5 Beautiful Small Backyard Ideas

Landscaping in a Small Yard

Petite plot got you perplexed? Never fear! The designers at Outdoor Spaces are the small yard experts. We don’t think of a compact backyard as making due with less. We look at it as making the most of what you have! It’s a chance to craft an inviting space that is truly personalized and unique.

Can I Landscape in a Small Yard?

The short answer? Yes! Small yards offer an opportunity to embrace intimacy and coziness. Unlike vast backyard expanses, a small yard invites you to create an oasis where each detail is tailored to your tastes. The key lies in maximizing every inch, embracing verticality and choosing the right plants and hardscape to optimize usability.

Tips for Landscaping in a Small Yard

1. Plan wisely

Start with a well-thought-out plan. (That’s where we come in!) Consider the layout, focal points, and the purpose of each area.

2. Embrace vertical gardening

When horizontal space is at a premium, look up! Vertical gardens, hanging planters and trellises not only save space, but are beautiful as well. Vining plants and climbing flowers can transform plain walls or fences into living works of art.

3. Go multi-functional

Choose benches and coffee tables with storage, privacy screens with a vertical garden, convertible dining tables that expand only when you have guests and outdoor bar carts that can be moved around for serving when needed.

4. Choose the correct plants

Select plants that are proportionate to your yard. Compact shrubs, dwarf trees and other upright-growing plants can save a lot of space. And of course learn how to properly prune your plants so they stay the shape and size you want.

5. Create zones

Purposefully define the various zones in your yard like the dining area, sitting corner and maybe a small garden. When we create distinct areas it gives the illusion of space, making the yard feel larger than it is.

6. Go easy on decor

When it comes to outdoor furniture and decor, less is often more in small yards. Go minimal and choose pieces that enhance, not overwhelm the space.

Small Backyard Design Ideas

Outdoor Spaces designer Lillian Robison loves to design small backyards. It’s actually her favorite type of project!

“People often assume they cannot do very much design-wise for their backyard when they are limited in size. In reality you can usually fit all the elements into a small yard that you can in a big yard. You just might be more limited on size and you may need to prioritize multi-function spaces,” she says.

Here, Lillian takes us through some small yard makeovers we’ve done recently – and why we made the decisions we did.

An Intimate Space

Before and after of a small backyard redesign. In the before photo, the backyards of several apartments are fused together with no clear boundaries. In the after photo, the backyard has a closed-off circular plot of grass with a paved walkway and adorned plants on the side.

This tiny townhouse backyard wasn’t much when we started with it. Our client’s main priority was to gain privacy and have a peaceful place to sit and relax that felt all their own. Using the cedar screening trellis, adding some flowering trees and full planting beds as well as incorporating a little bit of hardscaping helped define their small oasis.

We also used plants to screen their air conditioner from view. Keeping some “positive space” in the form of a circular lawn in the middle makes visitors feel like the planting beds are surrounding a larger-than-it-is central area. Together with the small patio, the defined separate spaces help the yard feel bigger.

Adding Beauty to a Shallow Lawn

A before and after of a small backyard redesign. In the before photo, the narrow, rectangular lawn is covered with dead leaves and not much else. In the after photo, the lawn is cleaned up, with plants adorning the fence-adjacent side and a new stone patio sits on the opposite side.

This client has a wide, but shallow yard they wanted to make more beautiful. (Check out all the windows overlooking it!) We made the existing patio larger and added planting beds to help define each area and boost the contemporary/modern vibe.

The final lawn panel, although smaller than before, feels larger because of the raised beds that mitigate minor slopes – flat spaces tend to feel larger. Blocking or drawing the eye away from unsightly elements – like with the trees in front of the retaining wall and the colorful wood screen hiding the utilities – can also help focus the eye within the space, making it feel bigger.

Using Verticality to Preserve Space

Before and after of a redesigned backyard. In the before photo, the grass is dead and the overall space is small with a singular bench in the lawn. In the after, plants and trees have been added to border the lawn to make it look tighter and cleaner.

Before and after of a redesigned backyard, different angle of the same lawn from the photo above. In the before photo, the grass is dead and only a bench sits on the lawn. In the after, plants and trees border the lawn to make it look tighter, and a small patio and hot tub has been added in the corner near the door.

This small yard already had a fence, but European hornbeams will grow together to achieve more privacy above fence height, while preserving usable space below. Defining planting beds with edging adds interest and color in the garden while softening the visual transition from ground to the imposing vertical planes of house and fence. An arbor mounted on the garage wall performs a similar function, helping ground the space and making it feel cozier.

Placing the hot tub in the corner, planting around it and keeping the lawn as a separate area allows it to be tucked in place, seeming like it has always been there. Garden art and paver detailing is effective in smaller spaces, helping them feel more like interior rooms.

Defining “Rooms” to Create Volume

Before and after of a redesigned backyard. In the before photo, a shot from the corner shows the air conditioning unit displayed prominently with overgrowing moss and dead grass in the lawn. In the after photo, a small pathway and masonry installations have clearly defined the space, and a patio has been added near the door.

The goal for this end-unit townhouse was to create a small patio sitting area, screen the air conditioning units, install artificial turf that the client’s puppy wouldn’t tear up and provide some garden interest all while maintaining a contemporary feel. Strongly defining bed vs. lawn vs. patio space makes the area feel bigger.

Also, flattening each of the spaces with the help of paver edging tricks the eye into thinking the areas are larger than they are. By adding stepping stones we incorporated the side yard as well.

Patio Refresh

Before and after of a backyard redesign. In the before photo, several white lawn chairs surround a small table with a child’s playground in the background. In the after photo, there now sits a patio with a black pergola overhead, with two benches and a coffee table on the patio. A small outdoor kitchen sits in the corner.

Sometimes properly defining the sitting area from the walkway can make a yard feel bigger. This project had an old patio too close to the gate with no room to walk by. By expanding the patio and moving the seating area against the detached garage, it allowed for a clear walkway through the gate into the yard with plenty of usable lawn space.

The contrasting-colored pergola overhead helps ground the sitting and dining areas, differentiating those spaces and making the small yard feel more cozy, varied and dynamic.

Small Backyard Designers in Northern Virginia

Let Outdoor Spaces work some magic in your backyard. Even the smallest of spaces can be transformed into something special for your family to make memories in for years to come. All of our designers are trained in landscape architecture and will work with you to create your dream space. Contact us today so we can take a look at your yard.