6 Easy Design Ideas to Add Height to a Backyard That Feels Flat

Stop your backyard from falling flat by adding levels, height and dimension. Here, the experts share how

A backyard with a pergola
(Image credit: Staghorn NYC)

Sometimes our backyards can look a little flat and uninspiring, but introducing levels, layers, depth and dimension to the space adds more interest. 'Adding height and levels to your yard can significantly improve the functionality, visual appeal, and amenity of your garden for people, plants and animals alike,' explains the architect and designer, Paul Porjazoski, of Melbourne-based BENT Architecture.

To inspire your backyard design, we've spoken to the green-thumbed experts who have come up with these ideas to help you reclaim your backyard. Whether it's planting tall shrubs and plants that help draw the eye upward or adding a trellis or pergola for a touch of sculpture.

1. Use your plants to your advantage

A backyard with varying heights of plants

(Image credit: Adam Potts. Design: Susan Skornica Design & Construction)

Make use of shrubs to build up your modern garden, advises Katherine Aul Cervoni, landscape designer and founder of Staghorn NYC and The Cultivation by Kat. 'One of my favorite ways to add depth and dimension to a garden space is by planting a variety of shrubs in different sizes and in staggered groupings,' she says.

'Plants and trees of varying height and form create visual interest, microclimates that can support varied vegetation types, and diverse wildlife habitats where birds, insects, small animals (and humans!) can coexist,' adds Paul Porjazoski, of Melbourne-based BENT Architecture. Boxwood, yew or ilex are especially great options for this and can give some beautiful structure to a garden.

Don't forget raised planters or sleepers that hug the perimeter of the backyard, or strategically-placed pots. 'Utilize pots to bring height and color to your garden,' says Paul Sangha of Paul Sangha Creative. 'They are also a playful way to bring in your personality and visual contrast into the space.'

2. Try elevated decking

a large curved deck in a narrow garden

(Image credit: Travis Rhoads. Design: Seed Studio Landscape Design)

Backyard decks can be a great way to zone the space, introducing various areas for socializing come the summer months, and raising your deck helps to add levels and separate the space. Ultimately, decks of various heights change how you interact with the garden and bring a sense of flow. It helps you get so much more out of a small backyard too, added as an extension of the indoor space, or placed further into the landscape as a destination.

'Elevated decks or platforms are a great way to add dimension,' says Paul Porjazoski. 'Elevated decks help to spatially zone a garden and become a perfect platform for entertaining.'

On top of that, incorporating built-in seating into your decks creates various seating areas. 'Built-in seating, or loose furniture for that matter, improves the functionality of the garden, allowing it to be enjoyed for longer, in comfort,' adds Paul.

On the other side of the coin, you can go lower, with sunken decks, too. ‘A carved-out or sunken area with low seating will provide a feeling of immersion,’ says Alexander Symes of Alexander Symes Architect.

3. Landscaping with rocks

Landscaping with rocks and water

(Image credit: Roger Davies. Design: KAA Design Group)

Consider textured landscaping ideas like landscaping with rocks, incorporating rocks, boulders and pebbles of all shapes and sizes to introduce shadow, contrast and drama.

A great low-maintenance backyard idea for those who don't trust themselves with plants and flowers, they attract lichen and moss over time to make your backyard look more rugged and wild too.  

'Some sites lend themselves beautifully to having rocks and stone incorporated into them,' says Kat. 'In that case, I find adding a few boulders into a planting bed can give a lovely bit of dimension. Planting a mix of low and high perennials around it will allow it to peak out from behind the plants in a lovely naturalistic way,' says Kat.

4. Add a pergola

A backyard with a pergola

(Image credit: Staghorn NYC)

A pergola is a simple addition that you can add to the back of your house to introduce a different dimension. 'A structure like a pergola is space-defining and can provide a garden with sun shade and rain protection, facilitating all year use,' says Paul Porjazoski. What's more, it provides a surface for you to grow plants and vines which will find their way up your pergola. A grapevine will burst with fruit come late summer, while wisteria will bring a swathe of soft purple flowers around May, with purple tips that release a soothing fragrance.

'Trellis and arbor structures can add an architectural focal point to the outdoor space, while also providing shade and/or a place for supporting cascading vines,' adds Cate Singleton, director of design at Tilly Design.

5. Embrace curves and mounds

A backyard with curved pathway and berm

(Image credit: Prue Ruscoe. Design: MCK Architecture & Interiors)

Think outside of the box and introduce curves into your backyard to stop the space feeling too flat and one-dimensional. 'If your garden is feeling too flat and linear, I recommend amending the shape of your pathway or garden beds to introduce a bit of curvature,' says Kat. 'This movement can help break up an especially rectangular property and provide the dimension you seek.'

A great way to add curvature to the landscape is by adding berms. Landscaping berms are mounded hills of soil that can serve functional and aesthetic purposes. 'Adding raised berms to your landscape can provide both privacy and noise screening from busy streets,' says Cate. 'This can also add a bit of security for corner lots and can serve as a raised lawn space, or a perfect structure for a tiered natural planting.'

6. Embrace screens

Small back yard with wooden fences for privacy

(Image credit: Richardson & Associates Landscape Architecture)

Privacy screens are first and foremost used in the backyard to stop prying eyes in your backyard, but they have another purpose which is to introduce interest and dimension to your backyard.

'Introduce landscape walls or decorative screens to achieve a layered look and distinguish the foreground and background of your garden,' says Paul Sangha. 'Walls can also act as a visual foil, becoming a backdrop to highlight a specimen tree, sculpture, or feature pot, for example.'

You can research to find the best privacy screens for your backyard, but a wall of bamboo can also do a good job of bringing that structure but in a more natural aesthetic.

3 backyard additions to bring dimension to your backyard

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.