15 Inspiring Small Backyard Ideas That Show How to Make Every Inch Count

updated Sep 22, 2023
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Giant backyards certainly have a lot of design advantages. Namely, when reconfiguring a large outdoor space, you usually don’t have to decide between a vegetable garden or a shady tree-lined reading spot or a sunny patio for lounging — there’s often room for everything.

But small backyards can pack a big punch, too — you just might have to get a little creative. With some clever layout tricks and smart swaps, you can give your small backyard the makeover of your dreams. Below, you’ll find 15 inspiring small backyard ideas to get you started. Whether you’re an avid gardener or more inclined toward lazy days under an umbrella (or chilly evenings huddled around a cozy fire pit), there’s something here for you.

Credit: Getty Images/Lisa Stokes

1. Plant a living wall.

When you’re short on space, it helps to think vertically. A wall-mounted planter can help you show off favorite flowers and other greenery. It can be an especially convenient way to grow herbs — place them outside your door so you can easily snip a few sprigs while you’re cooking.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

2. Hang pots on a wall or fence.

Call this “living wall lite.” Instead of hanging a dedicated wall planter, mount holders for standard pots. For a simple and sleek look, go for all matching ones (as shown above, from this brilliant DIY-packed Toronto rental); for a more maximalist vibe, use a collection of pots in various sizes and styles.

3. Use large raised garden beds to surround a seating area.

Oversized garden beds are a great way to create a lush, overgrown look even if your yard doesn’t have much actual planting space. Use a set of them to surround a seating area for instant privacy.

4. Create staggered-height garden beds.

This is a smart solution for yards with steep inclines, although it will take some planning! Leveling out a few plateaus in your yard can help you add stepped garden beds throughout. You can also fake this dramatic look by using garden beds in varying heights, arranged from shortest to tallest.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

5. Pair a trellis with climbing plants.

If you find ivy-covered brick walls enchanting, this idea is for you. Secure a trellis in a garden bed or raised planter, then pair it with a climbing plant like clematis or trumpet vine. Within a matter of weeks, you’ll start to be surrounded by leafy greenery. (Word to the wise: Avoid invasive plants for this project, lest you find yourself completely overtaken.)

6. Hang planters from low rooflines.

If you’re out of wall space, look even farther up — yes, all the way up to the roof! Low rooflines provide a convenient spot to install hanging planters filled with trailing plants.

7. Surround a patio with slim garden beds for low plants.

Keep sight lines clear by opting for low plants around your patio area. You don’t need much space to plant — even just a foot-wide bed can give you enough room to enjoy some live plants. Fill in those beds with grass alternatives like clover or wildflowers, or put them to work for your kitchen by planting fast-growing vegetable seeds.

8. Use pavers to create a charming pathway.

Pavers and other hardscaping materials can get pricey if you have to use a lot of them — but fortunately, if you’re using them in a small space, that won’t be an issue. Strategically placed pavers lend a little cottagey charm to your outdoor space.

9. Follow the rule of thirds.

You’ve probably heard to group decor in threes, and that rule works just as well outside. Take a cue from this relaxing outdoor space and divide up your yard so it’s one-third grass, one-third garden bed, and one-third patio. The result is a balanced space with room for everything.

10. Go all-in with gravel.

In areas prone to drought, it’s best to avoid water-hogging landscape choices like grass. Instead, try filling the majority of your space with gravel and reserving only a few areas to serve as beds for in-ground plants.

Credit: Lorenza Marzocchi/Shutterstock

11. Plant native wildflowers.

Another low-water option is to fill your yard with native plants, which are attuned to the natural conditions of your area and can survive (and thrive!) without extra watering. Even better: Native wildflowers will support pollinators like birds and bees.

12. Create statement-making garden beds from unexpected materials.

Who says your garden beds all need to be made from standard wood boards? With nourishing soil and holes for draining, almost anything can be a garden bed. A vintage row boat makes a statement here; a salvaged tub or a vintage wheelbarrow would be equally charming.

13. Make a rock garden.

If your yard already has large rocks in place, don’t toss them to the curb — instead, put them to use as part of the landscape. Here, different colors of gravel, a mix of plants at different heights, and large decorative rocks all work together to create an artful display.

14. Build standing-height veggie gardens.

Make planting, tending, and harvesting your veggies even easier by raising them high enough that you can do it all without having to bend an inch. You can add just one standing-height bed to your yard, or arrange multiple with a small pathway to navigate between.

15. Make your own shade.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a giant, full tree in your yard to shade it, there are ways to fake the look. Allowing climbing vines to stretch across a pergola over your seating area creates that same leaf-filled canopy look, but takes a lot less time and money to achieve.