A Guide to Outdoor Exciting Garden Projects

Family looking out onto their plant-adorned patio.

Plants can make all the difference in patio design.  Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

50 Outdoor Exciting, Inspiring and Amazing Patio Ideas

Enhanced Outdoor Living Is Just a Great Patio Away

Patio next to an ocean beach with palm trees and a sunset.

The right patio will turn a garden into your own personal paradise.  Michele Westmorland/Getty Images

Do you enjoy dining outside? Some people are more die-hard outdoor dining enthusiasts than others, to be sure. But almost everybody can remember a pleasant experience at some point in their lives that involved sipping on some coffee, tea, beer, wine or other beverage in an appealing outdoor setting, whether it was at a friend’s house or at a cafe. And now you want a patio of your own.

Or perhaps it is reading a book or chatting on your smartphone that you find enhanced if the experience occurs in an open-air setting? Regardless of the activity, improving your outdoor space is the key factor in making it possible for you to enjoy yourself to the fullest. The ideas illustrated in this 50-page photo gallery will help you cover all the bases in planning your new patio. Are you excited yet? Let’s go!

Sit Around the Fire on an Elegant Flagstone Patio

Two chairs around a fire pit on a flagstone patio.

Few patio materials can surpass flagstone in raw beauty.  1Photodiva/Getty Images

The material that you use to create your outdoor patio depends partly on your tastes, but also partly on practical considerations. Most homeowners choose hard surfaces, such as the flagstone patio.

shown in this picture. But as we will see later, there are some instances where a hard surface is not necessarily the best option.

Build a Brick Patio and Get Back to the Things You Enjoy

A couple sitting on a lounge chair on a brick patio relaxing after tennis.

Brick patios are easy for DIY’ers to build and can be completed fairly quickly — important factors for those who lead full lives.  Arthur Tilley/Getty Images

Another popular material for patios is brick. They may not offer the dazzling appearance of a flagstone patio (such as in the prior slide), but one of the virtues 


(assuming that you are doing the job yourself) is that the work is relatively easy for beginning DIY’ers. Some brick patterns are easier to lay than others (as will be discussed in the following slides).

Herringbone Brick Pattern Adds Excitement

Brick patio in herringbone pattern.

As if the view weren’t exhilarating enough, this patio’s herringbone brick pattern lends the scene excitement.  Tom Merton/Getty Images

The “herringbone” is one of the block paving brick patterns commonly used. It is a bit harder to lay than some of the others, partly because it will almost certainly involve some brick-cutting. The herringbone pattern has a frenzied look to it and will draw attention to a patio. If it is excitement that you seek (and you have some DIY experience), the herringbone may be for you.

Slow Things Down with a Running Bond

Brick patio in a garden area using the running bond pattern.

The running bond pattern is more relaxed than the herringbone and well-suited to a tranquil setting.  YinYang/Getty Images

The “running bond” is another block paving brick pattern used in outdoor patio construction. In spite of its athletic-sounding name, this pattern strikes the eye as being smoother and has more of a soothing effect on the psyche than does the herringbone (previous photo). That effect is perfect for the patio in this picture, a resting place in the middle of a garden.

Use the Basket-Weave Pattern to Avoid Making Cuts

Brick patio between house and lawn with basket-weave pattern.

The basket-weave pattern is one of the easiest to lay for your brick patio if you don’t have space constraints.  Juliette Wade/Getty Images

Like the running bond, the basket-weave block paving brick pattern is another that offers a soothing effect. Even more importantly, laying a brick patio in this pattern — under the right circumstances — can save beginners some work and some frustration. Why? And what are those circumstances?

Consider the landscape in the picture above. These homeowners had plenty of room to play in. They were not trying to shoe-horn a patio into a tight spot. Consequently, they could leave off laying bricks at whatever point they felt their patio was big enough, and no brick cutting (cutting block paving) was required due to space constraints. That is often a relief to beginners, who tend to dislike handling noisy, dangerous tools.

Build a Tile Patio (but Do Your Homework First)

Tile patio edged with coarse gravel.

Tile: It isn’t just for indoors (as long as you know what you’re doing).  PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa/Getty Images

In addition to stone and brick, another hard-surface option is tile. But it cannot be just any tile. If you find tile elegant and decide to begin planning to lay a tile patio, be sure to emphasize that you need a tile product meant for the outdoors when shopping.

