21st Century Nordic Landscapes

Recently, several clients have expressed an interest in Nordic design as an inspiration for garden projects. In order to create these gardens it is essential to understand the design principles of the region, the key characteristics and how these translate into 21st century Nordic garden design.

Having researched more widely, gardens can be designed around these elements; Modern, Light & Natural Materials, The origins of these three key points are explored further below:

1: Modern

The modern elements can be expressed in the overall plan, often consisting of angular shapes, inspired by the often minimal simplified architectural style; it can also refer to the use of contemporary materials, technology and lighting to ensure that the garden is as accessible and functional for today’s way of life. Forward-looking, innovative and minimal designs were spear-headed by early proponents of Nordic design, such as Alvar Aalto with the mid-twentieth century Paimio Sanatorium, which has come to capture the intersection of the Modern Movement with Nordic aesthetic sensibility.

Due to the region’s relative geographic isolation and scarcity of materials in the post-war years, designers had limited resources therefore the structure and fixings of a building or objects were left exposed and celebrated rather than being clad or concealed.

A rawness and honesty in design led to an aesthetic of parred back simplicity, a lightness of touch where any extraneous detail is omitted. In a relatively extreme climate, design has to perform, objects need to be robust and reliable and the focus is primarily on need or function, rather than decoration. The contemporary interior in the Nordic style demonstrates the raw materials, lack of decoration, light and connection to nature.

2: Light

This can refer to the celebration of the sun, spaces created to enjoy the dawn, midday sun and dusk. A garden which accommodates an outdoor lifestyle during the long summer days. Light can also refer to the style of planting, dappled light coming through Birch trees, seasonal meadows, spacious planting creating an airy open atmosphere. Light can also refer to the reflected light of water.

In a region which straddles the arctic circle light is precious, many months of darkness during the long winters followed by brief summers of midnight sun. The celebration of light is expressed in interiors that are preliminary painted white, maximising brightness, with light-reflective surfaces, seen in Architect Christian Norberg-Schulz´s house at Planetveien 14 and in these gardens with seasonal planting and dappled light.

After long winters spent indoors as much time is spent outside as possible when the summer arrives and weather allows. Gardens must accommodate the needs of this outdoor life, areas to cook, sit, play, areas to appreciate the season and all that it brings. A four bedroom home in Sweden, constructed in the mid-sixties, has horizontal lines, large expanses of glass and an open floor plan. The outdoor deck area is equivalent in size to the interior and is well-furnished to allow outdoor living in the summer.

A contemporary interpretation of Nordic deign principles, Hillside House, east of Stockholm, Sweden by WRB Architects. The landscape runs right up to the building, seasonal change is expressed in the deciduous trees and simple native ground flora. A terrace and steps are created in raw concrete, cast directly onto the bedrock, allowing access into and through the natural site.

3: Natural materials

Seen in a garden with natural rock, riven stone paving, raw concrete, un-treated timber, materials that develop a patina over time. Bringing raw textures into the home and garden enhance the feeling of being connected to nature and encourage an appreciation of nature forms.  In a region of relatively small populations, large land areas of untamed wildness, forests and fjords are found in abundance. A love of nature is expressed by the inclusion of raw materials in design. Timber, stone, fur & wool are included in a lightly processed form.

How can we express Nordic design in our gardens?

These 3 key principles have been used to inform the design of our clients’ gardens.


With reference to the building, straight paths, vistas, simple airy planting and structures, appropriate technology allowing the garden to flourish with minimal maintenance. Areas to accommodate an outdoor lifestyle, dining, lounging, play, cinema, growing produce.


Expressed with Birch trees and naturalistic seasonal meadow style plantings, creating an overall spacious feeling. Also referring to lighting to enhance the atmosphere of the garden and extend its use, festoon lighting over a hammock and hot tub, path lighting for key routes, feature lighting for specimen planting and sculptural elements.

Natural materials

Reflected in the specification of brushed concrete paving, clay pavers & gravel. Also seen in the specification of zinc cladding for fencing and cor-ten steel for edging and raised beds, all raw materials left to develop a patina over time.

The Nordic approach is well summarised by Swedish garden designer Annika Zetterman, she states in her recent book New Nordic Gardens;

The gardens that we create stay with us for decades…they should help us, our wildlife and our wider environment to thrive. They should be designed with dignity and worked on with modesty and maintained with persistence. This is how we think, how we work and this is what we are.”


Words by Dan Lobb

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