the late 20th Century, we are turning our focus to the preservation of wildlife and how to create a biodiverse space. Designer Andy Sturgeon notes the recent demand for 'wildflower meadows, new perennial planting, and grasses,' which are gaining popularity over traditional shrubs. 

'Grasses were a novelty when I started designing,' agrees Cleve West MSGD. 'Today, I can't imagine not using them.' 

Similarly, Andrew Wilson suggests that the concept of the ornamental meadow and the New Perennial Movement have all conspired to deliver a perennial-dominated planting palette that has replaced shrubs. 

4. Grander expectations from urban gardens 

Changing garden design habits

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Being a green-thumbed city resident is certainly not as hard as it once was. In recent years, we have taught ourselves how to make the most from a small space. 

James Scott has witnessed a pull towards more 'zoned areas' which fulfill the needs of a garden enthusiast in an urban space. 

Meanwhile, Jo Thompson MSGD has developed a multi-functional approach to her designs: 'A buttercup-filled meadow is a view; a seat is a piece of art, a rill is a wine cooler, a weeping birch is a shady picnic spot', she explains. 

See: Balcony garden ideas – ways to create a container garden in the smallest of spaces

5. The emphasis on locally sourced materials  

Changing garden design habits

(Image credit: Garden by Jo Thompson MSGD)

The importance of sustainability is reshaping our homes and garden habits as we look to lower our impact on the environment. According to Andy Sturgeon, one of the most significant changes we can make is switching to locally sourced materials – and we have a feeling that this (already big) trend is only going to get bigger.

With sustainability at the forefront of our minds now, high quality, environmentally-friendly products such as porcelain and composite decking have been game-changing,' begins Andrew Wilson.

See: Backyard landscaping ideas – how to create the perfect terrace, garden, or lawn for your home

'We use more indigenous stone than ever before [and] far less Chinese or Indian stone that needs shipping around the world,' James Scott adds. 

Here's to another four years of changing gardens – and a future of enjoying our exterior spaces in the most stylish and sustainable ways possible. 

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.