Outdoor

15 large backyard ideas that can transform a sprawling garden

Overhaul your little (or big) piece of paradise with these landscaping ideas

Landscaping a large backyard is a great problem to have. Done right, it can become a sunny sanctuary with spots to rest, recharge and bond with family and friends. Without foresight and a bit of effort, a big backyard can feel like a dusty vacant block or overgrown jungle.

Not unlike a small backyard, the key to perfecting your large backyard design is planning, says Dennis Scott, co-host of Selling Houses Australia and Director of Lush Landscape Solutions. “Don’t let it overwhelm you,” he explains. “In fact, I find smaller gardens harder because you have to ensure everything is there for a reason because you can see it in its entirety. With a large garden, you can plan it so your eyes get a visual feast as you wander around the grounds.”

Consider ongoing maintenance, as well. Are you a green thumb? Do you have the time to prune, plough, mow and water a high-needs garden? If not, a formal English garden with box hedges and Hydrangeas might not be for you. A free-flowing, low-maintenance native garden broken up by entertaining, relaxing and play zones is probably more your speed. Either way, Dennis highly recommends irrigation in a large backyard. “It is time- and water-efficient. Yes, it’s an expense at the start but it’s well worth it.” 

Ready to be inspired by some beautiful (and fun!) backyard landscaping ideas? We’ve rounded up some of our favourite backyard features and mined the experts for advice. You’re welcome.  

Large backyard with dining and entertaining zones
Landscaping ideas don’t come any better than this entertaining zone, at a renovated Federation home on Sydney’s North Shore. (Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread / Styling: Jamee Deaves)

1. Create zones within your large backyard

“Similar to the way we divide our interiors into rooms, zoning a large backyard will turn your space into something versatile, multifunctional, and inviting,” says Sanjiv Jassal, Garden Maintenance Category Manager for Bunnings. It helps you make the most of every section of your backyard.

Dennis is a fan of zones, which he says comes down to personal choice and needs. “They will change as you and your family grow. If your kids are younger, you might have a play zone, sitting zone, possible vegetable zone and a grass zone. As they get older, you may choose to have a fire-pit zone, game zone, pool zone or an outdoor undercover zone.” 

Sanjiv recommends using decking and planting to differentiate zones in your backyard. “Utilise plants, shrubs and flowers strategically in your backyard to add visual interest and create a sense of enclosure between zones,” he says. “This could be as simple as planting fruit trees in between your outdoor dining and garden area.”

Hamptons style home with large backyard featuring lawn
Lawn is a stalwart of backyard design, as seen behind this storybook home by Alex Stritt of Stritt Design & Construction. (Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread / Styling: Corina Koch)

2. Grow lawn throughout your large backyard

Luscious grass is like a carpet for your backyard. Soft underfoot, it allows you to relax in the sunshine, play with the kids and throw a ball to your fur baby. Turf also helps keep dust and dirt from coming inside, says Dennis. Growing the stuff doesn’t happen overnight, of course.

“Turf is quite easy to grow but three fundamental things are required — plenty of sun, sufficient water and good drainage,” says Mark Bell, Founder and Creative Director of Bell Landscapes. “If any of these are lacking the turf will not be in optimal condition.” The soil needs to be just right, as well. The ideal soil composition for lawn is 80 per cent sand with 20 per cent organic material, he advises. 

“In terms of sunlight, most turf needs four to six hours of full direct sun per day. New turf requires daily watering for the first four to six weeks for the root to establish, depending on the season,” adds Mark. 

Backyard with crazy pavers and native viola groundcover
‘Seventies beach house’ meets Hamptons in this garden, featuring stepping stones and lush ground cover. (Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread / Styling: Jessica Bellef)

3. Consider alternatives to turf 

If a traditional lawn is not your bag or you don’t have enough sunlight, Mark recommends turf substitutes such as zoysia tenuifolia — which is still ‘turf’ but doesn’t require mowing — or ground covers like native viola or pratia pedunculta. Ground cover can also be planted between pavers and stepping stones for aesthetic appeal and to soften hard surfaces.   

Whatever you do, just think ‘green’. A survey commissioned by Turf Australia and Raine & Horne found that lawn was the most popular backyard surface for family home buyers (favoured by 63 per cent of respondents), ahead of decking, synthetic turf, paving and concrete.

Large backyard with various levels in the garden
Every angle is beautiful in this sizeable Gold Coast backyard, which was reinvented during an 18-month project. The space now has a variety of zones and places to gather. (Credit: Photography & styling: Louise Roche) (Credit: Photography & styling: Louise Roche)

4. Level up with tiers in your large backyard 

Rather than one flat backyard space, think ‘up’… and down. Adding various levels, slopes and garden beds can raise visual interest in your garden. Literally. There are some rules of thumb. 

