20 Ideas to Bring Your Dream Backyard to Life (and a Backyard Tour Video!)


Warning: if you’re not prepared to be massively inspired to take up a weekend project, turn away now. Nothing gets me to Home Depot faster than an image of a pretty outdoor space popping up on my Pinterest board. And, better or worse for you, I’m about to bombard your eyes with beautiful backyard landscaping ideas that will put a shovel in your (or your unassuming partner’s) hand in no time.

If you’re starting from scratch, backyard design is a huge undertaking—mentally, physically, and financially. Just take it from Camille, recalling her backyard plans: “Typically, we tackle one big project a year, and after 12 years of living here, our home is so much closer to our ultimate vision. Though I doubt we’ll ever really be finished.”

Tour Camille’s Backyard below!

However, no matter what type of space you’re working with, there are steps you can take right now (as in, this weekend!) toward designing your dream backyard. This leads me to an obvious step number one: you must first answer the question, “What is my dream backyard?”

A Formula to Determine Your Dream Backyard

Here’s how to do it. First, name your top three needs. How should your backyard serve you? For example:

  • Do you want a space that’s ready for hosting at all times?
  • Do you want to grow your own flowers or build a vegetable garden?
  • Do you need a big green lawn for kids and pets to play?
  • Is there a patio that needs tending?
  • Do you want to grill or cook outside?

Next, name your top three wants.

  • How do you want your backyard to make you feel? Relaxed, inspired, motivated, at peace, etc.
  • Are there any design styles you want to lean into? Curated, overgrown, Mediterranean, desert-inspired, etc.

After some soul searching, you might come up with something like this: “I need my backyard to serve my family by offering a safe and inviting place for my kids to play, an inspiring area to relax and enjoy a meal, and a cozy seating area for morning coffees outside. I want my backyard to lean into European vibes with native plants and vintage (yet sturdy) pieces so it feels like an outdoor oasis when I step outside.”

Now that you’ve determined your dream space, it’s time to get started. Ahead, I’m sharing 20 backyard landscaping ideas to make it happen. Filter each one through your parameters and have that shovel at the ready—inspiration abounds.

terraced backyard with white umbrellas and gravel pathways

1. Terrace the Land to Make Full Use of a Sloped Lot

If your property has any sloping, lean into it by building the backyard on different levels. There’s not much you can do on a hillside without building terraced walls and bringing in a ton of dirt to fill them in. It’s a big job—but think of it as the foundation upon which your dream backyard will grow.

backyard landscaping master plan from overhead

2. Create a Master Plan

When dealing with a large outdoor space, it’s important to start by creating a master plan that defines a purpose and use for every different area. You might want to carve out a space for dining, an area for your kids to play sports, or maybe you want to leave a spot to add a pool someday… then you can tackle each area in phases, with a vision for where you’re ultimately headed.

perfect outdoor dining situation

3. Frame Your Spaces (or “Rooms”)

If you have a number of different areas in your yard (patios, decks, pools, a garden, private spaces) it’s best to imagine them as separate rooms. Then lay out different materials like stones or shrubs to mark each area of the space. From there, it’s a matter of filling in with plants and furniture—which you’ll likely still continue to do over time.

outdoor living room backyard design

See more from the Grit and Polish’s family-friendly backyard.

4. Create an Outdoor Living Room

Speaking of spaces and rooms, the outdoor living room is likely where guests will find themselves lounging the most. So think of it as such! Choose comfortable furniture and various stools that can also act as tables for drinks or snacks. Keep an outdoor storage bin for necessities all year round—from cozy throws to bug repellents.

Camille Styles in her backyard

5. Consider Gravel Over Grass

Backyard landscaping ideas should have you thinking about mixing and matching outdoor textures. If mowing is the bane of your existence, consider laying gravel (or turf if you still require a green space). Depending on your style and needs, hardscaping some gravel paths might be the key to your dream design.

gravel and large pavers in desert backyard

See more from Alison Carroll’s desert backyard.

6. Create Pathways

As you’re thinking of the “rooms” in your backyard, consider how the spaces work together in terms of connection. Carve out a walkway—either with gravel, large pavers, or both. Pathways prevent that disjointed feeling and truly bring the design all together.

Backyard fire pit

7. Install a Fire Pit

One of our favorite design ideas, the outdoor fireplace cannot be ignored. When it comes to backyard landscaping ideas, there must be a focal point. It might be a water feature or a fountain—but we’re partial to the fire pit. From wood-fired pizzas in spring to s’mores in the fall, it’s just hard to beat the ambiance.

Outdoor backyard with large lanterns.

