Garden zoning — divide your backyard to make more of outdoors

Be inspired by our expert garden zoning advice and ideas to make better use of your outdoor space - from cooking to lounging and everything in between

An example of garden zoning showing a country style furniture set and a period home behind
(Image credit: OKA)

While in homes we carefully consider each room or area as a separate zone, gardens rarely get the same treatment.

Garden zoning helps you to make the most of your outdoor space, by creating distinct areas for your various al fresco activities.

Not only do these outdoor 'rooms' organize your backyard, but you'll find yourself using the spaces more as each zone has a designated purpose. 

Whether it's an area for the kids to play, grown ups to mingle, food to be cooked or simply an area to clear your head, garden zones are the rooms you didn't know your home was missing.

If you're just getting started with designing your outdoor space, consider the wide range of backyard landscaping ideas and designs available, too. Before you know it you'll have a garden you'll be enjoying for every occasion and task.

Below, we dispense expert garden zoning advice and inspiration.

Garden zoning – ideas to try in your space

These are just some of the different ways to embrace garden zoning. The ones you pick will be down to the space available, your existing garden ideas and how you use your garden.

1. Create a sunken area as a private seating zone

An example of garden zoning with a sunken seating area with a pergola over it

(Image credit: Kate Gould)

A pergola frames a seating area nicely but there’s a risk it will dominate the garden and loom over neighbors’ plots. 

‘Positioning it where it doesn’t affect other people’s views is always a good idea,’ says garden designer Kate Gould

One solution is to sink your sitting area a few feet into the ground. Not only will next door’s sightline be unaffected, but the cocooning effect creates a more restful outdoor space. 

2. Make garden zoning flexible to suit your needs

Garden seating in a traditional looking garden with a period house behind

(Image credit: OKA)

Having a set outdoor room is never a bad thing, but having the ability to be flexible with garden zoning and to create an outdoor living room that you can move around to suit the sun - and accommodate your guests - can be incredibly useful. 

Don’t be rigidly strict when it comes to your furniture, as mixing ranges adds personality. The key to these ‘pop-up’ spaces is getting the accessories right. 

‘When layering soft furnishings, try taking the inside out,’ advises Sue Jones, Co-founder and Creative Director at OKA

An example of garden zoning showing a garden den with a sofa under a canopy and a picnic blanket

(Image credit: Weaver Green)

If you’re blessed with a large garden, build a DIY den wherever takes your fancy. 

Erect a frame using branches, pegging guy lines into the ground to keep them in place. Then choose weather-appropriate materials for shade and to protect yourself from the damp ground. 

‘Make sure your fabrics have a UV stability rating so they don’t fade; sun damage is a real issue,’ advises Tasha Green, director of Weaver Green. ‘And natural fibres, such as linen, will need to be brought in overnight. A smart option is to choose washable and water-resistant fabrics instead.’ 

3. Use color to delineate garden zoning

A garden dining zone with a green wall, white table, pink and white chairs and shelving for display

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Using color on painted walls, containers, and even in planting and garden accessories, can ensure your garden zones are signposted. 

‘Incorporating cushions and throws from your sitting room into your garden makes the space more inviting, but it also lends a color scheme and enhances the feeling of having an extra "room". 

'If you’re planning on sitting out past sunset then throws are essential for cozying up but also for creating a welcoming aesthetic,’ continues Sue Jones.

An example of garden zoning showing a patio area with a yellow painted wall and wicker furniture

(Image credit: Little Greene)

4. Make space for an outdoor cooking and dining zone

An outdoor kitchen area with green wood paneling, a tree and a dining table

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

An outdoor kitchen is on many of our wish lists as we make more of our gardens and it makes sense to have this garden zone just outside the back door. 

‘It should be viewed as a long-term investment,’ says Simon Hawkins, managing director of The Outdoor Kitchen Collective.

‘Look for kitchens made from durable materials, such as concrete and steel, that will provide years of enjoyment. A high-quality, well-engineered and robust outdoor kitchen is often modular in design. Elements can be combined, expanded and moved so you can configure it according to your space, style or budget.’ 

Situate your table in a shady spot under a parasol, sail or tree to allow for long, lazy lunches. And keep the table near the house, so it will be quick and easy to clear up afterwards. 

Construct the kitchen/barbecue set-up using materials that echo the exterior of the house, so that the prep area recedes into the background and the dining spot can take center stage. 

