40 Of House & Home’s Best Outdoor Design Ideas
Now that spring has officially sprung, there’s no place we’d rather be than in a sunny, bloom-filled backyard. But after a long winter, not all of our green spaces are looking their best. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to elevate a garden for the warmer months ahead, from small tweaks to big-impact changes. Take your yard from drab to dreamy with 40 outdoor design ideas plucked from the House & Home archives.
Make an entrance. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong first impression. Adding an elegant gate and vine-covered trellis will set a refined tone before guests even enter your backyard.
Cultivate a wall of ivy. Ivy never fails to lend a rich look to outdoor spaces, as demonstrated by the lush wall in René and Priscilla Wikkerink’s garden. Our advice to keep this robust plant under control? Opt for self-clinging ivy (such as Virginia Creeper or the Boston Ivy shown here), encourage it to grow up a fence or trellis (as opposed to a brick wall), and prune it regularly.
Layer your planters. Surround the base of potted trees with cascading wildflowers for a romantic effect. We love how designers Richard Ouellette and Maxime Vandal opted for tiny white blooms to complement this classic panelled planter.
Light the way with lanterns. Lanterns and pillar candles never fail to set the mood at an outdoor dinner party, but they’re also a practical addition where light is lacking. Place a matching pair at the top of a set of stairs for a balanced look.
…or repurpose lanterns as casual vases. Another way to decorate with lanterns is to stuff them with fallen branches or fresh-cut blooms, like landscape designer Meredyth Hilton did in this Toronto garden.
Put up a pretty pergola. Pergolas add shade and architectural interest to a garden without interrupting sight lines. We’re particularly smitten with this arch-shaped design in Colette van den Thillart’s yard.
Build rustic stone walls. Border your flowerbeds with simple rock walls, letting moss, grass and wildflowers — like the pretty malva, calendula and Johnny jump-ups shown here — spill over for maximum charm.
Plant neatly trimmed borders. Prefer a more orderly look? Plant crisp, linear borders around your backyard using evergreen hedges and slim-trunked trees, like the boxwood and lindens in this gorgeous city backyard.
Set up a fun cut-out for the kids. Delight little ones with a whimsical pirate ship, cottage or castle cut-out. (Just ensure it’s well anchored to stand up to inclement weather.)
Build raised flowerbeds. To get the look of this stunning yard in Vancouver, create a symmetrical arrangement of raised beds, fill them with go-to herbs and vegetables, and lay out paths of fine gravel.
Design a backyard pond. Draw inspiration from artist Bobbie Burgers’ coastal backyard, which is set off by a long, shallow reflecting pool. Wispy grasses and plantings enhance its serene look.
…or install a tranquil water feature. A miniature waterfall brings a spa-like feel to landscape designers Brad and Meredyth Hilton’s urban garden, while small ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood hedges soften all the hardscaping.
Give side paths their due. Don’t neglect walkways along the side of your home; dressing them up them with pretty shrubbery, flowers and flagstone will make your landscaping look complete.
Make room for al fresco dining. H&H alum Michael Penney set the stage for casual summer meals in his Oshawa, Ontario, yard with a turned-leg table and wicker chairs. Pick a shady spot, like this one, to guarantee your own setup gets the most use.
Fill a bed with one type of flower. Want to make a statement — without all the pruning and fuss? Plant several specimens of one kind of flowering shrub, like fluffy hydrangea, and let the blooms grow wild.
…or feature variations of the same bloom. Plant rows containing different species of a single kind of flowering plant, like roses, to mimic the tidy aesthetic of botanical gardens.
Channel traditional Japanese gardens. Homeowners Troy and Michelle Miller created a calming refuge in their Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, backyard, with Japanese juniper, mini dogwood bonsai and carefully-raked gravel paths.
Embrace the charm of patina. For a rustic, laid-back look, leave your wooden bistro chairs, stone walls and terracotta pots open to the elements so they weather over time. We love how everything in this English-style garden looks as if it’s been there forever.
