By Jennifer Ebert published
Backyard landscaping ideas have the ability to transform your outdoor space no matter what budget you have.
While we spend a great deal of time, effort, and money on the interiors of our homes, we sometimes forget to put that same level of importance outside our home, particularly when it comes to our backyard.
But as an extension of your home, outdoor space is part of your design personality, and you should treat the process of choosing backyard ideas with the same creativity and care as your ideas for your home.
Whether you live in a city apartment with a small patio, or a sprawling renovated farmhouse with acres of land, these backyard landscaping ideas will help inspire you to create a yard that’s reflective of your unique design sensibility.
Brilliant backyard landscaping ideas
1. Include a fish pond in your backyard
A koi pond can be so much more than a simple backyard water feature. Take this elegant aquatic paradise by Megan Dufresne of MC Design for instance, where a river rock–clad wall supports an Asian-inspired fountain.
The space certainly has a Zen-like quality emphasizing meditativeness and serenity.
2. Add greenery for privacy
While fences are a sure-fire way to keep things private, consider going lush with your greenery when choosing garden ideas for privacy to create a more natural-looking private divide.
For this home in Atherton, California, Cooper Hewitt National Design Award-winning landscape firm SURFACE DESIGN surrounded the pool with lush xeriscaping – that is, landscaping with minimal water usage, which is ideal for drier climates. Naturally, the taller and fuller the plants, the more privacy you create.
3. Have fun with recreational areas
A pool is always a great idea for leisure or fitness, but consider incorporating other forms of recreation into your backyard. And we don’t mean a basketball hoop in your driveway or a tennis court out back. Why not add a bocce court, as seen in this SURFACE DESIGN project in Woodside, California – to entertain your family or your guests?
4. Think vertically
Not every backyard has the square footage for extensive landscaping but there are plenty of ingenious small back yard landscaping ideas for every size of space.
To maximize space, add height to a garden through vertical elements, which could range from trellises covered in climbing plants to imposing retaining walls.
In the case of SURFACE DESIGN’S Tank Hill project in California, those footholds in the wall aren’t for plants – they’re for the family of free-climbers who live there.
5. Create a focal point in your backyard
Don’t be afraid to go bold and install something monumental to be a focal point for your backyard.
Design duo Courtney and Robert Novogratz did just that in the backyard of their Hollywood Hills, California, home. They used a monolithic fire pit for garden zoning, dividing the backyard into different sections, as a folding screen might in a studio apartment.
'A fire feature is always a good idea,' says Courtney.
6. Leave your lawn be
Sometimes when it comes to backyard landscaping ideas, simplicity is best. Keeping your lawn open allows for all kinds of activities, from garden parties under a tent in the summer to sledding with kids in the winter.
At his Hudson Valley, New York, home, which sits on 45 wooded acres, architect Gil Schafer keeps a well-manicured lawn surrounding the house, adorned quite simply with a planter-topped Pennsylvania fieldstone wall and a set of Adirondack chairs in the distance.
7. Keep to the classics
There’s a reason planters and arched trellises have become garden stalwarts –they’re beautiful.
Build a smaller yard with these simple features, incorporate them into your patio ideas or use them in a small section of a larger property, as Gil Schafer did in this pocket of his Hudson Valley home.
8. Flip things inside out
If you’re fortunate enough to live in a warm climate, you can create an entire outdoor living space in your backyard. Keep it covered for shade and protection from the elements – your furniture will last a lot longer.
Sisters Ashley Waddell and Courtney Whatley of Olivia O’Bryan, designed this outdoor living space in Florida, combining antiques with new furnishings.
'We shop for one-of-a-kind vintage and antique pieces for all of our jobs – indoors or out,' says Ashley Waddell. 'We always consider the materials before placing items outside to ensure that the pieces can withstand the elements. Most of the antiques we incorporate are usually made of teak or rattan because they weather well in tropical climates if under cover.'
9. Play up a porch
The perfect spot for sipping your morning coffee, curling up with a good book, or watching a rainstorm roll by, porch ideas are an underrated part of a home’s outdoor space.
Be sure to decorate your porch with furnishings like a daybed or a swinging bench, like the one here in this porch designed by Olivia O’Bryan.
10. Add a sculpture to your backyard
Sculptural elements are perfect for adding a creative touch to your backyard. For this California property, landscape architect Christian Douglas used a rusted steel circle in lieu of a more classic trellis to create an entryway to a garden.
