Landscape without plants: 12 stylish solutions for plant-free spaces

Explore your options to landscape without plants for minimum upkeep but maximum design appeal

pool with paved deck, gazebo and sofa
(Image credit: Go Modern)

Finding out how to landscape without plants is ideal if you don't want lots of high maintenance greenery in your yard. You can choose from a range of other ways to make your space look so great that no one will even notice you've gone plant-lite.

There are so many other things you can focus on instead of plants, like a contemporary patio, decorative hard landscaping materials, tranquil water features, interesting sculptures and transformative night-time lighting. Choose just one or a combination of several ideas to makeover your outdoor space without the focus being all about the greenery.

Pare things back for a contemporary feel and always include an eye-catching focal point, which can be anything from a piece of modern garden art to a really cool pool. Just don't be tempted to over compensate with your landscaping ideas or you could end up with a busy, cluttered look. And if you prefer a minimalist modern aesthetic, be sure to include elements that soften the look so it's not too harsh.

Our round-up of expert ideas will show you how to landscape without plants and will soon get you on the right track.

12 inspirational ways to landscape without plants

We're not recommending you cut out plants completely (of course!) but there's so much more you can do with your garden if you step back from the plants and switch your focus to everything else that you can achieve instead. It's one of the key landscape design principles it's good to know about before you start planning.

'It doesn’t always have to be about greenery and flourishing plants,' says King Living (opens in new tab) designer Alinta Lim. 'Think about layout, use of color or materials and accessory placement, whether that's a feature cactus in a statement pot, a cluster of ceramic and concrete vases to adorn the table, or perhaps a selection of colored or textured outdoor cushions and baskets scattered on both floor and seating surfaces. This will help inject a sense of lived-in style and complete the look.' 

1. Make furniture the focal point rather than plants

modern paved patio with sofa, chairs and table

Quay (opens in new tab) outdoor sofa and chairs, and Monument (opens in new tab) square coffee table, both by King Living

(Image credit: King Living)

An outdoor space without plants can be just as stunning, especially if you choose the right patio furniture ideas and accessories. 'Sleekly designed furniture really does speak for itself when you're looking to fill your outdoor space,' says Alinta Lim. 'If you have pared-back, minimalist designed pieces, a smart configuration styled with a few key accessories can be all you need to create an enviable space.'  

Your outdoor area should ultimately be an extension of the indoors, but also an oasis away from the frenzied pace of life. 'One way to achieve this is to create harmony with your interiors by defining a color palette and theme for your outdoor dining or lounge space that matches elements of your existing décor inside,' explains Alinta. 'Using matching tones will help to create visual coherence.'  

2. Keep things streamlined and minimal

modern patio with table and sofa

Go linear with simple furniture shapes that will shine in a plant-free setting

(Image credit: Jan Baldwin/Future)

Every garden needs a comfortable place to sit for a restful interlude, and outdoor seating ideas become even more important when you've decided to cut down on planting. Choose elegant seats that are low level, modern in design, and made of natural wood with deep cushions to introduce a luxe edge. 

Colors are best taken from a simple tonal palette that’s chosen from nature. It’s another way of introducing textures into the fabric of the garden in the absence of plants. Neat rectangles of lawn, hedging and other ways of landscaping with evergreens such as smart pleached trees works well as part of a simple garden design that gives you an all-important daily dose of soothing green without your scheme being all about the plants. 

3. Go plant free in small spaces

wooden deck with pebble inserts, rill and tree

This rooftop garden in Clerkenwell, London doesn't have a lot of planting going on but is super chic with its small water rill

(Image credit: Suzie Gibbons/Getty Images)

If you have a rooftop garden or are looking for space-saving balcony ideas, going plant free is often a practical choice as it means you're not having to carry stuff up stairs. The focus switches to the hardscaping materials. It's a good idea to mix things up and use contrasting textures such as smooth decking and chunky pebbles to add interest to your low maintenance landscaping.

