When it comes to deciding on the right patio planting ideas to incorporate into your backyard, there's a lot to think about.
'We consider foliage color contrast, texture, size of the plant for extra lushness, and determine whether or not the plant will look good year round,' says Kate Anne Gross of Los Angeles landscape design firm Kate Anne Designs. 'Do we want butterflies to come to the patio? Would the homeowner like a garden scent from the patio? Does the homeowner want herbs and plants for cooking right outside their kitchen? All of these factors help us determine which plants to include in our designs.'
The patio ideas you're prioritizing will help you whittle down your options. If you're creating a space for dining, relaxing or entertaining, you'll want your patio plantings to enhance the experience, bringing color, scent and interesting forms and, as Gross suggests, perhaps attract wildlife, or even provide herbs for cooking.
And while patios are often thought of in connection with container planting, beds and borders can also provide a fabulous planting opportunity to transform this part of the yard.
Patio planting ideas
The patio is an area that’s worth paying attention to, as it makes such a big difference to the look and feel of both your house and your backyard. Calming greenery surrounding it or flowering perennials are sure to make your mood soar.
You might choose evergreen shrubs and grasses for year-round interest and color; add flowers for every season; or even opt for shade-providing trees as one of your patio cover ideas. Take inspiration from these patio planting ideas.
1. Add planters to your patio
There's no need to limit your patio planting ideas to the area's perimeter. Especially if your patio is expansive, consider incorporating trees or tall plants in planters to help distinguish different areas, create shade from the mid-afternoon sun, and distribute luxuriant foliage to every corner of your outdoor space.
'We love using potted plants in this backyard because they add lushness and depth to the space with a contemporary and Mediterranean feel,' says Kate Anne Gross, whose firm, Kate Anne Designs, is behind the patio above.
If privacy is a concern, create a sense of seclusion with a row of potted arborvitaes.
2. Grow climbing vines by a pergola
For an all green look, Boston Ivy is a good choice, and preferred to the potentially invasive English version. To add some color, or if it better suits your climate, try Climbing Hydrangea, Clematis, Virginia Creeper (an ivy with a red tinge), or Chocolate Vine.
3. Plant a hedge wall for privacy
A fence might be the practical way to contain your yard and create privacy around your patio, but a wall of privacy hedges serves the same purpose, with the added benefit of creating a secret garden vibe.
Landscape designer Kate Anne Gross sited this home's outdoor kitchen alongside the row of hedges to create the sense that the kitchen was its own room, and set a tone of intimacy for entertaining.
4. Contain your patio garden
If you're designing a patio and find you have limited room for a garden, try incorporating your favorite flowers with a container garden.
Choose planters of varying heights, plant a different flower in each, and group them together for the most impactful display.
5. Dress up a plain wall with a planter
if your patio is of the boring, builder's spec variety, use patio planters as a way to bring life, color, and architectural detail to the space.
Above, designer Brooke Waite revamped a bare wall on her Arizona patio with a large, custom planter, and added in a variety of hardy grasses that'll stand up to the area's dry heat.
6. Use small trees to provide shade
Sun worshippers may not like this suggestion, but if your patio gets a lot of sun, planting small trees can give you a shady spot to escape intense rays. Look for the trees for small gardens to ensure you don't plant one that will grow too big.
However, that’s not the only lesson to learn here: this yard is also a great example of how beautifully flower beds can coexist with pavers when you’re laying a patio.
7. Create a lush backdrop
Complement patio planting with a lush colored backdrop and you can enhance the experience of being in nature – with extra relaxing results.
Here architectural foliage in a lighter green hue stands out against the rich green color of the wall to great effect. Make sure you follow this design’s lead with larger plants and pots to set alongside seating so they don’t get lost in the arrangement.
8. Get double use out of a raised bed
If the cost of laying a patio allows, consider combining raised beds with bench seating for a great dining area surrounded by plants. What could be better for an al fresco meal or glass of wine?
Plant shrubs and greenery to add height, or train climbing plants up a wall so you get pretty coverage that makes you feel like you’re in the countryside even if you live in an urban setting.