An outdoor kitchen with a yellow unit and a black pizza oven in a backyard patio

(Image credit: Outdoor Kitchen Collective/VLAZE)

For a more flexible alternative to a traditional built-in outdoor kitchen design, consider a movable option. This flexible approach to garden zoning is particularly useful in a small garden where space may be needed for other activities at other times. 

‘Mobile units provide flexibility outside to cook and entertain in the best spots in the garden throughout the seasons,’ says Simon Hawkins, managing director of The Outdoor Kitchen Collective. ‘They can also be moved freely from indoors to outside; and you can take them with you when you move house, too.’ 

Choose a couple of freestanding units so that you can set up your own configuration and create a temporary kitchen zone whenever it is needed.

5. Use different levels to zone your garden

An example of garden zoning showing a shady garden with different levels

(Image credit: Future/Mark Bolton)

When thinking about how to landscape a backyard, consider incorporating zones right from the start. One way to achieve this is to build in different levels, with terraces that step down into one another, creating individual garden pockets. 

Paired with raised garden bed ideas and lush planting, the different levels create a sense of privacy. 

While granite slab paving has been used in this design by Rosemary Coldstream, you could just as easily make one or more of your levels a lawn space; perhaps a secret oasis tucked away at the end of the garden. 

6. Use garden lighting to define garden zones

A pergola seating area with shrubbery and garden lighting designed by Charlotte Rowe

(Image credit: Charlotte Rowe)

Just as indoors, no matter the size or layout of your space, you can still create the perfect zoned garden with different outdoor lighting ideas and effects. 

Garden dining areas will need soft overhead lighting; seating zones will suit lower lighting, while paths and borders can be lit effectively with uplighters that highlight plants, as beautifully illustrated in this garden by Charlotte Rowe.

‘The key is to conjure up an intimate, self-contained area – whether it’s on a terrace or in a corner,’ says Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company.

‘Think of interesting ways to decorate the space: fairy lights, lanterns, bunting or a rug to define the area. Most importantly, don’t neglect the seating. Make sure benches or chairs are comfortable and top with cushions and throws.‘

7. Make space for a cooling off zone

An example of garden zoning showing an outdoor shower

(Image credit: Future)

No room for a zone dedicated to your dream pool ideas

Outdoor showering areas needn’t be reserved for holidays abroad and they make a small back yard landscaping idea with a difference. Incorporating one into your garden not only adds a handy place to wash off after exercise and somewhere to get the mud off the dog, but also brings a romantic air to the space. 

Fit to the outside wall of your home for access to hot and cold plumbing, or shower in nature with a solar-warmed freestanding unit. Even when far from view, do be sure to consider garden privacy ideas, such as screening or shrubbery. 

How do you zone a garden?

There are many creative ways to zone your garden to divide it into different areas. Garden zoning can be achieved through color and clever planting. Flower beds, box hedges and swathes of wildflowers all help to break up spaces. 

For a more solid approach, you can build in walls and paths to physically block off different zones, and pick different materials for flooring.

Playing with height works to visually zone gardens as well, by adding in layers of planting and sunken areas, or a pergola.

Giving the defined zones of your garden different purposes will help reinforce the garden zoning. So a deck might be just for sunbathing, a pergola for shading a dining area, a walled area for a kitchen garden, and so on.

Using shade – or the lack of it – is another way to zone a garden; create a sunny spot for sunning yourself; a shaded area for dining; or dappled shade for conversation. 

At night, garden lighting is the most effective way to create defined zones. 

How do you zone a small garden?

Using the same approach as you would in a larger space, so dividing your space into different zones for defined purpose using hard landscaping and planting, is the best way to zone a small garden. 

However, you will have to pare back your ideas to create a space that's practical and that can comfortably incorporate everything you want it to, without looking crowded or feeling cramped. 

How do I divide a garden into rooms?

The best way to divide a garden into 'rooms' is by choosing different flooring materials to define the various zones. 

So a decked area will be visually divided from a paved area, a gravelled area or a lawned area. It is vital to use planting to divide a garden into rooms alongside hard landscaping. Doing so will soften the harder materials, create privacy and, of course, add color and scent.

Thea Babington-Stitt
Thea Babington-Stitt

Thea Babington-Stitt is a Content Editor at Future. She has been an interiors journalist for nearly 10 years and has held positions at LivingEtc, Country Homes & Interiors and Homes & Gardens. Currently, she is writing for Ideal Home and Style At Home's websites and magazines.