These elegant small backyard ideas are some of our favorite approaches to designing, landscaping and decorating a small space.
Whether you want a completely new look, to modify your existing space or simply add an eye catching feature to switch things up, getting a small backyard design right is the first step in any rethink, as it forms the all-important structure of your garden.
Narrowing down your backyard ideas and options is best done by thinking about the look you want to achieve, how it will suit your home’s architecture and interior, and what you need. There is a huge choice of materials, plants and flowers available (we’ve rounded up the best below) but one of the most important decisions to factor in is the sustainability of your desired materials and if they’re long-lasting.
Then think about maintenance: how much time are you really prepared to put in to keep things looking good?
Once you’ve made these decisions it’s easy to make the most of your favorite small backyard ideas.
Small backyard ideas
If your small backyard is forever feeling challenged and compromised, you may be rethinking its design. The biggest way to make a difference is with clever small yard landscaping ideas, which can significantly improve a compact space. But there are many other areas in which you can enhance a small backyard that don’t require a ton of work or expense. Below, we list the most effective.
1. Borrow a view
(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)
If your small yard has a woodland or a beautiful view at the end of it, it is worth exposing it if security allows.
‘It could be that a low fence or hedge will allow you to “borrow the view” of the space beyond your small backyard, making it feel larger,’ says Lucy Searle, Homes & Gardens Editor in Chief. ‘Or, if you have pets, young children or need a taller fence, a line of trellis may be the perfect solution, allowing you to see greenery beyond the yard, while keeping your space safe.’
2. Emphasize the essential
(Image credit: Arndt Design & Build / Hannah Wilson)
Where to put your energies in a small backyard? The answer has to be to the essentials. What’s essential to you may not be to others, so consider what you want from the yard: somewhere to sit and unwind, a dining space, a courtyard garden filled with pretty planting you can enjoy from inside and out or even a small kitchen garden?
Once you have decided what’s essential, you can use the space you have wisely: placing seating in a sunny spot or dappled shade, dining in a cooler area and picking plants to suit the position the flower bed ideas will be consigned to.
3. Use visual tricks to enhance space
(Image credit: Kimberley Harrison / Kathryn MacDonald)
‘You can use the same tricks in a small backyard as you would a small room to enhance space,’ says Homes & Gardens’ Gardens Editor Rachel Crow. ‘One way to do this with straight lines, as in the courtyard above. The uniformity of the design and the lines draw the eye towards the end of the yard, making it feel longer than it is.’
4. Choose planting to suit a small backyard
(Image credit: Little Greene)
When looking for small garden ideas for borders and containers, always plant according to the space available. Obviously that means choosing the best trees for small gardens, but it is relevant to your choice of shrubs and flowers, too.
‘When planting out a border, particularly at the center of a yard, perhaps dividing a deck from a lawn, I always take careful note of the full-grown height of what I’m putting in and, if I will be seated, perhaps at a dining table or lounger, I take that into account, too,’ says Lucy Searle.
‘Sometimes, I want planting to be tall for privacy, but often, I want to ensure I can see beyond it into the rest of the garden. It’s worth noting that lower planting at the center of the yard will help the space feel less divided, wider and longer.’
5. Use mirrors to enhance a small backyard
(Image credit: Alamy)
Decorating with mirrors indoors adds instant impact and interest, while maximizing light and boosting the sense of space. And it can make a small garden look bigger, even in a relatively compact area.
They are also the perfect option if you are looking for backyard ideas on a budget. A good mirror can usually be found at a local flea market or second-hand shop.
‘We always recommend going for the largest mirror you can afford to make the most of every ray of light from your mirror’s reflection,’ says Lucy St George of Rockett St George.
While a large picture might overpower a space – and particularly a small room – a large mirror will do the opposite.
As long as the frame isn’t too bulky, a larger mirror will only serve to make a room feel bigger and brighter, so dare to pick a design that’s on the larger side rather than one with more modest proportions.
6. Enhance a roof garden with an entertaining space
(Image credit: Future / Polly Eltes)
Decorating a small backyard should never be an afterthought. In fact, roof gardens, patios and balconies provide a great opportunity to enjoy the surrounding views and extend the living space of your home, however tiny.
Sleek, simple and sophisticated is the golden design rule for any roof garden ideas. Choose materials to complement patterns or colors in the surrounding landscape or adjacent buildings so the design blends in.
Whether you envisage creating an al fresco entertaining space with an outdoor table and chairs, or a relaxing retreat with an outdoor sectional and lounge chairs, be sure to choose the best outdoor furniture stores to suit your needs and desired look.
With a little planning, creativity and innovation it is possible to transform an unused roof space into an area to relax, unwind and entertain.
7. Take an indoor-outdoor approach to decorating
(Image credit: Little Greene)
Approach the furnishing of your small backyard in a similar way to the treatment of the inside.
Consider warmth underfoot by adding one of the best outdoor rugs the Homes & Gardens team have sourced, or introduce punctuations of color and texture in throws and cushions, as shown in the outdoor living room idea above.
The hard materials you use will also make a difference. Panels of timber for some of the boundary treatment can be softer in appearance than stone or rendered walls and will also create a quieter space with less echo.
8. Consider a row of pleached trees
(Image credit: Future / Jan Baldwin)
Create the illusion of space in your garden with pleached trees.
Pleaching is a tree-training technique that produces trees with clear, straight stems and a canopy trained on a framework to grow into a screen.
