23 Big Landscaping Ideas for Small Backyards

Making the Most of a Petite Plot of Land

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    Designed Right, a Small Yard Can Have Lots of Style

    small backyard design
    Juliette Wade / Getty Images

    Not everyone is blessed with a big backyard. For those who live in places with tighter outdoor spaces, it's just a matter of practicing smart design on a smaller scale. Whether you live in an apartment, condo, townhouse, loft, or a house that has more indoor than outdoor space, you can still carve out a yard with soil, trees, plants, patios, seating, and even water features

    Once you start researching, you'll find that garden styles and solutions are limitless—there's a backyard for every petite plot of land. Among ideas to consider:

    • Container gardens: When you lack good soil or have an outdoor space that is mostly patio or decking, add pots, low bowls, repurposed wooden boxes or crates, and urns
    • Think about vertical space: The sky's the limit when you grow your succulents, herbs, flowers, or even vegetables in a vertical container that is attached to a wall
    • Hanging garden: Plants can be suspended from beams, eaves, or wall hangers; it's up to you what to plant and what works in your region
    • A no-fuss patio or deck that allows you to get outside and has water-wise plants that don't require lots of care and maintenance
    • A small kitchen and dining area: Love to grill? If space allows, you can add a basic grill, counter, outdoor refrigerator, and even grow a small herb garden to add flavor on the spot
    • A private garden: City dwellers often crave outdoor space. High walls and espaliered or climbing plants help to create a sense of seclusion

    We've found 23 diverse designs and solutions for small backyards and outdoor spaces, from urban to suburban and everything else in between.

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    Tucson Small Yard Design

    Kathryn Prideaux works magic with small spaces in Tucson and other Arizona cities, infusing the colors of the sky, surrounding terrain, and nature into her landscape designs for patio homes and condominiums. She expertly fuses styles and materials: rejuvenating mid-century modern outdoor furniture, adding rustic materials, finding innovative uses for colorful tile, and incorporating sculptural forms and succulents.

    Although Tucson's Skyline Springs condominium complex has a swimming pool, the owners of this unit wanted their own private pool. Prideaux Design, with the help of Cimarron Circle Construction Company, designed a stunning blue glass mosaic-tile pool as the yard's centerpiece, with a ledge for in-pool lounge chairs when desert temperatures spike. Additional features include a poured-in-place etched concrete patio, rusted steel panels and walls, original adobe block walls, and a revitalized vintage Brown Jordan patio dining set.

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    Yard for a Historic Home

    German Village in Columbus, Ohio, is a neighborhood of brick row houses built in the 1800s by German immigrants that has been undergoing preservation and revitalization since 1959. A small backyard in the district that had faded concrete pavers and an oversized iron table was transformed by Jacobs Grant Design into functional, enjoyable space for its new homeowners. Jacobs Grant divided the space into two areas: an outdoor living room and a dining area, surrounded by hornbeam and boxwood hedges to create intimacy and structure. Designed in collaboration with Pots Abilities, the spaces include brick and bluestone, materials used on the facade of the historic house.

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    Spanish Bungalow

    For decades, lawns have been the go-to ground cover without anyone giving it much thought. That is, until the ongoing drought in California and other dry regions forced landscapers and homeowners to rethink water-guzzling grass and come up with alternatives. Dig Your Garden's solution for the small yard of an older Spanish-style bungalow in San Anselmo, California, was to replace the grass with creeping thyme and other low-water ground covers and plants. A new Arizona flagstone pathway was added, along with a small patio that repeats the terra cotta tones found elsewhere on the home's exterior. 

    Other features, kept to a minimum, include an orange Fermob armchair, colorful pottery, and drought-tolerant plants like tibouchina, lion's tail, lavenders, rosemary, yarrow, agastache, dwarf strawberry tree, and various succulents and ornamental grass.

