Whether your yard has a perfectly manicured lawn or is a sand pit, every backyard has the potential to reflect your style – and size doesn't matter, either. From small to large, success is in the details. "I've learned that small, unconventional details can significantly impact a backyard design," says Ward Dilmore, founder and CEO at Petrus Landscaping in California.
To help you make the most of your backyard space, we've collected ten ways expert landscape designers create amazing backyards for their clients.
10 backyard landscaping ideas that create a relaxing oasis
1. Include the elements
Image source: Stone Yard Inc.
Mitch Brean, founder and lead designer of Stone Yard, Inc., suggests using the natural element as a focal point. "Homeowners should imagine the outcome they desire and incorporate something amazing as a focal point. Whether a fireplace, water feature, or a stunning piece of furniture, this eye-catching element will serve as the centerpiece of their backyard escape."
I encourage our clients to select sustainable materials that are beautiful to look at, interesting to touch, and withstand the elements. – Mitch Brean, Stone Yard, Inc.
2. Tame the bank
Image source: Petrus Landscaping
Sloped backyards and steep embankments are hard to maintain and offer no space for outdoor activities. But with strategic planning, you can make them the focal point. According to Dilmore, "Designing a remarkable backyard is a blend of creativity and functionality." The tiered planting of native species combined with a retaining wall isn't just beautiful but prevents erosion and eliminates the need for unsafe mowing. Our 2023 Outdoor Trends Report states that climate-resilient gardens are important to homeowners.
3. Plant a moon garden
Image source: Perfect Plants Nursery
A moon garden can turn your backyard from scary dark to romantically inviting. Whether you want a personal refuge or a delightful backdrop for an evening soiree with friends, the moon garden delivers.
Alex Kantor, owner of Perfect Plants Nursery, recommends choosing plants for a moon garden that have a pleasant fragrance. He's particularly fond of the Frost Proof Gardenia. "The sweet and exotic scent of gardenias can transform any outdoor space into a tranquil oasis," he says. When designing a moon garden, Kantor suggests using plants with large, bright white flowers that reflect moonlight and those with silvery leaves. "Remember to select a location you can access at night," he says, "and ensure that larger trees don't block the moonlight from shining on the plants."
4. Add more space
Image source: Studio Shed
Whether you need extra living space, a quiet get-away, or just a place to stash some tools, a backyard shed or accessory dwelling unit is the answer to your problems. But don't just drop it in and call it done. You want to integrate your new shed into the overall design of the yard. Here are a few ideas.
- Create a path that leads to the building. Whether you use pavers, pea gravel, or mulch, a path invites visitors and shows them the way.
- Add lighting. Strategically placed lighting keeps your backyard safe but also highlights areas of interest. Consider path lighting and sconces on the shed.
- Plant shrubbery. Landscaping around the building makes it an attractive focal point and creates a natural flow in the yard. "Use some of the plants that you’ve already used elsewhere in your landscape and match your garden style," suggests Jeremy Nova, co-founder of Studio Shed.
- Add outdoor living space adjacent to the shed. "Consider incorporating a comfortable seating area, an outdoor cooking and dining area, a garden, or even a pool," says Nova.
Check with your local building department to ensure that building an ADU is allowed in your area and determine any size or usage restrictions. – Jeremy Nova, Studio Shed
5. Create two separate yards
Photo source: Rise Architecture
You may be privileged to have an in-law suite as part of your home. Whether Nana and Papa live there or you rent it out to strangers, having separate backyards provides privacy for everyone. Are trees in the way? No problem. "Add curved lines to the walking paths to go naturally around existing trees," says Jeff Akerman, strategic construction advisor at Real Estate Bees. And for families on a budget, use affordable materials like concrete pavers instead of stone.
6. Embrace a minimalist approach
Photo source: Stone Yard Inc.
40 percent of experts believe that minimalist design is the most on-trend design for outdoor spaces. "This design philosophy elevates the innate beauty of the space," says Brean. By using simple, clean-lined furniture in cool, natural colors, you create a relaxing atmosphere that's unassuming. According to Brean, it "preserves the captivating natural landscape."
