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. To do this, you need great landscaping. 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

Before you even consider about buying garden furniture, you need to think about how to landscape a backyard. This is going to be a triumph of design over environment. If you are lucky, you will have an easy plot to landscape, but the more challenging the terrain, the more inventive, and perhaps interesting, your backyard landscaping ideas will become. 

1. Install a pergola for shade and privacy

Whether your backyard sees sunshine most of the year round or intermittently, it’s a good idea to look for garden shade ideas for shelter, and if well positioned, for privacy, too. Pergola ideas are best for this; they can either be slat-roofed to support plants or just to provide dappled shade, or you can look at pergola roof ideas for strong sunshine or, by contrast, rain. 

2. Work lighting into backyard landscaping

When you draw out your first sketches for your backyard landscaping, you will no doubt design in lounging and outdoor dining ideas. At this point, you need to plan in your backyard lighting ideas, too. ‘Good backyard landscaping includes a lighting plan,’ advises Homes & Gardens’ Gardens Editor Rachel Crow. ‘Your garden designer can help you with this but I would suggest at a minimum, you include lighting for areas in which you will sit out at night, and areas or particular elements, whether trees or architecture, that you would like to see from indoors.’ If you’re wondering ‘how do I add luxury to my backyard?’ then atmospheric lighting is a good way.

3. Break up hard landscaping with planting

‘Backyard landscaping ideas should be designed in conjunction with a planting plan,’ advises Lucy Searle, Editor in Chief of Homes & Gardens. ‘This will soften the landscaping, bring biodiversity to your garden and, if you live in a warm climate, make your backyard feel cooler.’ ‘When placing stones, remember to leave space for plants – it’s the contrast between the two that is so effective,’ says gardens writer Natasha Goodfellow (opens in new tab). ‘Don’t be afraid to use tall or upright plants to emphasize the verticality of your plot.’

4. Think: leisure time

When designing backyard landscaping, consider how you will use your garden year-round, and work the elements that will be used regularly into the design. So, if you love to gather around a backyard fire pit, ensure that’s a permanent fixture with seating rather than one you drag in and out of the shed. Consider an outdoor room, too. Garden rooms can be useful for housing guests, for teens to party in, or even just glamorous shed ideas for disguising where you keep your tools.

5. Build a folly

If your current backyard view is of fencing, you can fix this with backyard landscaping. This could be a garden room, beautiful planting, or it could be a fantastical build that is lovely to look at and useful, too. Here, a pizza oven is housed in a sculptural building with seating. Clever.

6. Add color with painted hard landscaping

Some backyard landscaping is necessary but not necessarily pretty to look at. Case in point: garden wall ideas. Of course, you can grow living walls to disguise them but if you’re looking for low maintenance, then painting rendered masonry is a win win. ‘Painted masonry is a wonderful foil for the beauty of wood in your deck ideas,’ says Jennifer Ebert, Homes & Gardens’ Digital Editor. ‘And decking is the most flexible of materials to build seating, raised beds and, of course, flooring over awkward or uneven plots.’

7. Include a fish pond in your backyard

Garden pond ideas aren’t just restful, they can introduce more wildlife to your garden and set the tone for the backyard landscaping around it. 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

8. Add greenery for privacy

While fences are a sure-fire way to keep things private, consider going lush with your greenery when choosing garden screening ideas to create a more natural-looking private divide.  For this home in Atherton, California, Cooper Hewitt National Design Award-winning landscape firm SURFACE DESIGN (opens in new tab) surrounded the pool with lush xeriscaping – that is, backyard landscaping with minimal water usage, which is ideal for drier climates. Naturally, the taller and fuller the plants, the more privacy you create.

9. Have fun with recreational areas

Pool landscaping is vital to get right. 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 (opens in new tab) project in Woodside, California – to entertain your family or your guests? 

10. 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 garden ideas, which could range from trellis ideas covered in climbing plants to imposing living wall ideas.  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. 

11. 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 Cortney and Robert Novogratz (opens in new tab) did just that in the backyard of their Hollywood Hills, California, home. They used a monolithic outdoor fireplace 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 Cortney.

12. 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 (opens in new tab) 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. To keep your lawn looking its best, make sure you know how and when to undertake certain grass maintenance jobs, such as when to add lime to lawns, and how to re-seed or repair patches.

13. 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.

14. 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 (opens in new tab), 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.’

15. 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.

16. 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 (opens in new tab) 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.’

17. 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.’

18. Let the water flow

Water feature ideas make backyard landscaping 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.

19. Plant edible produce

Food-loving homeowners with green thumbs should consider planting vegetable garden ideas 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.

20. Build a pool

Pools are not only pleasing to look at, but also ideal for entertaining, especially if you are looking for backyard ideas for kids that adults will love, too. 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.’ If you need backyard ideas on a budget, you may want to trade in your pool ideas for a smaller water feature of a hot tub instead. 

21. 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.

22. 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.’

23. 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.’ Rock garden ideas like this are easy to recreate.

24. 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 (opens in new tab). Ocean view? Check. Infinity pool? Check. Sunken lounge? Check. 

25. 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?

If you’re worried about the cost of landscaping a backyard, decide how much money you want to spend then look into options that work within your budget.  When it comes backyard landscaping ideas, 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.