Small backyard layout ideas – 9 clever ways to arrange your outdoor space

These small backyard layout ideas will save space and instantly make your compact plot feel bigger and brighter

Modern small backyard patio with fireplace and wooden chairs
(Image credit: Getty Images/Ekaterina Demidova)

Want to make your tiny backyard more welcoming? These small backyard layout ideas will be sure to come in handy. Even the most compact spaces can be arranged in a way that makes them both functional and more enjoyable.

We know that not everyone has the luxury of acres of ground to play with. And, let's face it, small spaces can feel uninspiring at first. Being presented with a blank slice of patio or tiny balcony can leave us wondering where to start.

The good news is that any yard or balcony garden, no matter its size, is full of opportunity. In fact, it's easier than you might think to create your own mini paradise, extend your living area, and improve your quality of life. Plus, small garden ideas are often cheaper and easier to maintain.

But before you get planting, styling and bringing your small yard landscaping ideas to life, you'll need to focus on getting the bare bones of your plot right – and by that, we mean the layout. We've curated 9 looks to inspire any small space.

Plants displayed in pots on crates on urban balcony

(Image credit: Getty Images/Oscar Wong)

9 small backyard layout ideas

From balconies to decked spaces, these small backyard layout ideas will inspire you with new ways to arrange your less-than-large plot.

1. Find the light in a courtyard garden

Courtyard with table and chairs, and lush tree planting

(Image credit: Getty Images/Maria Korneeva)

Courtyards are commonplace in urban dwellings and can feel shady, overlooked, and uninspiring. However, with a few design tricks, you can turn a small, walled plot into a stylish setting.

Chris Harrington, Creative Director of garden design practice Harrington Porter, shares his expert advice when it comes to working with natural light. He explains that the sun should be a key consideration – especially in small plots with built-up surroundings. 

Some courtyards may only get a glimpse of sunlight during the day, or an hour or two in the evening. If you like sitting in the sun, make sure your seating is positioned to make the most of it, advises Chris. On the other hand, if you prefer sitting in the shade, then position your seating to match.

2. Use straight lines and structures for a tapered plot

corner seating area of garden designed by Harrington Porter

Using straight lines can open up a space – as shown in this garden designed by Harrington Porter

(Image credit: Harrington Porter)

Some plots are narrow with a tapered shape – almost like a triangle. This one shown above is exactly that, but as Chris Harrington explains, 'careful planting and structures were used to balance out the shape and square it up with the house.'

This included the addition of garden fence ideas, which cut into the plot in straight lines, adding a feeling of space and making it more practical as well as stylish. 

And on that note, for contemporary yards, Chris advises against using curves. Straight lines can always be softened with planting to create a more welcoming vibe.

Chris Harrington

Chris Harrington is Harrington Porter’s creative director, based in London, UK. He specializes in creating bespoke city gardens and is a graduate of KLC School of Garden and Design.

3. Create a multi-zonal space

Small backyard with eating, planting and pool zones

(Image credit: Getty Images/Bulgac)

Whatever the shape of your backyard, zoning is a great way to add visual interest and functionality. This garden demonstrates the approach perfectly by creating three distinct zones using soft planting, a seating area on light paving slabs, and a plunge pool area.

Space permitting, dividing up a yard into different rooms can, paradoxically, make your garden feel bigger, giving a greater sense of depth and installing a sense of intrigue.

Use planting, screens, or changes in materials to create different areas. You could also consider hiding a seating area with plant-covered screens.

Designer Hannah Rickards of Hannah Rickards Garden Design suggests using different paving materials and patterns to create a sense of transition from each area and the impression of space. 'For example, try a brick path to a stone terrace, or a lawn to deck area,' she says.

Hannah Rickards headshot
Hannah Rickards

Hannah Rickards runs her own garden design consultancy business. She works collaboratively with landscapers, contractors and horticulturists to produce and maintain functional and dynamic gardens for her clients

4. Green up a paved patio with a living wall

living wall on small patio

(Image credit: Future)

If you've only got a tiny patio to play with, don't despair. There are plenty of vertical garden ideas you can try, including the addition of a living wall: a clever way to make a small space feel full of greenery.

Look out for hanging planters made up of pockets, such as these vertical planters from Amazon, ready to be filled with herbs, flowers, or even veg, for easy installation. They will instantly soften harsh lines and landscaping materials and up your growing potential.