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    Turning the Front yard into the Backyard

    What do you do when your house has no backyard? You borrow space wherever you can find it. In this case, landscape designer Catherine Bosler looked to the 560-square-foot front yard for this Los Angeles area property. Inspired by the nearby coast, Bosler Earth Design added a wood deck painted in a distressed grey to create a living room with fire pit. An outdoor dining area and kitchen has decomposed granite (DG) underfoot and features a grill and prep counter. Bosler also incorporated a tall fountain to mask street noise and attract birds, added built-in benches of wood and stucco, privacy hedges, and a trellis with jasmine for its appealing fragrance.

    "The challenge was  to fit everything into such a small space without feeling contrived and overdone and to make the space very private," says Bosler.

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    Backyard with a Hot Tub and Barbecue

    A falling-apart deck and a desire to get rid of their lawn prompted the owners of this San Francisco home to enlist Land Studio C. Measuring about 1,500 square feet, the backyard now features a hot tub with a custom bench and vertical planting (back corner), a fire table, built-in barbecue, Corten (weathering) steel accents, and string lights.

    In this view of the yard, we see a pathway of concrete pavers set in pea gravel, land a lounging area with an umbrella and delineated hardscape. The hot tub's screening wall, bench, and a side yard screen were made from the old redwood deck.

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    Another Part of the Yard

    Yes, this is the same yard in the same fairly small space, designed by Land Studio for a house in San Francisco. Viewed from the middle of the yard toward the house, you can see the outdoor living room with the fire table, dining area, and small back porch. 

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    Asian-Inspired Backyard

    Sacramento-based design firm Change of Seasons was inspired by the dividers of a Bento Box for its remodel of a backyard that features stone-lined sections or compartments to add interest and structure to an eco-friendly contemporary garden.

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    Tiny Toronto Backyard

    Working with limited space, Beyond Landscaping was able to create a low-maintenance retreat in the backyard of a home in Toronto, Canada, that features a small fiberglass pool, composite decking, a horizontal fence for privacy, and artificial turf.

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    Family-Friendly San Francisco Backyard

    The challenge: To design a backyard for a young family in San Francisco that could include room for dining and seating along with space for two little boys to let their imaginations run wild. Creo Landscape Architecture planted bluegrass and no-mow fescue on a berm for the children to play, along with interactive sculptures. Creo used durable redwood to build the fence and bench, while Podocarpus (plum pines) provide softscape and privacy. When not in use, the kids' outdoor toys are stored in the redwood benches.

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    Neat and Vertical Backyard

    Emma Lam and her design team at A Small Green Space specialize in small yards: the bulk of their clients are in Jersey County, New Jersey, and nearby New York City. This 16 by 11.5-foot urban backyard is shared by three condos, making it a challenge for the designers to access via three private flights of stairs that lead to the yard. Since there is no outdoor water supply, the plants chosen are drought tolerant. Among the upgrades to the neat, symmetrical design include:

    • Lightweight furniture
    • New fencing that includes vertical planters
    • A bluestone patio
    • An artificial lawn
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    Small Backyard With Planters

    The owners of this small yard in the San Francisco bay area hired KL Designs to redesign their outdoor space to accommodate raised wood planters in which they can grown vegetables and herbs. Building raised beds allows the plants to grow in quality soil, keeps them away from city-dwelling critters (squirrels, mice), and provides easy access for maintaining the vegetables.

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    Organized Backyard Layout

    For symmetry and organization, a patio made of irregularly shaped Arizona flagstone was replaced by designers Blue Hibiscus Gardens with rectangular bluestone tiles in an ashlar pattern. A matching side patio was added using base rock and pre-cut pavers. A cozy deck features built-in seating and a concrete-top natural gas fire pit with prism fire glass. New plants include a Japanese maple and Pittosporum 'Silver Sheen'.

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    Reimagined Brooklyn Brownstone

    With the children outgrowing the kid-oriented yard, a Brooklyn couple, both professors, decided to renovate the garden of their Brooklyn brownstone. With the help of Outside Space NYC, the backyard was divided into three areas with different levels. In this area of the yard, a geometric pergola provides shade and creates a comfortable seating area on the ipe deck. Raised stacked-stone beds are planted with a mix of low-maintenance shrubs, perennials, and ornamental grasses. The homeowner added a modern, lightweight outdoor sofa and coffee table for a mid-century feel.

