It’s easy to forget about the side yard, allowing it to become a sad alley and spot for hiding unsightly air-conditioning units.
But even if calling what’s along with the side of your house “yard” is a stretch, there are plenty of things you can do not only to improve it but also to make it space you enjoy walking through or even spending time in.
Consider these 25 elements when embarking on your weekend landscaping projects.
In this Texas backyard by Exterior Worlds, the entire landscape is a sculpture garden. Siting some of the sculptures on the side creates a journey of discovery and delight.
Of course, a gate adds security and privacy. But it can also add a sense of an alluring mystery as to what’s behind it. If you’re going to put in the time to make the side yard a destination or a pleasing path to the backyard, create a sense of drama with a gate.
3. A stretch to courtyard size.
This path widens to patio size by extending all the way out to the fence boundary on one side and the house boundary on the other. Beautiful roses, a fountain, and seating make it an enticing destination.
4. Interesting path materials.
Most side yards don’t have much room to play with. But you can draw the eye down the length of the space with an interesting path — whether of crunchy gravel, stately brick, or a hopscotch-like arrangement of concrete pavers.
5. Architecture overhead.
Another way to draw the eye away from the sides is to draw it up. Arbors, pergolas, vines, lighting — all these features will have people looking up. Architecture overhead can enhance a narrow space by defining it. The journey through it is more compressed, so the drama of the backyard opening up at the end of the procession is all the greater.
The sound of a fountain is so pleasing, and tucking it around the side will have people wondering where the relaxing splashing noises are coming from. The other advantage to a trough-like this one by Jennifer Horn Landscape Architecture is that the sound can be enjoyed inside the house.
7. Contrasting sides.
Soft bamboo and corrugated metal are material opposites, making the journey interesting along this side yard path by Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture. The change in grade keeps the trees from taking over space.
Note: Though bamboo is beautiful, be sure to talk to your nursery or your landscaper about noninvasive clumping species and planting it responsibly. I have seen it jump over deep steel planters installed in the ground and take over backyards.
8. Low lighting.
Side yards often are places you want to get through as quickly as possible at night — they can be downright spooky. Illuminate the hard work you’ve done with landscape lighting to make it a safe and inviting journey after dark.
9. Overhead lighting.
Opt for string lights overhead for more outdoor ambiance.
This side yard by Landsystems Landscapes makes the most of where the backyard deck meets the side yard, with a bar placed along the side, and room for stools along it. Container gardens along the wall create a nice view from the deck toward the side yard.
This is a fancy word for an evenly spaced line of trees. Some species can thrive in a tight space. You can also create just a single line of trees on one side if that’s all your space will allow.
12. Shade garden.
One challenge with side yards is that often they receive no direct sunlight. We have plenty of plant suggestions and shade garden ideas to get you started.
13. Checkerboard herb garden.
This garden by Schmechtig Landscapes has a checkerboard base, with squares of pavers, gravel, and planted herbs. You will need good sunlight to pull this off with most herbs.
14. Vertical garden.
If you don’t have much space to plant on the ground, look up. Vertical gardens can hang from fences and the sides of buildings. This installation by Charles C Hugo Landscape Design is a more expert level installation, but there are plenty of ways to do it, including with WallyGro wall planters.
15. Kitchen garden.
If you’re lucky enough to have a little extra room and good lighting, consider a small kitchen garden for herbs and veggies.
The side of a house can be boring and lack architecture — we tend not to even put many windows on a wall that faces a fence or neighbor’s house. Trellises offer another way to stretch the garden upward and add architectural interest to the side of the house.
17. Garden shed.
Sometimes there’s just no perfect spot for a shed to take up residence in the backyard. Tucking it to the side can help provide privacy from the street. This Japanese-style shed by S. Baird Design stands out along the side yard. Just be sure to check your local regulations regarding where you can place an outbuilding before you do this.
18. Potting station.
Potting benches can get a little messy. Keep your garden workstation tucked away to the side, where it’s both convenient and out of the way.
19. Focal point.
What a difference a cheery sunflower makes. All eyes are on this one as people walk along the side of this house. Choose a striking feature that adds a special touch to your garden.
If your side yard space has a little bit of width, you may have room to throw in a curve or two. This flagstone path is inviting and keeps the side yard from feeling like a glorified dog run.
A side slope can present a number of design challenges that are best dealt with during the site planning process. If you are planning on new construction, don’t let your side yard be an afterthought you plan on dealing with later — work with a landscape architect to terrace or otherwise make the best use of the space before you break ground.
22. Pond extension.
Koi enjoy room to swim around. Keep them in good shape by using side yard space to expand their habitat.
23. Tucked-away seating.
One of the advantages of a side yard’s tight space is that it can be intimate. Extending the deck across the entire width of this side yard from The Designory allowed room for an outdoor sectional to feel natural out here.
24. Tall hedge.
Hedges not only soften property boundaries and add greenery, but they also provide privacy from neighbors.
25. Knot garden.
Elaborate low hedges add lots of interest and geometry to this beautiful side yard. A bronze statue at the end provides a focal point along the path and is also enjoyed from the adjacent patio on the left.
Your turn: Have you embarked on a side-yard landscaping odyssey? Let us know what you did in the Comments. Even better, share some photos.