9. Grow olive trees
Bring Mediterranean garden ideas to your patio plantings by growing olive trees in pots there. A single tree or a pair can make a striking feature for the space.
Bear in mind that they will have to be moved off the patio if you live in a region with cold winters – which is why growing them in pots can be a winning strategy.
10. Add a flower bed center stage
Flower beds don’t have to be placed along the edge when designing a patio. Build a bed in the very center and lay pavers neatly around it to create an eye-catching architectural display – especially if you add a striking sculpture or water feature alongside highly manicured greenery.
11. Introduce topiary to a patio
For a more formal look arrange topiary in containers symmetrically, or simply group them for a softer effect. And to maintain the shape of these evergreens, trim regularly, as well as feeding and watering to keep them healthy.
12. Make your patio attractive to bees
Lavender is ideal for cottage patio ideas, smells fantastic and is super appealing to bees, raising your eco credentials in one easy move. Lavender grows well in pots or beds and if you’re mixing it in to larger border, a rich blue will beautifully complement the purple of the lavender.
There are plenty of other plants that will attract bees, too, such as geraniums, Cosmos Apollo and Verbena rigida. Whatever blooms you choose, bear in mind that single-flowering stems are best for our flying friends.
13. Make a patio roof with planting
If you need to create shade for a patio, opting for pergola ideas that make a framework for climbers is a sound solution. While you will need patience while the climber grows up and over to form a roof, you’ll be rewarded with a cool spot from which to enjoy the outlook. Consider this tactic if your patio is overlooked, too, as it will make the space private.
14. Mark your territory
With a view like this, one could argue that you need little else to add to it. But patio planting ideas are always worthwhile.
Here, greenery softens the hard lines of the roof, while a dense row of planter pots runs along the glass wall, making the see-through patio perimeter clearer (so you’re less likely to walk into it). The foliage also provides a little extra screening and privacy without distracting from the beautiful vista.
15. Continue a color scheme
Link a patio to the rest of the yard by repeating the garden color schemes there.
In this yard white blooms with accents of pink border the walkway and extend to the patio, but it’s easy to get the same effect by using hues from the rest of the yard in pots and containers on the patio.
16. Surround yourself with greenery
There’s no paving in this scheme, so technically it’s not a patio, but the backyard could easily have one and look just the same – so we will ignore that little detail.
Patios inspired by woodland and full of lush foliage look amazing when they have a jungle of greenery around their borders, and you can even bring that greenery through into patio furniture, as here.
If you have a city garden, lush planting is great way to give yourself the privacy you crave and build an oasis of calm around you. Layer up grasses, shrubs and small trees to get the look. Start tall and work your way to smaller coverage at the front of borders.
17. Hang your baskets
Hanging baskets are a traditional way of raising plants off the ground and adding interest higher up, particularly in small yards.
They are often mounted on walls, but this structure creates a fun greenhouse vibe with ferns and grasses hanging down above your head. It gives a luxe feel, reminiscent of a cool city bar, and definitely has the wow factor.
18. Have herbs to hand
As patios are usually next to your home, they’re a great place for herb gardens so these ingredients are within easy reach when you need some basil for your burrata or parsley for a fish dish.
Thyme, rosemary, mint, chives and marjoram are also great growers that will be helpful when you need to add an extra flavor punch to your cooking. Another bonus is that bees love herb plants, too.
19. Live it up
Living walls (or green walls) are striking in their design, but they’re also really good for you and the air around you, filtering toxins and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen.
They’re fantastic for wildlife, too, plus looking at all that greenery is brilliant for your state of mind. Vertical garden ideas take a little planning, but the benefits definitely make a living wall worth considering.
20. Light the way
Patio lighting ideas may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of planting, but as the evenings draw in, do you really want to miss out on what your patio has to offer?
Patios take on a certain magic at night, so incorporate lighting to make yours a blissful place to dine or enjoy a drink post sun-down and admire the planting.
21. Give pots a lift
There are two patio planting ideas to take from this photo. A ladder shelf will give you lots of extra space for pots and create height on a patio without the need for big shrubbery and trees.
