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A sunken sitting area in a garden with timber bench seats around a low table set in pebbles
The return of warmer weather brings with it a renewed desire to get outside to entertain, relax or reconnect. But is your backyard up to the task? Make the most of your space with our tips to help you turn a basic plot into the outdoor oasis of your dreams.

1. Start at the beginning

Are you a big entertainer? Or more of a keen green thumb? Prioritise what you want and how you will use your outdoor space, and make a list in order of importance. This will help you decide what function each area will serve. Consider the fun stuff, but also necessities like the clothesline and shed.

2. Master your domain

“It’s always best to start with a plan that has considered all areas,” says landscape architect Sophie Greive of Think Outside Gardens. “Measure up the garden to scale (including the property boundaries, house footprint and existing trees) with a measuring tape, draw it up at 1:50 with a scale ruler, and start designing with this in mind.” At this point, give careful thought to the privacy, views and aspect of the space.

3. Make tiny mighty

If your yard is on the smaller side, narrow down your wish list. Keep to a maximum of three to four different areas – think barbecue, vegie garden and lawn – as opposed to the five or six you’d fit in a large area. “Any structural divisions between those spaces you’d keep really low – for example, a low hedge, a low screen,” says Katrina Gatt, Bunnings fence, screens and gates buyer. “Or simply use a pathway to break up spaces. You want to be able to look straight through a small yard so it creates the illusion of openness.”

4. Look for lighting

Make sure you have enough lighting installed to make the most of your outdoor oasis. Layering your sources is the key. Katrina recommends planning your lighting early, but installing towards the end of the project so you know first hand exactly where you’ll need it most. Floodlights and wall lights are great solutions for larger areas, which will require more task lighting, while fairy lights and spotlights can help to highlight design features. For safety, consider outdoor strip lighting on steps and stairways. Always check your garden lighting choices are rated for outdoor use, and have any hardwired features installed by a qualified electrician.

5. Work from the ground up

Big-ticket features such as patios, paving and pathways should go in first. For foundations, choose between paving and decking, or a mixture of both to define zones. As decking is an elevated structure it’s ideal for uneven ground, but this can often require building permits. Pavers are wonderfully versatile, used for patios, or to draw you into the garden along pathways or even through the lawn.

garden bed with pavers and pebbles

6. Create pathways

A path can serve many purposes, from a design enhancer leading the eye towards statement pieces, to delineating zones. “The easiest materials you can use are small pebbles and stepping stones,” says Katrina. Timber sleepers, bricks and small pavers can border the path and help keep loose stones in place. “Low-growing plants along the edges of pathways will then help separate the hard surface from the surrounding garden or lawn,” adds Katrina.

7. Decide on the style

“You don’t necessarily have to go off the style of your house for your backyard design. It’s not difficult to tie it together with a few contrasting items; look for inspiration with different garden designs and colour palettes,” says Katrina.

“Different styles of plants can also create a different feel in a garden space,” adds Angie Thomas, horticultural consultant at Yates. “A warm, protected part of the garden could be filled with tropical plants, or for a completely different look, an exposed sunny location could become a home for succulents or Mediterranean-style plants.”  

pool with glass fence 

8. Pick the right plants

“Look at the amount of sunlight and space you have,” says Angie Thomas. “Different plants are suited to different levels of light and take up different amounts of space, so observe your backyard to see how much light it gets across the day and then choose plants to suit.”

Plants are functional as well as beautiful; they can help to provide shade, privacy and living fences. When choosing, consider the colours, style and materials of your house and hardscaping, and match those to the colours and types of the plants. “Earthy materials, such as rusted steel and timber, work well with different green foliage, and grey fencing, walls and structures create a beautiful backdrop for flowers,” says Angie. Plants with different types of foliage sizes and textures can add another dimension to garden designs.

9. Plan a play zone

For growing families, an outdoor play space is the perfect antidote to screen time. Cubby houses and sandpits will keep them entertained, but they’ll also dominate the landscape, so look for corner real estate for the building site. Also, a very important consideration is sun protection. If the area you have chosen isn’t shady, protect your little ones from UV rays by putting up a shade sail. “Play areas also need to be able to withstand children and their toys – consider this before you plant certain delicate plants or if you want an immaculate lawn,” adds Sophie.

Want to learn more about garden design?

Check out our landscape any size backyard for tips.


Photo Credit: Sue Stubbs, Gap Photos and Hazel Bondoc/The Style Société

Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

When following our advice in our D.I.Y. videos, make sure you use all equipment, including PPE, safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Check that the equipment is suitable for the task and that PPE fits properly. If you are unsure, hire an expert to do the job or talk to a Bunnings Team Member.