“Plant ‘lower growers’ to the front and tier them up to the back of the garden,” advises Dennis. “Use a single species to define garden paths and fence lines. And plant things with similar requirements in the same beds; you don’t want to put drought-tolerant plants with water lovers.”  

When the owners of the Gold Coast property, above, moved in there was no garden. There were also access issues via a narrow set of stairs to a lower section of lawn, in need of levelling, plus a dated pool and dark, dreary cabana. Today, multiple entertaining areas span several levels, interwoven with palms, gardens and cascading greenery, which flows to a scenic river outlook. “I love that the garden slowly reveals itself,” says owner Amanda. 

Large backyard with kids skate ramp
Searching for backyard ideas to cut n’ paste? This skate ramp is a step-up from the slides most of us grew up with. (Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread / Styling: Jamee Deaves)

5. Dial up the fun with a play area or skate ramp

If you have the luxury of space, the list of backyard landscaping ideas at your disposal is endless. You don’t have to be confined to deck + garden + lawn. Got kids? Delight them with play equipment, a basketball half-court, a sand pit or simply a swing. How good are swings, right? 

The owners of this Newport Beach home installed a custom-built mini skate ramp for their daughters to practise on. They’re enjoying their backyard so much that they’ve shelved the idea of a pool — for now. 

Cubby house in large lush backyard
Building this cubby house was a family affair, with even little Mati chipping in. It had its own housewarming party! (Credit: Photography: Brigid Arnott / Styling: Lisa Hilton)

6. Cobble together a cubby house in your big backyard 

If you grew up in Australia, chances are you have fond memories of faffing about in a cubby with your siblings or friends. A backyard playhouse is a place kids can go to feel free and independent and use their imaginations.

“For growing families, an outdoor play space with a cubby house or sandpit is a great use of space,” suggests Sanjiv. “It offers your kids a fun alternative to screen time which keeps them busy and challenges their creativity!”

It’s not that hard to construct a DIY cubby house — involve the kids to instil a sense of pride and accomplishment — and if you already have one, you can refresh it with a lick of paint

Landscaped garden with a magnolia tree
Steal this magnolia: the glossy-leafed evergreen tree grows well in most parts of Australia. (Credit: Photography: Nick Watt / bauersyndication.com.au)

7. Select appropriate trees for large backyards

Starting with a blank slate, with no or few existing trees? You might need some! It’s important to choose the right kinds of tree, so their roots don’t upend your house or branches need constant lopping.

“Oversized feature trees make a great impact,” says Mark. “Classic choices such as Japanese maples, frangipanis, crepe myrtle and magnolia are all low-maintenance and can suit many different design styles. Oversized cactus varieties are also visually stunning due to their architectural form.” Hey, it worked for Palm Springs.

Large backyard pool and cabana
Around the perimeter of this pool, smoked oak decking from Millboard flows into the pool house, which is a repurposed Bunnings gazebo. (Credit: Photography: Louise Roche / Styling: Kylie Jackes)

8. Pump up the wow factor with a pool

It goes without saying: most people’s dream backyard involves a pool. Kids (and adults) can spend hours splashing and expending energy in the water. Even when you’re not using it, taking in that view of glittery aqua waves is inherently calming. And most real estate agents agree that a pool can increase the value of your property

The owners of this big block in Queensland, above, decided to “go big” with the pool, proportionate to the large backyard. It’s an impressive 10-metre by 6-metre splash zone. “We also thought it would be so much better for the kids when they had all their friends over.” The pool cabana offers an idyllic place for parents to watch their children while having an adult conversation (hopefully interruption-free).

Veggie garden in Southern Highlands home
Conceived during COVID-19 lockdown, this veggie garden at interior designer Melinda Hartwright’s property is a source of pride for her and husband, Tom. (Credit: Photography: Abbie Melle)

9. Flex your green thumb in a veggie patch 

“Herb and vegetable gardens are very popular, with many people growing their own produce… and it’s a wonderful experience for the kids!” says Mark. You can plant veggies and herbs in the ground, in raised garden beds or in pots. With the cost of living skyrocketing, including fresh produce — $3.20 for a handful of basil, really? — you’ll save much-needed shekels. 

The parterre-style vegetable patch, above, yields carrots, spinach, strawberries, onions, kiwifruit, figs and mint. Being on a property in the Southern Highlands, it also features a rabbit-proof fence to keep Bugs Bunny out. 

Want to gingerly dip your toe into veggie gardening? A totally idiot-proof herb is rosemary, which thrives on neglect and can be used in myriad recipes. Choose a sunny spot, since rosemary likes to have six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. In fact, most edible plants need this amount of sunshine to prosper. 

