Contemporary Plants Selection: Top 5 Plants for a Contemporary Backyard

southern california home with contemporary plants
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The Green Scene

Landscaping & Swimming Pools

When you think of contemporary design, you may think of clean lines, an unrestricted flow, and a minimalist feel. But can contemporary concepts apply to plants and landscaping? Absolutely! There are so many plants out that offer a unique look that complements many contemporary designs, but here are our top five picks.

Top 5 Contemporary Plants

1. Palms

Palms are a must in your contemporary backyard in Southern California. Along with pairing perfectly with the climate, palms offer both beauty and functionality. The way they sway in the breeze provides a laid-back aesthetic and their large, green fronds offer necessary shade from the hot California sun. 

You can buy young potted palm trees from your local nursery. Once planted, you may have to water often in the first few months to help establish its roots. However, make sure you have well-draining soil, as palms could develop root rot and die if they become waterlogged. 

When they are established, palms grow fairly quickly – usually over a foot a year.

2. Agave

southern california home with agave for contemporary landscaping

Agave is a very large type of succulent with a smooth, gray-green color and large leaves with pointed tips. They grow in a rosette shape and, depending on the type you get, can reach up to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide. They also flower and if your agave is large enough, the flower stem can actually tower over you! Pretty impressive.

While agave syrup is associated with tequila and mezcal-making, only certain varieties are used in the process. Not all agave types are edible, so it’s best to keep them as contemporary ornamental plants and out of your bartender’s garden. Leave agave harvesting and tequila/mezcal distilling to the expert jimadors and mezcaleros.

3. Small Succulents

Succulents come in various diverse, distinctive shapes and colors that pair well with the clean lines of contemporary design. They also have the added perk of being low-maintenance and drought resistant, so along with being easy on the eyes, they are easy to care for.

A collection of succulents can be arranged in limitless ways and make for striking, colorful planters. Place them along your front walkway to boost curb appeal or as part of unique water features for your pool, like in the Green Scene Project, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

contemporary plants in a cast concrete plants by water feature in front yard
A contemporary cast concrete planters bursting with a variety of succulent plants paired with a unique waterfall feature boosts some major curb appeal in this front yard.

4. Pencil Cactus

Despite the name, pencil cactus is not actually a cactus variety, so you don’t have to worry about all those prickly spines. They are a part of the euphorbia plant family (also known as the spurge family) and are more akin to succulents and even poinsettias. 

They grow in sporadic bunches of tall, skinny green and sometimes red stems, creating a unique-looking architecture of a plant. So they have kind of a cool, funky vibe that is a great addition to any contemporary front and backyard.

5. Common Rush

Common rush (also known as soft rush) is a type of perennial flowering grass. It grows in large clumps of tall, thin blades and is great for adding more green and fullness to your backyard landscaping. They remain green during the times of the year when California turns brown, which is typically in the summer from June through August.

It provides a nice balance between being drought-resistant once established, yet also thrives in marsh-like environments. So it’s actually a great landscaping plant for around contemporary pools and koi fish ponds.


For more ideas on how to compliment your contemporary-style backyard with plants, check out some of our past Green Scene projects or subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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