Also, it shows how pots don’t need to match. A mixture of colors, sizes and materials works very well together. Bold shades and unusual designs happily sit alongside more traditional terracotta and concrete planters, so have fun shopping and creating an eclectic display.
22. Let patio planting blur the boundaries
'Allowing plants to bleed over pavers will make a patio feel less stark, more settled, and much prettier,' says Lucy Searle, Homes & Gardens' Editor in Chief. 'You can continue this blurring of different zones by continue the patio planting into the borders beyond.'
What is a good outdoor potted plant?
‘Violas and athyriums (Lady fern) are a fantastic duo for winter and spring,’ says expert gardener Sarah Raven. ‘Both these plants are hardy and will cheer you along through to the early months of the next year. Don’t forget anenomes; they’re a great pot plant that will flower from February to May.’
In summer, roses are a wonderful choice, and many of them smell amazing. ‘David Austin’s disease-resistant roses are ideal for organic gardeners who don’t want to use chemicals,’ says Michael Marriott at David Austin Roses. ‘Among our favourites are the apricot ‘Roald Dahl’, white ‘Desdemona’, the single yellow ‘Tottering-by-Gently’ and a pink ‘Silas Marner’. All are beautiful and fragrant, as well as being super healthy.’
It’s also worth considering small potted trees. Evergreen varieties will keep your garden bright all year round and look amazing in concrete planters, making them one of the best trees for a small garden or patio.
What can I plant around my patio?
‘You can’t go wrong with tulips!’ says Sarah Raven. ‘Choose from an array of colour palettes, textures and shapes – there’s sure to be a tulip to suit everyone. This year, I particularly love the Dutch Master tulip collection – and it has a brilliant scent, too.
Other great border-softening plants include hostas, pulmonarias and santolina. Low-rise box hedges are another wonderful option for separating a space between the patio and a lawn. Or perhaps you want a more woodland look, in which case verdant grasses will keep everything lush and leafy.
Training climbing plants up a wall is a clever way to make sure that your patio is surrounded by nature, without the need for a flower bed. Giant pots can hold fairly large shrubs and small trees, too, so you may not need a bed to achieve the height you want around your patio.
If you like a sleek style, raised flower beds look very smart, especially in concrete or painted concrete finishes.
What are the best low maintenance patio plants?
A low-maintenance garden is the dream. You want it to look good, but not necessarily take hours to care for. ‘Heucheras are hard to beat, along with foliage begonias and scented-leaf pelargoniums. Plus Plectranthus,’ says Sarah Raven. ‘Bring them all in if frost is forecast – they make great house plants, too.’
You could also try pansies, hydrangeas and Skimmia ‘Rubella’.
Bear in mind that large pots generally help to keep things more low maintenance than small pots, as they can hold more water and therefore need watering much less often. From your plants’ perspective, large pots feel more like being in the ground, too. Make sure you use well-draining soil and that there are drainage holes so the container doesn’t become waterlogged.
Ultimately, your plant choice really depends on your patio space. Is it sunny, partially sunny or shaded? Look at the labels on plants and try to make sure you pick varieties that will be content growing in your yard. It’s all very well planting a sunflower, but if you have a shady garden it will never thrive. And some plants love shade, such as hostas, so you still have plenty of options.
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Rachel is senior content editor, and writes and commissions gardening content for homesandgardens.com, Homes & Gardens magazine, and its sister titles Period Living Magazine and Country Homes & Interiors. She has written for lifestyle magazines for many years, with a particular focus on gardening, historic houses and arts and crafts, but started out her journalism career in BBC radio, where she enjoyed reporting on and writing programme scripts for all manner of stories. Rachel then moved into regional lifestyle magazines, where the topics she wrote about, and people she interviewed, were as varied and eclectic as they were on radio. Always harboring a passion for homes and gardens, she jumped at the opportunity to work on The English Home and The English Garden magazines for a number of years, before joining the Period Living team, then the wider Homes & Gardens team, specializing in gardens.
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