Climbing plants on fence and a backyard pool
Star jasmine has been planted in a diamond shape along the fence line of this backyard in Sydney’s inner west. (Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread)

10. Disguise your fence and make a large backyard cosy 

Your backyard isn’t complete without a fence. Often underestimated or an afterthought, the backyard fence is an important feature of your property and if it’s not designed well or is left uncovered, can be an eyesore. “Think of your fence as you would any other area of your home,” explains Luke Woods, CEO of ModularWalls, a boundary wall and fence supplier. “Just as you wouldn’t leave the walls in your house blank, there is no reason to have a plain exterior boundary wall.” 

Colour choice is vital when it comes to fencing: painting your backyard fence in dark hues such as Dulux Monument or Ticking can help it recede from view, whereas white or lighter colours will make a fence more prominent.

Planting shrubs and trees of varying heights in front of the fence will make the space feel more ‘cosy’. “Vertical gardens and green walls are still very popular and a fantastic way to cover fences, walls or vertical surfaces without impacting too much ground space,” adds Mark.

Undercover entertaining patio in backyard with crazy pavers and breeze blocks
AFL player Eric Hipwood and his partner Ebony, an interior designer, must be full of backyard landscaping ideas, starting with their divine outdoor living zone. (Credit: Photography: Louise Roche / Styling: Kylie Jackes)

11. Design an outdoor room for entertaining

Why go on holiday when you can stay at home? In terms of new backyard ideas, Mark has observed a move away from outdoor dining towards outdoor ‘lounging’. “Most people have an indoor dining table, so rather than go outside to have the same dining experience we like to create a different experience outdoors,” he explains.

Curate a relaxed, informal ‘lounge-style’ experience with sun and/or fresh air, plus outdoor furniture that’s just as comfy as your interior pieces. “It’s a similar feel to that of being in a resort or outdoor bar,” adds Mark. 

Garden bed planted with Kalanchoe Silver Spoons and ripple jade
This Gold Coast garden features the succulent, Kalanchoe ‘Silver Spoons’ (on left). (Credit: Photography & styling: Louise Roche) (Credit: Photography & styling: Louise Roche)

12. Say it with succulents in the backyard

Not a natural gardener? We got you. One way to fill space in a large backyard is by planting drought-resistant succulents, which are easy to grow from cuttings, as well. Because they have fleshy water-storing leaves, you don’t need to douse them with the hose very often. (Or, ever.)

Succulents and cacti, including Agave, Aeoniums and Aloe, do however need a lot of sunlight. So plant them in a spot that gets at least four hours of rays per day.  

Large backyard with a fire pit
This large backyard in East Fremantle features a cosy fire-pit area. (Credit: Photography: Jody D’Arcy)

13. Heat things up in a large backyard with a fire pit 

Unless you’ve been holidaying on Mars, you’re probably aware that fire pits are trending, big time. Nothing fills your soul quite like sitting around an open fire, warming your hands and chewing the fat with loved ones.

You can choose from wood-burning, gas or eco-friendly ethanol options. Place your fire pit on tiles, sand, stone or gravel, with enough space for permanent or temporary seating at a safe distance… which shouldn’t be a problem because, hello, you have a large backyard!

If toasting marshmallows just doesn’t cut it, consider a pizza oven. “A woodfire pizza oven is a perfect way to enhance your outdoor entertaining options by bringing an Italian touch to your backyard,” adds Sanjiv. Bring out the Chianti and you have the ingredients for a perfect alfresco evening.  

Midcentury-inspired house with stepping stone and gravel pathway
Walk this way: landscaping designs often include pathways that help people navigate various zones of the garden or backyard. (Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread | Styling: Rachel Peters)

14. Lead guests up (or down) the garden path

As well as showing people the way to your door, pathways are great for creating a visual and functional flow between zones of your backyard, says Sanjiv, using paving or pebbles. Gravel is a quick and easy way to fill areas, agrees Dennis. “You can use edging to retain it in a certain spot and the colours available are incredible,” he remarks.

When choosing pebbles or gravel, often referred to as ‘aggregates’, go for ones that are small enough in diameter to be nice underfoot, but not so small that you leave footprints. Which, like finger marks on stainless steel, can bug even the most laissez-faire homeowner.

Children in hammock in the large backyard of a Hamptons style house
Just a couple of boys and their dog: according to science, stringing up a hammock leads to instant relaxation. (Credit: Photography: Simon Whitbread / Styling: Corina Koch)

15. When in doubt, string up a hammock 

When your backyard landscaping efforts — or simply thinking about landscaping — have you aching for a Bex and a lie-down, just pop up a hammock. Even if your dream backyard makeover isn’t complete, it’s the best way to enjoy your outdoor space. The best. Trust us, we’ve tried it.  

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