If you have the space, choose a multi-stem statement tree like this willow (Salix tortuosa) that punches above its weight in terms of adding architectural and seasonal interest with its shimmering leaves that cast reflections in the adjacent water rill. It shows how some simple landscaping around trees can work however small your space, and don't forget you can even introduce one of the best trees to grow in pots to enhance your outdoor area.

4. Choose an eye-catching focal point in your landscaping

outdoor fireplace on patio with chairs and table

This sleek outdoor fireplace and gazebo combo takes plant-free landscaping to a new high

(Image credit: Davide Lovati/Future)

A key element to consider if you're going to landscape without plants is adding an eye-catching structure to your outdoor space as an alternative. Even better if it introduces a focal point to gather around too.

Outdoor fireplace ideas are a great way to add warmth and glow to your deck or patio for instant atmosphere if you’re entertaining at night. An integral fireplace with an enclosed chimney keeps everything neat, especially if it includes integral log storage as part of the design too.

This set-up also showcases how a sleek patio cover can add to the eye-catching design so you don't notice the lack of plants. A stylish arrangement of sofas around a low table takes an interior design look outside to create that all-important garden living room moment for you to enjoy.

5. Mix materials to keep hardscaping interesting

gravel inset with side edging and pavers

You might have in mind rectangular slabs for a path or paved area but playing with different textures, colors and patterns is so much more interesting. Scalloped edging (opens in new tab) by B&Q

(Image credit: B&Q)

In urban landscape design smooth, hard surfaces tend to dominate. But garden designers often use the trick of introducing a contrasting material to their garden edging ideas to maximize texture and interest. 

This decorative scalloped edging and inset gravel that's continued in the adjoining borders adds an interesting contrast to the smooth regularity of the rest of the materials used in the hard landscaping design. This way of landscaping with gravel is a low maintenance solution that will suit most spaces.

If you’re opting for a more modern or formal design, an interesting border makes a sleek, smart statement. Alternatively, use edging to add a rustic feel that will complement natural finishes and earthy tones. Both will work as part of the mix for your paving ideas

6. Opt for a color palette as you would for planting

cobbled wall with table, chairs and umbrella

Ferm Living summer collection, available at nest.co.uk (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: nest.co.uk)

When it comes to accessorising your look choose harmonious colors in the same way you would choose flower shades that work well together when you're planting. Opt for neutrals as it's easy to pull together a look, as well as being on trend.

'This season, we’re enjoying seeing the emergence of muted, natural tones in outdoor furniture and accessories,' says Ashlee Pendleton of Nest (opens in new tab).

Something that has been popular in interiors for a number of years, layering up neutral tones and natural textures helps to create a calm and inviting space, whether indoors or out. 'Natural textures such as wood or rattan have also been scientifically proven to help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies,' explains Ashlee, 'bringing an extra boost of calm to our outdoor spaces.'

7. Swap plants for paint to introduce bold color

courtyard garden with table and chairs and painted wall

This courtyard garden is transformed by the on-trend blue-gray paint shade on the wall

(Image credit: Marshalls)

Adding a color pop by painting a wall in a bold shade and using a bright accent color for accessories also adds a sense of personality to a garden to replace the color that is normally provided by flowers. Carefully chosen accessories are everything when it comes to making a garden interesting, and a plant-free space is no exception.

8. Introduce a modern water feature

water feature with stepping stone path

A cool and contemporary take on a water feature

(Image credit: Martin Barraud/Getty Images)

Always make space for water feature ideas as part of your plans to landscape without plants. It's a great way to break up hardscaping as well as introduce decorative details. 

'Water features are living, moving artworks that contribute sound, movement and beauty to your outdoor space,' says Anna Hampshire from Marshalls (opens in new tab). 'You could also try adding sculptures instead of plants, but avoid clutter as it can quickly become too much.'

Another way to transform your outdoor space without plants is to add subtle changes of level such as introducing a raised deck or steps around a water feature. 'From fairy-tale stepping stones to a traditional cobblestone path, whichever you choose, sticking to your space’s overall aesthetic will help create a coherent look and feel,' suggests Anna.