7. Plant a vertical garden
When space is an issue, or even if it's not, consider planting a vertical garden. "Vertical gardens act as living art pieces," says Dilmore. Not only that, they save space, can act as a privacy screen, and reduce noise. A wooden trellis is easy to build and can support the weight of flowers or vegetables. And, you don't have to endure pressure on your knees when squatting to pull weeds or pick your harvest from a vertical vegetable garden.
8. Blend into nature
Photo source: Rise Architecture
If blending into your surroundings is important to you, choose materials that create a natural vibe. "When a home blends in with the natural surroundings," says Akerman, "it offers a space that is deeply connected to the environment and at the same time functional." For this northern woods cabin, he used wood from local lumber yards to create a multi-purpose deck for the homeowners to relax without infringing on nature.
9. Choose low-maintenance, native plants
Including low-maintenance, native plants in your backyard save water, support wildlife and pollinators, and minimize your workload. Perennials return to their vibrant self every year and reduce the time you spend shopping for and planting new plants. Succulents thrive as a ground cover in arid climates, requiring less mulch. Whether you're designing container gardens, ground-level flower beds, or raised garden beds, choose elements that work well in your geographic region.
10. Add a touch of whimsy
As the saying goes, "One man's junk is another man's treasure." Or rather, the junk makes the perfect lawn ornament. Repurposing antique or vintage finds in the yard and garden adds a touch of whimsy to an otherwise dull space. Designers agree. "Repurposing salvaged treasures as garden accents infuses a unique character into your backyard," says Dilmore. Items like old bike frames provide a trellis for climbing flowers. Old copper pots become planters. And an old cast iron tub becomes a fountain.
Have fun with your backyard design. Find plants that bring you joy and put them where you can see them every day. – Alex Kantor, Perfect Plants Nursery
Things to remember when designing your backyard
A professional landscape architect or designer will use photos or a video walkthrough to create a custom landscape plan that meets your vision and is specific to your climate. But you can easily DIY your backyard makeover when remembering the following rules.
Create a seamless style
According to the Outdoor Living Trends Report 2023, 73 percent of home construction professionals say indoor-outdoor living areas are the most popular trend this year. This style requires a seamless transition from interior spaces to the outdoors. To achieve this, think of the indoor and outdoor spaces as one, much like when creating flow inside your home. Here are a few tips for creating a seamless design.
- Reduce visual barriers between the two spaces with oversized doors and windows or folding glass walls that completely open up the space, making it one.
- Use complementary materials in both spaces to connect the two. For instance, the color of your outdoor furniture should fit inside.
- Create a place for entertaining immediately outside the door. Including an outdoor kitchen, a dining area, and an area for lounging makes this space seamless and enlarges your overall living space.
Don't forget lighting
From string lights to path lighting, if you plan to spend any time outdoors after dark, this is an essential element not to skimp on. And, if you don't plan to spend time outside at night, having the proper outdoor lighting will change your mind. Here are a few things to consider.
- Use lights to highlight special features, like statuary or ornamental trees.
- Keep paths and stairways well-lit.
- Choose ambient lighting for conversation areas and direct overhead lighting for dining.
When designing a large backyard, you can have separate areas designated for various activities. Small backyards may be more challenging, but possible. "Creating hidden retreats or eclectic seating arrangements adds an element of surprise and coziness," says Dilmore. Here are a few ways to make this happen.
- If you have a swimming pool that takes up most of your space, create seating areas around the pool.
- Erect a pergola or gazebo for outdoor dining or conversation.
- Install hardscaping or a stone patio to provide a solid area for furniture.
- Include an outdoor fireplace to create a conversation area.
- Furnish a hidden corner of the yard with a hammock and Adirondack chairs to provide a casual place to relax in an otherwise formal garden design.
Get started on your backyard garden
If creating your backyard patio design seems monumental, a professional landscape designer can help you. They can do everything from creating a plan to get you started to planting everything for you. Let us find a landscape architect in your area, and you'll be one step closer to the outdoor space of your dreams.
Written byCarol J Alexander Content Specialist and Subject Matter Expert
Carol J Alexander is a home remodeling industry expert for Fixr.com. For more than 15 years as a journalist and content marketer, her in-depth research, interviewing skills, and technical insight have ensured she provides the most accurate and current information on a given topic. Before joining the Fixr team, her personal clients included leaders in the building materials market like Behr Paint Company, CertainTeed, and Chicago Faucet, and national publications like This Old House and Real Homes.