'The moon gate fulfilled two project needs: sculpture/art and a unique entry/threshold into the creek garden, which has become a magical playground for the two young boys,' says Douglas. 'It communicates both sophistication and whimsy.'
11. Level up with terracing
There are definitely scenarios where terracing is more of a necessity than an aesthetic decision – say, if you're looking for sloped backyard ideas. But they also provide visual intrigue.
'Tiered walls are a great opportunity to create layers in the landscape. It makes the space more dynamic,' says Douglas of this California project.
'In this instance, splitting a potential five-foot retaining wall into two smaller walls allows for more interesting layered planting combinations to draw the eye and soften the hard materials.'
12. Let the water flow
Water features make a backyard feel more dynamic, whether they serve as a wildlife-spotting zone, a calming auditory design element, or a visual focal point. And they don’t always have to be too over the top, like an elaborate koi pond. They can also be a simple fountain, like this one in a California project by Christian Douglas.
13. Plant edible produce
Food-loving homeowners with green thumbs should consider planting vegetable or herb gardens in their backyards. Beyond being practical for growing your own ingredients, these gardens can also serve as a beautiful visual element.
Douglas loves creating gorgeous edible gardens like this one, using beautiful plants like artichokes, blueberries, and alpine strawberries.
'Artichokes have wonderful, evergreen architectural leaves that contrast beautifully with anything green – fabulous when paired with ornamental grasses and topiary,' he says.
14. Build a pool
Pools are not only pleasing to look at, but also ideal for entertaining. This property in Virginia, designed by landscape architect Joseph Richardson, features an infinity-edge pool overlooking the woods.
'The pool was not part of the original scope of the project, but was something that developed over time. The homeowners have two young daughters, and love to entertain so they thought a pool would be a great addition,' says Richardson.
'We had originally discussed adding a more traditional pool to the terrace, but decided that an infinity edge was the perfect way to spotlight the property's steeply pitched, wooded terrain.'
15. Play with sound
Every garden is different, but the beauty of water features is that they can be customized to meet the needs and goals of each space. Water can be used to drown out the sound if living in a metropolitan area or near a main road or railway, and makes a soothing addition to any backyard.
16. Vary your stone
'For this particular project we were tasked to create a landscape that combined the husband’s love of classical garden elements with the wife’s preference for Japanese gardens,' says Richardson.
'We achieved this by creating a walkway of Pennsylvania bluestone pavers surrounded by Delaware river stone. The meandering pathway, which is a popular design element in Japanese gardens, connects two traditional patios, one for cooking and another for dining.'
17. Keep it natural with your backyard landscaping
By using natural-looking materials, you can give the impression of a more natural space, even if it’s very purposefully designed. Case in point: this project by Richardson.
'For the middle terrace we used more natural materials such as big, stone boulders and large slabs of stacked stone to create a more natural setting,' says Richardson. 'Pennsylvania flagstone also comes in a wide range of colors so we made sure to spotlight all the color variations that are naturally found in the stone.'
18. Make your yard feel like a resort
Love to travel? Create the stay-at-home hotel of your dreams by designing a resort-like backyard, such as this one by Brandon Architects. Ocean view? Check. Infinity pool? Check. Sunken lounge? Check.
19. Add faux grass to small backyards
It’s hard to have it all, especially when you’re limited in space. So if you want a pool, an entertaining area and a lawn, you might need to figure out some hacks to make it work. Our suggestion: add some artificial grass to your backyard if you’re unable to have the real deal. Use it strategically, like Brandon Architects did in this California home, which has a grassy area for poolside lounging.
How much should I budget for backyard landscaping?
Decide how much money you want to spend then look into options that work within your budget.
When it comes to how to landscape a backyard, your biggest financial outlay will be the cost of professionals - landscape architect, garden designer, electrician, builder and so on. There will also be a significant cost in the hard landscaping materials you choose (expect to spend most on boundaries, paving, patios and garden structures).
There are always cheaper options available but they might not necessarily be the best so be realistic about what you can achieve within your budget.
How do you design a good backyard?
Whether you want a completely new look, to modify an existing space or simply add an eye catching feature to switch things up, getting the hard landscaping right is the first step in any redesign as it forms the all-important structure of any garden ideas.
First narrow down your options by thinking about the look you want to achieve. There is a huge choice of materials available, but one of the most important decisions to factor in is the sustainability of your desired materials and if they’re long lasting.
Finally, decide how much time you’re prepared to spend on maintenance too as this will effect what materials you choose. Once you’ve come up with a plan stick to it.
Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space.
Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.
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