8. Carve Out Spaces for Lounging or Dining

If your outdoor living area doesn’t support it, a cozy spot for hanging out is a must. Keep in mind that it could (and maybe should) also pass as an outdoor dining area. This is where you’ll linger over everything from coffee and a good book to BBQ and cocktails. Bring in romantic café chairs or long benches to fit your vibe.

Boho Outdoor Lounge Area with Affordable Target Furniture and Firepit

9. Make Privacy Pretty—and a Priority

It won’t be going out on a limb to assume that most people are going to want some privacy in their backyards. Whether it be a fence, wandering vines, tall hedges, or variations of shrubs, your privacy tactics can also support the overall design of the yard.

pergola with lemons

10. Work With Shaded Areas

If your yard doesn’t come with a topiary of trees (and perhaps even if it does), shade is crucial for optimal enjoyment. Consider a pergola or installing a porch where you’ll need a reprieve from the sun. But keep those sunny areas, too—especially if you’re considering a garden at any point.

potted plants in backyard landscaping

11. Decorate With Planters in Containers

If you don’t want to hire a landscape designer, an easy place to begin is decorating with pots. Potted plants like succulents, greenery, or perennials can bring your yard to life. And—bonus!—it’s something you actually can do in only a weekend.

native plants backyard landscaping ideas

12. Use as Many Native Plants as Possible

First, find out what zone you’re in and then plant accordingly. Sure, you may want to plant all the Mediterranean plants like olives, lemons, and bougainvillea, but it’s risky to make those investments. Try buying the smaller versions of these plants you simply cannot deny so you can cover them if it freezes—and know you might lose a percentage of them each winter.

Camille Styles in her garden

13. Plant a Backyard Garden

If you dream of building DIY raised garden beds, first choose an area of the yard that gets plenty of sun. Most vegetables and herbs thrive with as much sun as possible, so these are really happy. Then, consider installing drip irrigation. Drip sprinklers are pipes that run right under the top of the soil and are more eco-friendly since it deeply hydrates the roots without so much of the water evaporating into the air. You can even put them on a timer so that your garden gets watered both regularly and at the optimal time of day.

backyard string globe lights at dusk

14. Hang String Lights

If you’re looking for a smaller, more affordable project, the answer is lighting. String lights are bang for your buck in terms of immediate ambiance and minimal effort. Even a small backyard can be transformed in just a few minutes with some simple lighting.

backyard design ideas couple playing cornhole

15. Make Space for Play

If “backyard” and “play” are synonymous for you but you’re trying to get away from a yard full of sun-bleached, forgotten toys—good news. All you really need for fun in the backyard is space and a few balls to kick around. Bring out the cornhole when you’re feeling competitive, install a pretty hammock, or hang a rope swing. Bet you’ll love it just as much as the kids.

The exterior of a shed

16. Put Up a Shed

The versatility of a shed is truly remarkable. Sure, they can provide extra storage space for outdoor tools and seasonal decor, but that’s just the beginning. Sheds can be transformed into reading or meditation nooks, home gyms, work spaces, and a place for hobbies like needlework or photography. Get creative and think about what sort of private space you’d love, then turn a shed into your own cozy retreat. 

Gazebo in the fall

17. Charm with a Gazebo

Gazebos really make a statement. They can offer an additional spot in your backyard for relaxing or dining, while also providing additional shade. Deck yours out with a small dining room table and chairs for an intimate spot for morning coffee or a lunch date with a friend. Or set up an outdoor loveseat with lots of pillows for cocktails at sunset or a Saturday reading sesh. 

Ornate wall fountain

18. Zen Out With a Water Feature

My parents recently installed a small fountain in their backyard that rests just off of their deck. The gentle sound of water rippling creates a calm and relaxing ambience. Water fountains are ideal for gardens and outdoor sitting areas, especially if the vibe you want to curate is chill. A fountain can also be an unexpected decorative feature—they come in a range of different styles and aesthetics from ultra modern to eclectic.

A matte black outdoor shower

19. Add an Outdoor Shower

An outdoor shower can come in clutch if you have a pool. Installing one would make it easy to rinse off, as well as provide a space for hosing off muddy pets or children. Even without a pool, an outdoor shower can truly be luxurious. Opt for gates, a stone wall or a wooden fence for privacy. Nothing beats the warmth of the sun or a view of the stars as you shower. Resort-style living, anyone?

Citrus slices on cutting board.

20. Create a Backyard Bar

If you’re looking for backyard landscaping ideas specifically for entertaining, a bar can take things to the next level. Whether you serve cocktails or mocktails, outdoor bars include discreet shelving for wine bottles, glassware, and cocktail shakers so you can have everything in reach. Add a few bar stools and you have an ideal spot for chatting over a glass of wine, or greeting guests from the patio. Cheers!

To see some of these ideas in action, take a tour through Camille’s own space as she shares her favorite backyard landscaping ideas:





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