Concrete is an incredibly versatile construction material that can bring all kinds of surprising style to your garden design. Unfortunately, it has a bit of a bad reputation thanks to serious over-use in the post-war era and its association with polarising brutalist architecture. Today, I’m going to be making a case for why landscaping with concrete is a solid (sorry) design choice.
Landscaping with Concrete: Sturdy, Simple, Stylish
Before we get into my favourite concrete garden feature ideas, I’m going to tell you why you should be considering it in the first place.
- Concrete landscaping is durable. Early forms of concrete have been found in Mayan ruins, Egyptian and Roman building remains, and across ancient Greece. Do you want your gorgeous garden to outlive you? And your kids? And their kids for about six generations? Maybe even longer? Concrete.
- Concrete is inexpensive. I think one reason people avoid concrete is they’re worried they’ll mess it up and have wasted money. Well, a bag of concrete costs less than a tenner, so stop stressing.
- Concrete is versatile. There was a time when concrete was mostly associated with bland patios and weird, crinkly-textured driveways. As you’ll see in a second, concrete makes incredible walls, floors, seats, planters, tables, ornaments and SO MUCH MORE.
- Concrete is an incredible supporting actor. One area where concrete really excels? Providing a strong, crisp canvas for softer, more artistic garden elements like plants and wood – and literally supporting dramatic features like glass panels and metal structures.
- Concrete can really steal the show. Give it a spotlight, and concrete can be moulded into stunning shapes that give gravitas to a modern garden, or compelling contrast outside a period property. Don’t believe me? Read on…
Tips and Tricks for Landscaping with Concrete
Ready to begin landscaping with concrete? Before you roll up your sleeves, take a look at some of these ways you can introduce concrete to your garden without it being overwhelming or – even worse – boring. I’m going to take you through all kinds of ideas, including small, statement features, artistic designs and concrete for more practical purposes.
Small concrete garden features
Nervous about committing to a huge concrete project? Start with smaller concrete pieces and build up.
Concrete pots are going to be incredibly durable, and will look fantastic in industrial or minimalist gardens. If you want to make them a little bit more playful, give them a facelift with paint. Use tape to get the super-crisp lines you see on these pots, or paint freehand for a more homely vibe.
How about a simple concrete coffee table? This design from growsgreen.com is no-nonsense, but works so, so well with everything else in the space. The colour blends beautifully with the grave and sofa cushions, bringing the natural warmth of the wood into the limelight, alongside the black accent pieces. Of course, the wall in the background is also concrete! To steal some more design info, take a look at our DIY pallet furniture ideas and ways to create privacy in a garden.
These concrete candle holders are cute, right? Well they’re easy to make, too. Get a balloon. Smear it in Vaseline. Dunk it in concrete. Allow the layer to set. Repeat. Once you have a sturdy concrete shell, burst the balloon (the Vaseline should stop it from sticking) and patch up any cracks or holes with leftover concrete. You could also use them as an unusual planter or lawn ornament.
Here’s another good DIY project – “draped” concrete planters. These are done by actually soaking a piece of fabric (like a tea towel) into wet concrete, draping it over a bucket and letting it set. The result is this striking shape that appears to defy the laws of physics! Take a look at a more detailed explanation and fabric samples at madebybarb.com.
Using concrete as a canvas
As I’ve already mentioned, concrete is the perfect material for creating a backdrop to more exciting garden features. It’s strong enough to support other structures, and is plain enough to not interfere with your aesthetic, whatever that may be.
I love the framing of this garden swing chair. The glossy black frame looks really dramatic against the muted, matte background created by the concrete, and the texture of the gravel, plants and fence bring the whole thing to life. Concrete goes hand in hand with garden swing chair ideas.
Feeling artistic? Why not use a concrete wall as a literal canvas for a striking garden mural? We have a whole ton of garden mural ideas to inspire you.
You can upgrade a plain concrete patio with a spot of paint, too. Stencils or stamps will help you create something dramatic, like this beautiful patterned “rug” effect.
Landscaping with concrete floors
Worried about concrete flooring looking a little… uninspired? Take a look at these clever, creative ways to incorporate concrete flooring in your garden without it looking like a car park.
Try pairing wild spaces and deliberate concrete structure. For example, in this space, smooth, uniform circles of concrete contrast beautifully with the natural variation of the cut boulder. Side gardens are particularly difficult to design, and this one has essentially been transformed into a tiny, open-air art space.
