12 Big Ideas for Small Backyards

There’s a common misconception that for a garden to flourish it has to be given lots of land and room to breathe. In reality, a small space can provide the foundation for a fantastic garden, one packed with appealing features like bubbling ponds, plenty of seating, and colorful, verdant plants that transform a cramped space into a beckoning backyard oasis.

By Amy Lynch | Updated May 02, 2018 04:59 PM

Playing It Koi

Build a Backyard Pond

Even the tiniest backyard can accommodate a koi pond if you employ space-smart design, as in this project from Rossington Architecture. The step-down arrangement of this water feature attractively frames the koi pond while also safeguarding the home from flooding during heavy rainfall.

Related: 7 Ideas to Steal from Real People’s Tiny Backyards

Houzz via Rossington Architecture

Hip to Be Square

Combine Grass and Pavers

A particularly great idea for arid regions and locales where water restrictions are in place (or for homeowners who simply don’t enjoy lawn maintenance), this grid system of grass and pavers from The Todd Group creates visual interest while minimizing the need for upkeep.

Related: The Invincible Yard: 17 Ideas for Lazy Landscaping

Houzz via The Todd Group

Climb the Walls

Install a Living Wall

Whether it takes the form of a lush stretch of ivy or, as in this design from Bright Green, a meticulously cultivated work of art, a living wall draws the eye upward, making a yard seem larger and lending a little creative flair to an outdoor space.

Related: 11 Low-Cost Buys to Boost a Boring Backyard

Houzz via Bright Green

All Rise

Install Raised Garden Beds

This green patch of paradise designed by Nature’s Realm incorporates a serenity-enhancing water feature as well as a grid of square pavers that add texture and a raised bed that supports a profusion of greenery. The bed simplifies garden maintenance, as its raised position gives the gardener a spot to sit while planting, weeding, and deadheading.

Related: Goodbye Grass: 7 Inspiring Ideas for a "No Mow" Backyard

Houzz via Nature's Realm

Strike a Balance

Save Water with Stone Landscaping

Ideal for a desert home, this xeriscaped yard offers generous expanses of square stone pavers and, in place of grass, streams of rocks—an approach that significantly reduces the need to water. A vine-laden trellis that softens the walls adds just a touch of greenery and, along with a handful of succulents and desert blooms, brings color and balance to the space.

Related: 7 Smart Ways to Save Water in the Yard

Zillow Digs home in Palm Springs, CA

Long Division

Split Up Your Outdoor Space

If one large deck seems too much for your backyard, or if it would impede the natural flow of the space, consider splitting it in two. In this functional, flexible design, a walkway leading from the entry gate divides one deck into two cozy conversation areas. The shared design visually connects the two halves, resulting in an adaptable backyard hangout that facilitates instead of dominates.

Related: 20 Tiny Backyards We Love

Zillow Digs home in Huntington Beach, CA

Step It Up

Add Depth to Your Garden with Tiered Landscaping

To bring an air of leafy seclusion to your yard, consider lining the perimeter with trellises and transforming the space into a multitiered terrace. While the work involved is substantial, the minimal upkeep and visual impact will pay off in spades.

Related: 11 Ideas for Better Backyard Privacy

Zillow Digs home in San Francisco, CA

Contain Your Excitement

Plant a Container Garden

Assemble a wide array of planters, anything from concrete urns to weathered wooden crates, to curate a conversation-worthy container garden. Stagger the heights and sizes throughout the yard in an asymmetrical fashion for a casually exuberant effect.

Related: The Best 10 Plants to Grow for Backyard Privacy

Zillow Digs home in Clovis, CA

Tucked Away

Scale Back Your Garden

If you have a sizable space to work with but would rather keep your greenery to a manageable level, devote just one corner of your property to a garden, then define it with a pergola and an inviting place to perch, like a porch swing or a pair of sky chairs. Pave or tile the rest of your yard so you’ll never have to mow, edge, or water it.

Related: 19 "Zero Dollar" Upgrades for Your Outdoor Living Area

Zillow Digs home in Sagle, ID

Hang It Up

Hang a Vertical Garden

It takes little more than a few square feet and some imagination to install a vertical garden in a small yard—or even on a porch or patio, for that matter. The project can double as a work of art if you incorporate upcycled materials like paint cans, soda bottles, or other household items—as well as a dash of color and creativity.

Related: 10 Outdoor DIYs You Can Do for a Dollar


Make a Nook

Keep Plants in a Corner

Arrange a small selection of perennials and a bench or patio chair in one corner of a small yard to carve out a cozy, meditative spot. Consider choosing colorful containers or adding a pop of color to the seating to enhance the look.

Related: 10 Doable Designs for DIY Outdoor Furniture


Your Cup Runneth Over

Go Big in a Small Garden

Adopt the more-is-more approach, that interior design maxim that says that filling a small room with oversize elements can actually make it feel bigger. Deck out your small garden with everything but the kitchen sink—containers, pavers, living walls, luxurious furniture, bold lighting fixtures, and water features. Fill every inch with eye-catching treasures, botanical and otherwise, to create an oasis that engages all the senses.

Related: 18 Inspiring Ideas for Easy Outdoor Entertaining


Live Large

Live Large

These ideas prove that it doesn't matter the size of the yard, but that it's what you do with it that makes a great outdoor area. 


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