5 backyard design trends from The Block that are really growing on us

Huggable trees welcome here.
Japandi style backyard with mature eucalyptus tree and large back deck

Who doesn’t look forward to backyard week on The Block? After kitchens are done and dusted, it’s got to be the most anticipated ‘room’ reveal of the season. In just seven days the contestants have to transform their muddy patches into glorious outdoor oases, and this year the teams pushed themselves to the limit battling budget and planning woes along the way. But one upside? Every backyard had a pool. Cool. 

Sure, the judges may have pulled apart some of the backyards – guest judge, award-winning landscaper and pool designer Dave Franklin even called one boring – but some incredible outdoor design trends were still on showcase. Here are 5 of the best backyard design trends we’re taking away from The Block backyard reveals and 3 design elements we’d be happy to never see again. 

Boring was the word guest judge and landscaper Dave Franklin used to describe Kristy and Brett’s backyard. The couple struggled to finish after relations with their landscaper turned sour.

1. Keeping old trees

The Block contestants almost always begin backyard week with a blank canvas, aka a patch of dirt, and while that was certainly true this year, some teams were fortunate enough to have mature trees thrown into the mix. Leah and Ash had a 50-year-old cedar tree positioned right in the centre of their backyard, and while some may have been tempted to cut it down to create an uninterrupted lawn, the pair worked with what they had and turned it into the centrepiece of their garden. “I just want to go and hug that tree,” said Darren. Shaynna and Dave agreed that it gave the backyard a zen-like ambience, “It’s like they’ve taken this tree off a hill in Japan,” says Dave. 

There are so many reasons to preserve and work around old trees, especially if they’re in good health and not in danger of falling down or dropping branches. Aside from providing dappled shade, producing oxygen and providing habitat for wildlife, studies have shown trees have a positive effect on mood, lower the prevalence of asthma and large, leafy tree canopies can reduce temperatures during heatwaves.

Leah and Ash “lucked out” with a beautiful mature cedar tree.

2. Pre-cast concrete pools

Installing a new pool can take months, but this year’s contestants were treated to pre-cast concrete pools by Plungie that were craned onto site in a signficantly shorter time frame. The homes with smaller backyards featured the smallest ‘Arena’ model, while Kirsty and Brett’s backyard featured the ‘Max’. 

Swimming pools are considered a ‘must-have’ in high-end family homes, and pre-cast concrete pools are the latest trend allowing Aussies to create their own private oasis without having their entire yard trampled by a conga-line of contractors. According to a report by HouseLogic a swimming pool can increase a property’s value by 7%, although it ultimately depends on the buyer. Making the pool area completely child-safe is a must in areas where young families are the primary market.

A pool can add value to a property, but the judges had concerns about whether the circular floating pavers in Kyle and Leslie’s backyard were child-friendly.

3. Curves in all the right places

The exteriors of this year’s Block houses are quite architectural, angular and modern. It’s the effect Block architect Julian Brenchley was going for, “I’d still make the same money if it was boring … I wanted something better,” he said in an interview with Homes to Love. So the contestants had to create gardens that were not only worthy of the architecture, but that softened it, too. One of the ways the contestants successfully achieved this was by including curves via organically-shaped stone steppers, round plunge pools, garden beds with undulating edges … the list goes on. 

Guest judge Dave Franklin loved zen-feeling created in Leah and Ash’s backyard, complementing the “whimsical pathway towards the fire pit” and the choice of pool tiling. He also said that the landscaping perfectly complemented the home’s architecture.

The most successful backyards utilised curves and natural elements to soften the angular architecture of the homes’ exteriors.

4. Less is more

Steph and Gian in House 4 may have splashed out over $70,000 on their backyard, but most of the funds were allocated towards landscaping and plants, rather than unnecessary furniture and styling. “Less is more,” says Steph, who wanted to create a garden that would flow on seamlessly from the home’s minimalist Japandi-style interior. The less-is-more approach also appealed to the judges who praised the couple’s expansive family-friendly lawn area and considered layout. 

Steph and Gian worked with Modern Living Landscapes to create their jaw-dropping backyard. The judges loved the inclusion of the sauna.

5. Outdoor awnings

Wondering why you don’t spend more time out on the deck? Is it because there’s: a) harsh glare from the sun, b) too many mosquitoes around in the evening, c) the threat of inclement weather or d) prying eyes of nosy neighbours? If all of the above are preventing you from truly enjoying your outdoor entertaining zone, then take a leaf out of Steph and Gian’s backyard (excuse the pun) and invest in some awnings. 

“Look at these blinds that stop the wind and the elements. You drop those and this is a whole secondary living space – outside,” gushed Marty. 

“This is so effing good,” said Shaynna.

Automatic, retractable awnings allow Steph and Gian’s deck to be enjoyed all year round.

Backyard design trends to say goodbye to

1. All concrete everything

This year’s judges had a lot to say about the paving choices – praising the use of natural stone, travertine tiles and crazy paving over concrete. Eliza and Liberty opted for an edgy, industrial ‘burnished concrete’ finish in their backyard, but sadly the judges felt it made the area look unfinished and far from high end. “It’s the harsh grey,” said Shaynna. Dave Franklin agreed, saying “There’s a lot of it.”

Too much concrete brought Eliza and Liberty’s spacious backyard undone.

2. Pebble mulch

The relationship between Kristy and Brett and their landscaper really eroded when the giant pile of unwashed pebble mulch arrived. Nobody could understand what it was doing in a high-end garden, with foreman Keith even weighing in with his opinion. When the judges walked through, Dave Franklin was completely silent before telling it like it is: “I hate the pebble mulch, sorry, that’s not lush. I just don’t like it.” 

Pebble mulch is a popular decorative garden element, but experienced landscapers tend to avoid it. Not only is it inorganic (meaning it doesn’t break down over time and add nutrients to the soil) it’s also a nightmare if it’s near a lawn. Pebble mulch has a tendency to move around and the last thing you want when mowing the lawn is to have the little pebbles go flying all over the place. Pebble mulch is also really painful to walk on, which is not ideal when there’s a pool.

Dave Franklin was not a fan of the pebble mulch used in Kristy and Brett’s backyard.

3. Boring plant selections

One of the highest compliments landscaper Dave Franklin gave to Steph and Gian’s garden was that the plant selection made it a “gardener’s garden.” While Dave didn’t expand on what this means, we think it probably means that the plants were selected by somebody who loves plants, rather than the laundry list of plants you usually see approved in developer or builder grade properties.

Some of the plants included in Steph and Gian’s Japandi style garden were identified by Dave as: ligularia, westringia, heuchera, elephant ears and miscanthus.

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