Oh how I long for the heat! Suncream, sandals, mojitos, lawn sprinklers.

Instead, I’m dreaming of a sun-trap garden. And I’m taking Mexico as my inspiration…particularly the fantastic colours, lines and style of Luis Barragan.

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Barragan water chute at the Fraccionamento Club in Atizapan, Mexico

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OK, I can dream...

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This simple 'pot garden' is a small space within Barragan's own garden

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Barragan designed this stud farm Cuadra San Cristobal to cool the horses as much as the cowhands. Photo René Burri

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Barragan was a self-taught architect, influenced by both the Islamic Al Hambra gardens in Granada and by Corbusier. Unusually for a modernist though, he believed spaces should have emotional spirit. The natural materials (stones and wood), sharp shadows and gorgeous saturated colour  aim to bring serenity, but also joy.

For many garden owners in the UK, with our grey light and our soft greenery, the puritanical lines of true modernism feel a little too stark to work as well here. Our white rendered wall turns green, that yucca seems never to flower. But carefully used, many elements of Barragan’s style can work in our own gardens.

Style to steal from Mexican modernism:

Free-standing walls as dividers and screens – dividers make spaces feel bigger, not smaller, tempting us round the garden. Screens can look elegantly minimal from the front and hide our garden paraphernalia behind.

Clean lines  – pools, doorways and lines are rectilinear. Keep architectural elements relatively clear of planting for sharp lines and easier maintenance

Water chutes – these simple water features suit small spaces as well as large. Play with the height and water flow to achieve an attractive splash, not a thundering cistern sound!

Coloured render – download a colour chart at k-rend.co.uk for low-maintenance infused colour

A single statement tree in a restrained space – create a contemporary courtyard zone which focuses on the tree’s changing seasons

Hot planting options that will work in an English garden’s well-drained sunny spot:
Zinnia, Achillia, Phormium, day lilies, hyssop, black-eyed susans…

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The focus is on the natural material; the simple design acts as a foil

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Team a rich colour with a zingy one...delicious

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Consider creating slots or openings in dividing walls to add glimpses...and interesting shadows

Even a small space can have a Barragan chute; keep it simple for maximum effect
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Try out hot colours on low-cost, low-risk accessories

Shots of colour enliven this simply-planted roof terrace
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Darker saturated hues would work better in this country; try plum, aubergine or raspberry

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A flying buttress of colour makes a strong frame

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Rendered dividing wall with a simple chute

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Not all walls need render; use local materials boldly


Zinnias are long-flowering and easy to grow from seed in a sunny spot

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Sumptuous day lilies; this one's Hemerocallis 'Bourbon King'

Yarrow, or Achillia 'Walther Funke' is a butterfly magnet. It needs good drainage and sun
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The construction and enjoyment of a garden accustoms people to beauty, to its instinctive use, even to its pursuit.

In a beautiful garden the majesty of nature is ever present, but it is nature reduced to human proportions…

and thus transformed into the most efficient haven against the aggressiveness of contemporary life.
–  Luis Barragan, Mexico