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    Brooklyn Bluestone

    Another backyard in Brooklyn was redesigned by Amber Freda Landscape Design as a space for entertaining and relaxation. A bluestone patio, custom horizontal planter boxes with casters for mobility and fencing made of ipe complement the outdoor kitchen and seating area with a fire pit. Freda's challenge for this space: using the right plants for the widely varying pockets of sun and shade throughout the yard. In addition to a lush mix of flowering annuals and perennials, Freda used sweet potato vine, trumpet vine, Japanese maple, ornamental grasses, and dogwoods. Everything is equipped with automated low-voltage uplighting and drip irrigation lines.

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    Gazebo Focal Point

    A stunning wood gazebo is the centerpiece of a backyard in the quaint town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, designed by Fernhill Landscapes. With upholstery, pillows, and flowering plants that harmonize, the space is intimate and appealing.

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    Downtown Chicago Pad

    Besides Wrigley Field, the next-best place to enjoy a Chicago Cubs game is your own backyard, right in downtown Chicago. Created by Reveal Design, the linear design features a patio was made with Technoblock pavers, ipe, black steel and frosted-glass fencing, aluminum powder-coated planters and fire table, and a a grill area framed with ipe. Those illuminated orbs can be adjusted to change colors for holidays or sports on TV.

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    Natural Berkeley Backyard

    Guided by the belief that gardens should blend seamlessly with the lives of their owners, Deborah Kuchar of Green Alchemy created a casual outdoor space for a house in Berkeley, California, that features natural materials like stone along with plants that create a lush, private space. Simple, classic butterfly chairs and a fire pit are surrounded by angel's trumpet and lavender, among other growing things.

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    Luxurious Lissoni in Miami

    Italian architect and designer Piero LIssoni created the namesake Villa Lissoni at The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Miami Beach, a seven-acre property with more than 100 condominiums and a limited collection of 15 standalone properties. This upscale condo features a small lush yard with tropical landscaping (including orchids), a private infinity pool (the property also has pools on site), and patios that are accessible via floor-to-ceiling glass doors. 

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    Yard with Zones

    San Diego enjoys one of the most ideal climates in the United States (or anywhere), which is why the owners of this home in Encinitas sought assistance from Envision Landscape Studio to make the most out of their backyard space. Divided into zones or sections, the yard includes a lawn for pets and children, a fire pit with casual seating, a covered outdoor living room, a dining area, and water feature, all surrounded by low-maintenance landscaping.

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    Planter with a Purpose

    Peeking through the gate of a backyard in Providence, Rhode Island, remodeled by Bradford Associates, you can catch a glimpse of new fencing, a patio with lightweight furniture, and a raised bed that not only allows its owners to grow plants, but helps to screen an adjacent raised filtration area.

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    Corner Backyard in Virginia

    Tucked into a corner of a backyard, a composite-decking bench was placed in front of a mature hydrangea bush to create an appealing nook. Designed by Peggy Krapf of Heart's Ease Landscape and Garden Design in Toano, Virginia, the space features a bench that is set on a stone pad to create a level surface. Urns planted with annual color can be changed out seasonally.

     

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    Clean-Line Backyard Design

    Symmetry, geometric design, and organization are often key to designing small backyards. Christy Webber Landscapes was inspired by this Chicago homeowner's recent interior renovation--modern and using clean lines--to extend living space to the yard. The patio is paved with bluestone with blue-chip joints. A privacy fence is softened with Japanese maple trees, along with birch and spruce trees, while boxwood, rhododendron, arborvitae and pachysandra add year-round interest.

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    Super Small Backyard Turned into a Dream

    Andrew Shepherd of Magic Landscaping was tasked with creating a backyard for a historic home in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. The challenge: "It had absolutely no backyard. What was there was about 20 feet deep and about 100 feet wide. The project scope was to create interest, beauty, privacy, and intimate spaces so that the family could go outside and spend time together," says Shepherd.

    Using a combination of limestone boulders, Delaware pea gravel, cedar mulch, and lush greenery, Magic created fairytale-like paths, a fire pit, a trampoline for the kids, and a dining area.