Clever solutions for a small backyard

How to make the most of limited outdoor space.
Times have changed and the large backyards of our childhoods, with their expanses of lawn, swing sets, trampolines and the kidney-shaped pool, are no longer a reality for many. Subdivided blocks, the rising cost of living and a desire for a low-maintenance home means that small backyards are now the norm. But that doesn’t mean you have to let go of that idyllic outdoor living experience – you just need to think creatively to maximise the space you have. Here’s how.

Plan for your needs

Consider how you'll use your backyard now and in the years to come.
Consider how you’ll use your backyard now and in the years to come.

A small garden can still tick all the boxes of play, relaxation and entertaining, so before you start pulling out plants or measuring for that outdoor kitchen, it’s important to have a good think about what you want to achieve within the space that you have. Do you have kids or pets? Are you a keen gardener or an avid entertainer? How do you like to spend time outside? And how much time do you have to maintain your chosen set-up?

Plan a space that will meet your needs while maximising sunlight, shade and privacy. Be prepared to compromise, but also be open to small-space solutions that might just allow you to have it all.

Forgo the lawn

Make every inch of space count in a small backyard.
Make every inch of space count in a small backyard.

Replacing your lawn with a paved or deck area could seriously maximise the use of your yard, providing a flat surface for multiple needs. Let’s face it, we often don’t have the time to be out mowing, whipper-snippering and aerating our lawns every weekend. And if space is at a premium, this area can be better used for seating, eating or growing vegetables.

If you live on a sloping block, steps or terraced levels are another great way to make a small yard feel more dynamic and create multiple zones or rooms within the one tight space. You can delineate between zones by using different materials – decking, pebbles, grass or pavers.

Or if you can’t quite let go of the idea of soft grass underfoot, consider a low-maintenance lawn alternative, such as kidney weed (Dichondra repens), zoysia (Zoysia tenuifolia), Australian native violet (Viola hederacea), pearlwort (Sagina subulata) or even artificial turf.

Keep landscaping cohesive

Growing plants in pots allows for easy rearranging whenever you like.
Having plants in pots allows for easy rearranging whenever you like.

When you’re working with a small footprint, it pays to be selective with your plants. Layering plants of different heights and foliage types and textures will help make your garden feel large and lush. Try dwarf tree varieties paired with low-maintenance shrubs and ground covers, sticking to a limited palette so the garden feels neat and organised. Planting in containers allows you to move your plants around to chase the sun, or to change up the look of your garden easily.      

Also look for ways to maximise the space you have by growing plants on walls, fences or pillars. Think climbing roses or jasmine on a trellis, espaliered fruit trees, window boxes attached to deck railings or hanging pots suspended from hooks. Vertical gardens or green walls are a particularly popular choice for size-challenged outdoor areas. They can be filled with ferns, succulents, herbs or flowers to suit your chosen look, and rigged up with drip watering systems for easy maintenance.  

Look for space-saving solutions

The Hills Folding Frame Double Clothesline can handle small and large loads.
The Hills Folding Frame Double Clothesline can handle small and large loads.

These days there are lots of streamlined backyard solutions designed with small-scale operations in mind. Think plunge pools and spas, compact barbecues, modest fire pits and vegie-growing pods. Often these items can be folded up or wheeled away when not in use – the perfect compromise to grander, built-in set ups that would dwarf a pint-sized outdoor zone.

Along with the trusty Hills Hoist clothesline of our childhoods, there are now compact solutions, such as folding clotheslines and retractable options, which are perfect for small spaces. These slimline solutions pack away when not in use, not to mention they come with a deceptive amount of drying space and are built to withstand the elements.  

Furnish your garden wisely

Keep furniture simple for a clutter-free courtyard.
Keep furniture simple for a clutter-free courtyard.

Yes, you can create inviting seating and entertaining areas in a small backyard, it’s all about your furniture selections and arrangement. Multifunctional pieces are ideal – think bench seats with storage underneath, extendable outdoor tables or colourful stools that double as side tables for drinks.

Position tables and chairs against a wall or in a corner, looking out to the garden. You might even be able to utilise overhead eaves for shade, or attach a retractable awning to the same wall.

Anything that can stack, fold or wheel away will allow your yard to be used for multiple purposes, from early morning yoga sessions, to lazy lunches with friends and afternoons shooting hoops with the kids.

Be strategic with decoration

A simple arbor and some ambient lighting set a cosy scene outdoors.
A simple arbor and some ambient lighting will set a cosy scene outdoors.

Many of the same design rules that you’d use inside apply to your outdoor areas, particularly when working within a small space. For instance, large format pavers, lighter colours in paintwork, furniture and pavers, plus a strategically placed mirror or two can all create the illusion of greater space.

A standout feature – be it an arbor, water feature, a garden sculpture or a feature tree – will often take the focus away from the garden’s small proportions, especially when it’s positioned at the opposite end to the entrance. And don’t forget some ambient outdoor lighting to extend the appeal – and useability – of your small but serviceable yard.

Brought to you by Hills. There’s a clothesline for every home, and Hills has a range of modern solutions for every space. Backed by a lifetime warranty, Hills clotheslines are available from a range of leading hardware and homeware retailers.

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