Lining a wall with some of the best trees to grow in pots is also a great approach for either bordering or breaking up the layout of your space and making a statement. They can offer a subtle screen too – ideal for overlooked gardens.

5. Create seating in a compact, urban backyard

Wicker chairs and table in small urban backyard

(Image credit: Getty Images/Andrea Rugg)

A place to sit tends to be a priority with most outdoor spaces, whatever their size. And with carefully considered small backyard layout ideas, you can create the perfect setting for entertaining, enjoying breakfast alfresco, or relaxing with a good book. 

Use large planters along the boundary and not only can you enjoy the backdrop of blooms, but they'll also double up as a subtle privacy screen. A look like this works if you're looking for small front garden ideas, too.

6. Green up a modern balcony with plants at different heights

Plants displayed in pots on crates on urban balcony

(Image credit: Getty Images/Oscar Wong)

Perhaps the extent of your outdoor space stretches to a single balcony. There are still lots of ways to turn it into an alfresco haven – you just need to consider your layout ideas with care.

Perhaps you're lucky enough to have views of water nearby, or fields on the other side of your plot. By using minimal fencing rather than solid panels, you can make the most of the outside world.

Remember to then position your seating towards the view to make the most of it – it will instantly feel like your garden is more spacious. If you're in an urban setting, adding some garden privacy ideas may be more suitable for your space.

A balcony can also be home to your own mini jungle if you wish. Using statement plants in pots arranged on different levels can play key roles in your layout, while smaller pots can be hung from railings or used as centerpieces for your table.

Need more inspiration? There are lots more balcony garden ideas in our guide.

7. Choose small, structural trees for a rectangular plot

Narrow backyard with paving slaps and gravel, pea shingle, wooden railway sleeper flower bed, vegetable patch, potted plants, timber fence

(Image credit: Getty Images/John Keeble)

Looking to give a small, rectangular space a bit more structure? Try using one or two of the best trees for small gardens instead. 

Acers (Japanese maples), which can be seen on the left of this image, are also perfect solutions for a boost of color with their feathery leaves. For a rustic, Mediterranean vibe, small olive trees make a great addition, and can be grown in large decorative pots. A clipped bay tree is a good choice for a more formal look, plus you can use the leaves in your cooking.

If you've only got room for one tree, consider choosing one which adds interest across seasons, be it blossom in spring, attractive bark in winter, or fruit in the fall. A small apple tree, for example, will bring delight for months on end.

In terms of making a small backyard look bigger, 'small garden trees can help,' says Hannah Rickards. Try using 'two trees to frame the end of a path leading to the next area of the garden,' she suggests.

8. Choose curved features, such as a firepit, for a side garden

Lit fire pit in back yard

(Image credit: Getty Images/SEAN GLADWELL)

If you have a side garden, or a plot that is long and thin, curved features - such as a pathway and fire pit - can help to widen the sense of space.

In fact, fire pits are the ideal centerpiece for small plots as they provide a focal point that can be enjoyed all year round. In winter, you can gather next to it with friends and family to keep cozy, toasting marshmallows and enjoying its magical glow beneath the stars. In summer, they're perfect for upping the ambiance of an evening party.

Using a pale material for the ground cover is also a good move to brighten the overall scheme.

9. Create split level decking, or sunken seating areas

split level garden with sunken decked area

(Image credit: Derek Harris/Alamy Stock Photo)

City living can often be at the expense of privacy so it's important to first ascertain which areas of the garden provide a more secluded area. Consider whether you can structure your small garden layout ideas into sections, by creating a private, sunken seating space.

The strategic planting creates yet more privacy and softens the texture of the space. Clever backyard lighting will also encourage you to enjoy the space throughout the day and late into the evening. 

Working with levels like this is perfect for making the most of slightly sloping plots, too.


How do you split up a small garden layout?

There are lots of ways to zone a small backyard layout. Try small, clipped hedges – either trimmed into neat rectangles or perhaps cloud pruned for more organic shapes. You can also use large planters. Half walls, made of stone, are another option, and you can add plants to them too – take a look at our small rock garden ideas for inspiration. You can also work with levels. Try putting a seating area higher up or sink it down, to draw the eye and section it away into a separate room.

There are so many options for smaller outdoor spaces. If your budget will allow, you can even plan a pool scheme in a small backyard. If you're looking for natural privacy screening options in your small space, you might be interested in the best privacy trees for small backyards.  

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.

With contributions from