There might actually be some form of life on our side yards, but it’s most likely the kind we need an exterminator for. Side yards are sometimes those awkward spaces between our house and the property line. When we think about landscaping, we focus on the front and back yards, and we easily forget this tricky space.
For many of us, this narrow space is a challenge to upkeep. At some point, your side yards may have become a storage area, a creepy passageway, stinky trash and recycling area, random toys and balls repository, or all of the above. I know mine has been. But side yards are a really unique space to use. They don’t have to be just another passageway to pass from front to back yard without having to enter the house.
Laura Osteen, a San Francisco based landscape architect, believes in the limitless potential of side yards. “They’re such unique spaces. They’re kind of an afterthought often, but there are so many neat things you can do with them,” she says. “And (if you can see them from your house) they’re the window to nature,” she says.
If you’re reading this and staring into the horrific space wondering, “what in the world can be done here?” We’ve rounded up a list to help bring the good life to your side yard.
But first, Plants
It might be slightly challenging to have a full-on landscaping project in such a small space. One of the best tips for bringing in some style to your side garden is to buy potted plants in an outdoor garden store or nursery. Arrange them in different heights and sizes to give your little patch some unique look. Osteen recommends that you keep the plants evergreen and add some perennials.
If you are just learning the ropes of outdoor gardening, it is best to choose low maintenance plants. Perennials, in the right seasons, will give you beautiful blooms and pops of color.
15 Design Ideas For Your Side Yard
1. Continuity In Landscaping. Continuity in color, structure, or pattern decides whether what you have is a curated garden or Tarzan’s jungle. Like art, the goal is to create harmony and unity. A cohesive garden should have carefully thought out the integration of plants and materials. Choose three to five plants and repeat them throughout the area.
2. Alluring Gates. More than just a deterrent for outsiders, a gate can also be the perfect entrance to your little fairytale garden. Depending on your property, gates can be of different sizes and materials. Feeling creative? Try a DIY Rustic fence made out of scrap materials and wood. You can also repurpose an old door and make a grand entrance.
3. An Interesting Path. With side yards, we need to make smart use of every space. It does not have plenty of empty space for you to express your decorative flair. The pathway from the front to the back is one area you can play with. Make an interesting path with your choice of materials, whether it be gravel or brick. Use broken tiles and make a unique design. You can choose to make it as clean and straightforward as you want or opt for something more woodsy with moss growing in-between spaces.
4. Overhead Structures. Imagine your favorite children’s book growing up. You enter into a garden with vining plants and lanterns hanging over your head. The walkway is a little compressed, and the space is narrow. And then you reach the end, and the whole space opens up, and you have made it to the backyard. That is the dramatic effect of having architecture over your head. Install arbors, pergolas, let vines climb, and play with lights.
5. Trickling Water. The sound of running water is one of the most relaxing music to the ears. You may not be near a lake or ocean, but you can create your little version of that by installing a fountain in your side yard. Relax with the splashing noise.
6. Create Contrast. If you can’t attach anything to your house because no plants or fixtures are allowed. Make a visual story by contrasting soft with modern materials. A tiled wall or corrugated metal can cover your house. You can plant opposite to space, bamboo, and create a look that is tropical and modern.
7. All About Lights. When it’s dark, and you can’t make out what you are passing through, side yards can be spooky. But with proper lighting, you, your friends and family will enjoy a romantic evening outdoors. Install landscape lighting along the pathway, or opt for string lights overhead. Lighting creates ambiance, and your side yard deserves that too.
10. Trellises. If you’re set on a vertical garden, here’s a creative and visually pleasing way to install that. Trellises stretch the garden upward. They add character and design, especially if your place is a little bland.
11. Kitchen Garden. If you have a little more room for different pots and planters, and you have access to good sun, consider having a kitchen garden. If there’s anything 2020 has shown us, it’s that growing your own food is totally essential.
12. Garden Shed. If your local regulations permit, how about installing your garden shed by the side instead of the backyard? Having it tucked away allows you the more creative freedom to landscape your backyard.
13. Potting Station. But again, not everyone has space for a garden shed. A potting station keeps all your tools and materials neat and clean on the side. This also encourages you to be more consistent with your planting hobby!
14. Cozy Seating. A personal favorite idea. Because side yards are tight, it can be the perfect place for intimate seating. Create a deck or a dedicated reading space.
15. Side yard pond. A koi pond that stretches from the front to the back for more swimming space? Sign us up! This is a beautiful and calming addition to your house. Perhaps something to consider for warmer seasons next year?