For larger sections of concrete, try pouring several separate sections instead of one continuous piece – especially if you’re covering an irregularly-shaped area. The concrete patio in this London garden fits like a puzzle piece with the deck, flower beds and lawn. The plants growing in the sandy “grout” between each slab help to soften and integrate it.
The overlapping concrete discs in this space are really giving me Japanese garden vibes, even though they’re very whimsical and not traditional at all! Putting bigger circles at the bottom and smaller ones on top keeps the design open, and I like how the curves are mirrored in the shrubs and flower beds. As they slowly develop a patina, these slabs would start to look other-wordly – perfect for an enchanted garden, maybe?
Don’t forget that concrete can be tinted in all kinds of colours. Depending on the materials of your home, you might prefer a warmer shade than the classic grey you usually see. Or, perhaps you like the idea of using bright blue, red or green to express some creativity.
Textured stamps add a whole new avenue of versatility to concrete once it’s poured. Using a specially-designed board or roller, you can create the effect of wood, brick, paving stones, pebbles – or almost anything. Combine these tools with coloured concrete (or even clever painting), and you can create a durable, inexpensive alternative to the real thing.
Irregular concrete slabs can look amazing – see how they transform a perfectly ordinary space into a stunning formal garden? The seating looks lovely, but putting a fountain or sculpture right in the middle would be perfect for a traditional French-style garden.
Even regular concrete slabs can work to make a stunning garden if you use them creatively. In this gorgeous space, the evenly spaced slabs unite the rockery garden and lawn, leading to the tiny, Japanese-inspired zen garden at the end. Honestly, I think this is one of my favourite garden designs ever!
Statement garden features made from concrete
Concrete absolutely has the potential to make people step into your garden and go “WOW”. Here are some of the ways you can create some truly stunning garden landscaping with concrete features.
If you like to entertain, then a concrete outdoor kitchen is a way to dazzle your guests while also keeping it minimal. We only get so much good weather for cooking outside in the UK, so building your BBQ area using such a durable material means you won’t have to worry so much about the wind and rain.
Fire pits always make a great garden feature, because they look great, and they’re also a cosy, practical place to gather with friends and family in the evening. Concrete is ideal for a fire pit base, and will gradually transition from crisp and clean to smudged and sultry as it weathers.
Concrete garden furniture looks super stylish in a modern garden. Even something with a simple silhouette can make a stunning focal point – but you might need cushions! Although, I actually think the unusual paving slabs (with grass bursting through) are stealing the spotlight…
In-built structures are an elegant way to make the most of small or awkward garden spaces. This structural piece is a perfect example: the high back (and plants growing out the top) provide lots of privacy, while the floating bench and cupboard make a stylish statement. Bonus points for the sophisticated integrated lighting, too.
Finally, what’s more show-stopping than a big water feature? This impressive fountain demonstrates how, with a bit of weathering, rough-hewn concrete can look totally authentic in a traditional garden. This fountain, surrounded by neat hedges and foliage looks like it belongs in a beautiful, Italian-inspired space.
How Concrete Works
Are you starting to come around to the idea of landscaping with concrete? Here’s a bit more information on how you use it.
What is concrete?
In short, concrete is a blend of aggregate that gets bonded with a wet cement and then left to solidify. There are various kinds of concrete that use materials with different properties to suit different needs and environments.
How can I use concrete at home?
The easiest way to start landscaping with concrete is to buy ready-mix concrete from a hardware store. Ready-mix concrete just needs to be mixed with water, but you’ll need to prepare the area or container you intend to pour concrete in before you start mixing, and be ready to work quickly.
Working with concrete is time-sensitive, you’ll need to finish your project before the mix cures (hardens). If your first layer of concrete starts to set, it can form a horizontal “cold joint” between the next layer, which will weaken it.
If you’re going the DIY route, remember to wear proper protection (gloves, masks and goggles) at all times.
Is concrete bad for the environment?
This is a common worry, as it takes a lot of energy to make the cement contained in concrete, however this is offset by how durable and long-lasting concrete structures will be. Plus, the raw materials (sand and cement) that are used in concrete are typically sourced from close to the manufacturing site, which lowers its carbon footprint compared to importing stone from further away (especially from overseas).
Even if you change your mind about a concrete structure, there are ways to recycle it in a budget- and eco-friendly way. For example, old paving or walls can be crushed and used in gabion baskets, which can stack up to make lawn edging or trendy, industrial-style walls.