It creates a sense of mystery by allowing glimpses of other areas. When they are planted in rows, they form an elevated ‘green wall’ effect, which can be a great, natural alternative to high garden fence ideas.
‘Pleached and parasol trees provide a useful way of shading a terrace, reducing the heat and glare of reflected sunlight,’ says Rob Chew, garden designer at Abbotswood Gardens.
9. Plant a living wall
(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)
If floor space is at a premium, a living wall might be the only option for those seeking to create a plant-filled backyard.
Where space is tight, planting vertical garden walls is a great way to introduce more color into your garden.
Smart living wall ideas are an easy solution, covering surfaces with flowers and foliage to disguise old fences and sheds, or even your bin. Add pollinator-friendly flowers and your living wall will feed the bees, too, or try edible plants for fresh ingredients right outside your door.
Award-winning garden designer Alexandra Froggatt suggest using leafy evergreens for year-round cover, such as Siberian bugloss (Brunnera), small ferns, heucheras and sedges, or plant lettuces, thyme, chives, marjoram and strawberries for an edible wall.
10. Introduce a water feature in a small backyard
Garden design / Christian Douglas Design
(Image credit: Courtesy of Christian Douglas Design)
Water feature ideas are a wonderful means of bringing an extra dimension to a small backyard, providing a focal point and lending a sense of peace and tranquility.
‘No matter how small your outdoor space, a container-based water garden can make a simple and effective addition,’ says garden designer Claudia de Yong.
What’s more, the soothing sound of water is not only relaxing, but it can help to drown out noise pollution from neighbors.
11. Opt for smooth and simple deck
(Image credit: Solus Decor)
For an easy combination of good looks and longevity, smooth hardwood deck boards from a responsible source are the go-to option. Deck is a great way to enhance your small backyard space, as it can be used to zone an area that’s purely for outdoor dining.
They are a practical option for small backyards as they’re durable, require minimal maintenance and last for years. They also look better than softwood ridged decking, which needs more work and isn’t as long lasting.
Hardwood boards are available in a range of different woods and colors, from light to dark, which means you can customise your deck with a shade that suits you. The combination of natural wood, harmonious planting and a carefully chosen accessory or two (like this smooth concrete fire table) works every time.
The beauty of decking too, is that you can add to it over time. So you can start with small deck ideas and then create a larger area that could include balustrades and even a small fence to provide an element of garden privacy and enhance a shade garden.
12. Install raised beds to enhance space
(Image credit: Future / Colin Poole)
Raised bed garden ideas like these – rendered and painted white – are incredibly space-enhancing and practical in a small backyard. They can even encompass seating into their design. Use them to keep the space neat and uncluttered looking, and to divide up and carve niches from your space. They are perfect for housing small vegetable garden ideas, too.
13. Do not overcomplicate a small backyard
(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton )
Even the smallest backyard or terrace can make an enticing outdoor space with a little care and attention.
‘Keep it simple – don’t get too carried away when planning for a small backyard or patio,’ says Dan Bowyer, Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer.
‘A carefully chosen palette of materials and plants is often the most satisfying. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be experimental, just be mindful that trying to squeeze everything into a compact space will make it cluttered and decrease usability.’
Instead, opt for a maximum of one or two points of interest.
Here, a statue at the bottom of this space leads the eye down the garden path. Or, rather than trying to cram in more outdoor furniture than the space can comfortably contain, keep seating simple with one of the best Adirondack chairs.
14. Design with modern materials in mind
(Image credit: Future / Matthew Williams)
Streamlined, modern materials work beautifully in a small backyard. Play with timber panels, steel-framed doors / windows and oversized pavers for a contemporary aesthetic that is still very much grounded in nature.
Color is important, too. Opting for light greens, silvers and grays will help create a sense of spaciousness, while highly reflective, shiny leaves can add light and shimmer, providing a greater depth of field in the planting scheme.
15. Work in a cooling outdoor shower
(Image credit: Genna Margolis / Amy Bartlam)
You may not have the space for pool ideas within a small backyard, but you needn’t dismiss the opportunity to introduce a holiday vibe – an outdoor shower can be a great chance to cool off and, clad with brightly patterned tiles, will allow you to create a bold color scheme that you can match with planting.
What can I do with a small backyard?
There is so much that you can do with a small backyard, no matter how tiny.
It’s important to put generosity of space and a sense of place at the heart of your design. In urban areas particularly, an easily accessed space, which feels comfortable and generous in its proportions, allows for relaxation and calm. It’s the perfect antidote after a busy working week.
Think about the orientation of your small backyard too, as it can change the overall feel immensely. By altering it, you can turn a generous space into one that feels enclosed or intimate in a warm, sunny spot or a cool, shady area.
Equally, the view will be altered depending on the orientation of the terrace. Would you prefer to look back at the house or outwards to a prominent focal point in the distance for example?
How can I make my small yard look nice?
It is easier than you think to make a small yard look nice yet remain practical.
Consider the use of water. Standing water with a subtle ripple or movement evokes gentleness, calm and softness. It also reflects the light, helping to make the space feel bigger.
Another design tip is to create a visual link between inside and out: think about using similar flooring to your property’s interior. This immediately ensures that the eye moves seamlessly from space to space.
‘Also, consider taking an element of ‘furniture’ from the interior of the house out into the backyard,’ says Marcus Barnett, Marcus Barnett Landscape & Garden Design.
‘For example, a kitchen work surface can be run outside in the same alignment to add to a sense of linkage and visual pairing between the spaces. Color used inside your home can also be matched to elements of the yard, serving as a visual reminder between inside and out.’