Rowen Cripps from Infinite Paving (opens in new tab) agrees. 'When it comes to landscaping without plants, you want it to look and feel as natural as possible. Stepping stone ideas are a great way to create a sense of charm and cohesion in your garden, and they also work at linking two areas together such as your patio and a pond.'

9. Use decorative screens with plant motifs

night time garden with pool, screen and lanterns

These Decor Corten Steel Trellis panels (opens in new tab) with plant motif design from Stark & Greensmith are inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century

(Image credit: Stark & Greensmith)

Eye-catching decorative screens can be used to landscape without plants, and some even come with pretty plant motif designs too which makes up for the absence of planting. 

'A great addition to any outdoor space, garden screening can be used to add height, additional space, and extra privacy in small urban gardens,' says Martine Le Gassick, creative director at Stark & Greensmith (opens in new tab). 'Screening can also make different areas of the yard distinct and visually appealing, offering a variety of designs across your garden via a mix of materials and decorations.'

They can also be used purely to enhance your garden wall, adding another decorative element to your space instead of plants.

10. Go for an interesting mix of colors and materials

modern green bench on coloured gravel

Defined by its striking linear design, the Palisade outdoor bench (opens in new tab) in Olive slots effortlessly into an urban setting

(Image credit: nest.co.uk)

Whether its the sleek lines of a powder-coated steel garden bench in olive green or some textured terracotta color chippings, these add to the mix when it comes to ways to landscape without plants.

'There are few things that bring as much joy as the shapes, textures and colors of nature,' says Ashlee Pendleton. 'However big, small or green your outdoor space is, choosing the right accessories can help you to create an inviting garden haven.'

This is a look that works really well when landscaping with cactus if you simply want a few easily manageable flashes of green in your space.

11. Mix in some sculpture to add interest

modern pebble sculptures on patio

These smooth boulders introduce a sculptural element and can also be used as seats

(Image credit: A Garden/Alamy Stock Photos)

A large pebble boulder or two positioned on your deck will add a very contemporary aesthetic to your yard and is a useful substitute for providing a focal point in the absence of plants. They can also be used as seats.

Polished pebbles like these ones are made from natural stone and come in a variety of finishes, each with its own unique markings. You can also get naturally formed, irregular granite boulders that are a little more rugged looking, as well as hand-cast granite designs that come with a hi-gloss polish.

Landscaping with boulders is trending right now and there are loads of other ways to get the look in your backyard if you want to landscape without plants.

12. Make a pool the centerpiece of a plant-free scheme

pool and gazebo with patio and furniture

The Tribu Senja Garden Sofa (opens in new tab) from Go Modern is part of a large modular collection with multiple elements that can be combined to create your very own bespoke poolside arrangement

(Image credit: Go Modern)

A stylish modular sofa, airy gazebo, cool accessories and welcoming pool - who needs plants when you've got this look going on in your backyard. We can't think of anywhere we'd rather spend the afternoon actually.

Sleek pool landscaping ideas like this deserve to take centre stage. Sticking to a neutral garden color scheme for the paving and furniture allows the glistening water to become the star of the show.

How do you make a garden without plants interesting?

To make your garden interesting without plants think about staging focal points and wow factor moments, as well as adding personality to your space. This can include lighting, sculpture and other types of garden art, as well as water features and dramatic planting, and the way you choose to use color.

Good outdoor lighting ideas can transform your garden and max up its potential as an extra space to enjoy in the evening. The right lighting can spotlight focal points such as water features, as well as helping to zone different areas for relaxing, alfresco dining or gathering for drinks. 

'Using lighting in place of plants creates zoned areas and requires far less maintenance and upkeep,' says Charles Taylor, director at Composite Prime (opens in new tab). 'Lighting can also be used to extend time outside to get the most out of your yard. The key is to strike the balance between comfort with warm light, recessed fixtures and natural textures, versus functionality by providing enough light to move around, gather and enjoy an evening meal.'

Garden art, sculpture and water features can also become key focal points of the night garden if you use use landscaping with lights to draw attention to them.

courtyard garden with lighting

(Image credit: Composite Prime)
Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.