Backyard Ideas That Will Keep You Outside All Summer Long

Gazing out onto a vast space behind your house ought to get your mind thinking about backyard ideas. The rear is an extension of your home, and it deserves the same care and consideration as any part of the house. Your design will set the tone for all of your future outdoor spaces, so it’s important to plan accordingly. Before you can break ground on the outdoor oasis of your dreams, know what that dream is. Will you go modern or classic? Evoke a luxury spa of countryside living? Create space for entertaining or space to kick back and be alone? “Look at the big picture: the entire backyard, entire front yard, or the entire property, and envision your goals,” says Tyler Banken, an indoor/outdoor plant expert and landscape architect at Neverland, a plant resource.

How do I design my backyard?

Designing a backyard can feel like a big task, especially if you’re working with a large surface area. Luckily, it’s more than manageable if you’ve got a solid plan. Banken explains that although it’s common to design a backyard in phases (this is especially true for DIYers), it’s important to always know how each part will eventually fit into the whole. “When you have an overall plan for your space it gives you something to work toward and also makes sure you’re not wasting time,” he says.

How can I make my backyard look nice?

Althoough planning will play a big role in the overall success of your design, Banken says there are three general categories that are important to address when installing your landscape.

  • Site Preparation: Banken advises to plan for “positive drainage” when designing your space. You don’t want your yard sloped in a way that water will pool or run toward a structure like a shed or seating area. “Water can be very damaging to structures,” he says, not to mention that puddles don’t look too good.
  • Hardscaping: Plan all of your hardscaping, like patios or retaining walls, carefully, especially any that need careful installation. These considerations greatly impact the aesthetics and longevity of your space.
  • Planting: Finish your design by incorporating how flowers and greenery will impact your backyard ideas. “Plan your plantings in layers,” he says. For example, you might put evergreens along the foundation, medium-height bloomers in front, and a lower-growing plant along the border.

Backyard design ideas for every style

Kick back with a firepit

A cozy firepit is the epicenter of outdoor entertaining.

Nothing screams summer more than the sound of a crackling campfire. Firepits make perfect focal points in a backyard, so if you want one, consider planning the rest of your landscaping around it. Banken features a boulder fire, which he says “gives a natural rugged look that’s softened by the mulch and ground cover for flooring.”

Hang in a hammock

A laid back approach to backyard lounging.

A laid back approach to backyard lounging.

 Photograph: Тодорчук Екатерина

With a hammock, you don’t need a lot of space to create a relaxing oasis in your backyard. Try placing it in a part of your backyard that already has some shade so you’re not scorching in the sun as you try to relax.

Swing into summertime

Swoonworthy macrame swings are a favorite with kids and adults alike.

Swoop in with nostalgic tree swings. For something so simple, swings make a big impact. If you plan to DIY a swing, make sure the tree is in good health. (That is, avoid trees with signs of decay and dead branches.) As a general rule of thumb, only hang swings from branches that are at least 8–10 inches in diameter.

Plant a fruit and vegetable garden

Vegetable and flower boxes bring in welcome crops.

Vegetable and flower boxes bring in welcome crops.

 Photograph: Lisa Romerein

Skip the trip to the grocery store or farmers’ market by adding a backyard fruit or vegetable garden. For a simple design, consider a few rows of plant beds with gravel walkways between them. Even a novice can start a backyard vegetable garden with a few basic pointers.

Splash in a natural swimming pool

Swim au natural.

Natural swimming pools use plants and a biological filtration system instead of chemicals to purify water and keep it clean. Basically, it’s like giving nature all the tools it needs to create an ideal (and fully safe) swimming hole, and it means you do less work since you don’t have to constantly monitor chlorine and chemical levels. In addition to their low maintenance, natural swimming can blend almost seamlessly with the rest of your backyard landscaping.

Design a dining area

Dining al fresco enhances the backyard experience.

Dining al fresco enhances the backyard experience.

 Photograph: Thomas Faull

It doesn’t take much to create an outdoor dining area perfect for a foodie gathering. When planning, consider elements like the number of seats and the style of furniture. Implementing gravel or mulch creates a visual separation between the dining area and the rest of the yard.

Add structure and shade with a pergola

Create a cozy nook with a pergola.