Incorporate weathering steel. Another way to embrace the beauty of aging materials is by building with corten steel. Here, landscape designer Kim Price used it to create a modern planter box that will look better with every passing season.
Stagger your garden path. Add a meandering walkway to your garden, laying stone or pavers in an off-kilter pattern, for a welcome dose of romance.
Use grasses as breezy dividers. Plant fine reeds or grasses in movable planter boxes to create separation or define zones in your yard, like designer Allison Willson did at her dreamy cottage.
Build a planter-meets-banquette. H&H Creative Services director Lisa Murphy can easily host a crowd in her backyard thanks to a long dining table and handy banquette that features a clever, built-in planter box.
Shape some sculptural topiaries. If you have a knack for pruning, why not create some eye-catching topiaries? The spherical shrubs in this French-inspired garden make a handsome statement.
Install a showpiece fountain. There’s no doubt that a backyard fountain like this one is an extravagant addition, but if you’ve got the room in your garden and your budget, we say go for it!
Trim plantings to highlight architectural detail. For a unique look, trim climbing plants — like these elegant ‘New Dawn’ rose bushes — so that they seem to “fit” inside arches or other designs in your home’s brickwork.
Upgrade your pool gate. Fencing off your pool area is always recommended, especially if you have little ones around, but this doesn’t mean you have to put up an unsightly metal barricade. Here, a design featuring latticework and pilasters turns a safety feature into a focal point.
Add hardy concrete seating. Poured-concrete seating is a smart addition to an outdoor space, since it will stand up to the elements and develop a nice patina. Top the hard-wearing frames with indoor-outdoor cushions to soften their hard lines.
Build designated zones. Homeowners Arren Williams and David Pimentel’s backyard is perfect for outdoor entertaining, with a series of “rooms” for cooking, dining and just hanging out. Colorful accents make the spaces even more inviting.
Mix up your planter styles. To lend your patio a decorated look, take your cue from designers Richard Ouellette and Maxime Vandal, who mixed aged planters with classic blue and white ginger jars (keep an eye out for the latter at vintage shops and flea markets).
…and your planter sizes! Combine oversized planter boxes with petite earthenware pots to create a layered, garden-like effect on a patio.
Embrace the unexpected. A man-made water feature makes this urban green space truly memorable. Tree branches hang over the water, creating stunning reflections on the water’s surface.
Break up expanses of stone with flowerbeds. Thin stone paths and curvy flowerbeds lend retailer Viola Jull’s Prince Edward County, Ontario, backyard patio plenty of visual interest.
Conceal unsightly A/C units. We love how designer Sarah Hartill built simple slatted walls to hide the air conditioning unit in her front garden. Painting the slats a similar tone as her siding helps them blend in with the exterior.
Think about movement. If your outdoor space is on a body of water or bluff (lucky you!) plant tough species of grasses and trees that look better a little windswept. Take inspiration from this stunning landscaping design by the team at Joel Loblaw Inc.
Design architectural dividers. If you prefer your landscaping on the contemporary side, build concrete half-walls to define your green space, like the ones in the front yard of this modern home.
Lay out a stone patio. Add a river-rock terrace to your outdoor space if rustic is more your style, like this gorgeous patio in Germany.
Invest in an outdoor fireplace. You won’t regret adding a cozy hearth to your garden if you love to spend evenings outdoors. We love this mod fireplace in Sarah and Murray Bancroft’s Palm Springs backyard.
No grass? Line up planter boxes. Designer Mazen El-Abdallah set modern planters end-to-end along the back wall of his city patio to create a wall of greenery. Overflowing planters add to the lush effect.
No backyard? Create an urban green space. H&H’s Joel Bray added a trellis, pretty patio furniture, a pair of cedar trees and plenty of potted plants to his city deck to establish a private, garden-like feel.
Have more land than you know what to do with? Go all out. If you’re fortunate enough to have a large rural plot, we say plant en masse! Cultivate a field of bee-friendly wildflowers or add a few rows of fragrant lavender. Dreamy!