Use a pergola, or a canopy, to separate different areas of your yard. These structures, which can be freestanding or attached to your home, add a roomlike feel to the backyard without compromising fresh air. Think about putting a seating or dining area beneath the structure and dress it up with string lights, flowers, and plants.

Go classic with a bench

A bench sits pretty in the backyard.

A bench sits pretty in the backyard.

 Photograph: rusgri

If you want seating that’s a little sturdier than a hammock and very weather-resistant, invest in a few benches. Style them next to shrubs or under a canopy of trees or use them to highlight a specific view in your backyard.

Get a greenhouse

A greenhouse allows for yeararound gardening.

Adding a small glass-paneled greenhouse in your backyard means you can grow your favorite plants and flowers all year long, regardless of the weather. With controlled humidity and climate, you can also nurture plants that may not naturally grow well in your area. Plants that grow in a greenhouse may also be spared the wrath of pests that want to ravage your blooms. If you’re planning to include a greenhouse, position it facing the south or the southeastern side of your yard, where it should get the most sunlight.

Incorporate a bench swing

A bench swing is a playful approach to relaxing.

A bench swing is a playful approach to relaxing.

 Photograph: PaulMaguire

Though bench swings are common porch additions, this doesn’t mean you can’t have one in your backyard as well. There are various prefab bench swing options available, or you could design and build one yourself. Although many bench swings can and do stand alone, you could also consider hanging one from a pergola to achieve that front-porch look.

Upgrade your shed

WFH space or not a refurbished backyard shed is a welcome escape.

Just because your shed might be holding dirtier items or tools, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve some TLC. A few layers of paint are all you need for a quick shed makeover. You could also consider adding trim and windows to the structure if it doesn’t already have them. For an extra pop, attach a trellis to an outer wall for climbing vines and plants.

Play with levels
Retaining walls give landscaping depth.

Retaining walls give landscaping depth.

 Photograph: Jawcam

If your yard has a slope, think about the ways you can use this natural element to your advantage. You could add stairs to a hill to make the area more functional, add terraced or tiered plant beds, or even design a waterfall. Optimize different levels in your design to better separate the different areas, like a dining section leading to a firepit below, via stairs.

Plant around your fence

Think of climbing florals as fence accoutrements.

Privacy fence ideas are something to consider as they provide a lot of utility in a backyard—whether keeping things out or in. Dress them up by planting flowers or plants along them, which will help them to blend in more effectively with the backyard space. To keep things visually interesting, consider experimenting with texture and weight by mixing an assortment of climbing plants like ivy, climbing roses, or trumpet vines; shrubs like holly, Hydrangea, or lillypilly. Perennial flowers like Japanese anemones or ornamental grasses create an evocative texture.

Use what you already have

A few potted plants chairs and a side table transform any backyard nook.

A few potted plants, chairs and a side table transform any backyard nook.

 Photograph: Andreas von Einsiedel

You don’t have to start entirely from scratch when designing your backyard landscape. Think about elements you already have. Got a shady nook? Brainstorm how you can make it the most useful backyard space for you. A hammock and a small walkway can transform an empty spot into a retreat for a cool afternoon slumber.

Outdoor sectionals add extra seating

Prop your feet up or take a nap.

Plan for plenty of seating, especially if you love to entertain. Outdoor sectionals and couches ensure there’s room for everyone and instantly create an elevated look that encompasses outdoor living.

Separate with hardscape

Natural separation creates an outdoor living room.

Natural separation creates an outdoor living room.

 Photograph: Bulgac

Hardscaping is a part of landscape architecture that is man-made. Creating a border between your hardscape elements, like the patio, and natural elements, like the yard, creates contrast and visual interest. Look for deck ideas that will complement, rather than compete with, the natural surroundings.

Garland trees with lights

Bulb lights for warm summer nights.

Bulb lights for warm summer nights.

 Photograph: Joseph Esquivel / Eyeem

Decorate your tree with string lights to add a warm glow and enchantment to your outdoor space.

Pavers create walkways

A charming pathway to the garden.

Use concrete pavers and stones to create a serene walkway in the narrow part of your backyard. Surround the austere stone with lush greenery and vegetation, thereby bringing in soothing color and completing the calm atmosphere.

Install an outdoor conversation pit

A sunken back yard with a cozy sectional and firepit.

A sunken back yard with a cozy sectional and firepit. 

 William Abranowicz

Conversation pits became popular architectural features in the 1950s and found fame through the 1970s. The built-in seating in a depressed section of a room is an idea that can be transported into a backyard. Create an outdoor version of the midcentury staple with wooden benches, gravel, and a modern firepit.

Luxuriate with in-ground hot tubs

Hot tub fun—day or night.

Hot tub fun—day or night.

 Photograph: Thomas Barwick

Hot tubs can look clunky and out of place if they’re haphazardly placed into a backyard. An in-ground version, on the other hand, looks like a chic, spalike setup.

Go low-maintenance with mulch

Garden mulch keeps weeds at bay.

Mulch doesn’t only have to go in your flower beds, especially if you’re a fan of low-maintenance landscaping ideas. Consider using the material in place of a lawn for a no-mow yard.

Decorate your hills

Slanted slopes look more interesting with foliage.

Slanted slopes look more interesting with foliage.

 Photograph: posonsky

Stone steps and vegetation change a boring, sloped yard into a beautiful, and much more functional, design. Consider planting deep-rooted plants like bugleweed, wintercreeper, or serviceberry when zhuzhing up a hillside.

Draw the eye up with hanging flowers

Wisteria flowers look like a chandelier.

Wisteria flowers look like a chandelier. 

 Photograph: Rosmarie Wirz

It can be easy to focus on the ground when designing your backyard garden, but don’t forget that you can hang plants, too. Use hanging baskets or pots to draw the eye up and take advantage of vertical space, which might work particularly well for small backyards with limited square footage.

Cook up an outdoor kitchen

BBQ tastes better in an outdoor kitchen.

If the pandemic taught us anything it’s that sometimes a grill is just not enough–spring for an outdoor kitchen when it comes to revamping your backyard landscaping design. Think about proximity to gas, water, and electrical hookups as you browse outdoor kitchen ideas and plan for your own.

Dip into a pool

A pool takes backyard style to a new level.

A pool takes backyard style to a new level.

 Photograph: Tom Merton

A pool is the cherry on the cake for a sleek backyard designed with entertainment in mind, Banken says. Use it as the centerpiece and build out. A bar, an outdoor kitchen, a large firepit and lounge area are all design components meant to allow you and your guests to linger.

Disguise your playhouse

Allow ivy to take over a play structure.

Incorporate tree logs and branches

A rustic pergola made from reclaimed logs.

A rustic pergola made from reclaimed logs.

 Photograph: Xavierarnau

For a rustic backyard that gives a nod to nature parks, make a garden path from tree logs in place of concrete or other artificial materials. This give-back-to-nature DIY is especially useful if you have a fallen tree or branch and are looking for a way to put the scrap material to use. Cut the logs into two-inch chunks, and seal with a waterproof wood sealer. Arrange and connect with heavy-duty wood glue where the logs touch.

Find peace with a pond

A circular pond adds a dose of zen to any backyard space.

A backyard pond adds a tranquil element to your landscaping, turning it from a basic plot of land into a relaxing escape. Consider elements like size, style, and whether you want it to be habitable for koi fish, or the like.

Arrange an arbor

Clusters of roses transform an arbor.

Clusters of roses transform an arbor.

 Photograph: Jacky Parker Photography

For a romantic atmosphere, use a trellis adorned with climbing plants or flowering vines. Stage the arched trellis as an entryway that leads into another section of your backyard, ideally something distinct, like a dining or seating area.

Makeover the expected

Eclectic furniture differentiates your backyard from the next.

Eclectic furniture differentiates your backyard from the next.

 Photograph: RossHelen

We love Adirondack chairs and picnic tables as much as the next person, but if you’re looking to take your backyard to a new level, explore unconventional outdoor furniture options. Alison Douglas, a garden designer from Melbourne, Australia, completely transformed concrete pipes by transforming the cylindrical stone into a garden seating area under a DIY pergola with an adjacent concrete firepit and planters. You can source concrete pipes at Ferguson, a kitchen and bath supplier.

Center your outdoor space with a fountain

Marrakesh tile dresses up a fountain.

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