Get Your Zen On

A zen garden with open, gravel area surrounded by shrubs and trees.

The “Zen option” has its own pros and cons.  Claire Takacs/Getty Images

Wouldn’t you like to grow some of the most colourful trees for fall around your patio? Although they would look great, here is the problem: Tree roots can wreak havoc with structures such as flagstone, brick, or tile patios. A better choice may be a “patio” made of a material that has some give to it. With an expanse of sand (as in this photo of a Zen garden), there can be no issue of tree roots causing damage, per se (because there isn’t anything to break).

If you desire an authentic Zen garden, though, be prepared for some maintenance. The markings that you see in the sand in the picture above are made with a rake. It does not take much (wind, rain, etc.) to erase them — meaning that you will have to go out and create them all over again.

Easy Does It with Gravel Patios

Gravel patio with benches and table for outdoor dining.

Gravel patios are relatively low-fuss.  Clive Nichols/Getty Images

Here is another type of patio that has some give to it: a gravel patio. As with the sand of the Zen garden pictured in the prior slide, the gravel cannot “break” when tree roots attack it. As a result, you need to be less wary of growing trees around your patio than you do with hard-surface patios.

Here is another fact about gravel patios that should meet with your satisfaction: They are not high-maintenance, as are Zen gardens. This fact will only hold true, however, if you take the precaution of using landscape fabric as an underlayment to make it more difficult for weeds to invade the space.

Build a Small Patio in the Right Spot and Marvel at the Results

A small patio with seating tucked into a hillside, with daffodils.

A patio needn’t be large to be effective. This one nicely exploits an amphitheatre-like setting.  Juliette Wade/Getty Images

A patio need not be enormous to serve its purpose. If the owners of this patio built it for the purpose of communing with nature, then they could not have asked for anything much better. For one thing, the location is superb: It is tucked into a hillside, forming something of an amphitheatre. In spring, the daffodil flowers surrounding it are a great plus.

Plants and patios can complement each other. We will be looking at many examples of the marriage of plant and patio in upcoming slides. Beginning with spring, let’s examine how you can plan your patio in such a way as to make it enjoyable for all four seasons of the year. This will involve astute plant selection as well as creative solutions to some nagging seasonal problems.

Celebrate Spring on the Patio with Potted Bulb Plants

Patio filled with colorful spring plants, such as tulips.

Potted tulips will bring any patio alive in spring.  Ron Evans/Getty Images

Bulbs such as tulip plants are to spring what fall foliage is to autumn. Make sure you will be able to enjoy some of your favourite spring-flowering bulbs from a comfortable seat on your patio. If you live in an urban area and cannot grow the plants in the ground around your patio, simply grow them in containers, as in this photo.

Pick the Best of the Best for Late-Spring Plants and Include Them in Your Design

Patio surrounded by allium plants, a golden chain tree, and other flowers.

Make sure your patio planting takes advantage of the floral bounty of late spring.  Mark Turner/Getty Images

Early spring is magical, but a greater number of fantastic plants come into bloom later in spring. This scene shows two such plants:

    1. Flowering onion (Allium genus)
    2. Golden chain tree (Laburnum genus)

Don’t Scrimp on the Annuals in Summer

Take on That DIY Landscaping Project With Confidence!

Annuals can further enhance the colour in an already spectacular patio.  Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty Images

While a number of long-blooming perennials can see you through the summer if you are patient, there is nothing like annual flowers (such as the geraniums in this slide) for quick, inexpensive, constant colour. Grow them in a flower bed within view of your patio and/or in pots right on the patio, according to your desires.

Know How to Deal with Uninvited Guests to Your Patio Meals

Dessert and tea served on a table on a summer patio.

The summer patio is about tea and dessert — or whatever dining experience suits your fancy.  PeopleImages.com/Getty Images

This spread of tea and dessert treats suggests a wonderful time on the summer patio, doesn’t it? And the flowers on the table are a nice touch. But bees can be drawn to those flowers. And those pesky yellow jackets are sure to horn in on the desserts in late summer, claiming their share. Make sure you know how to treat insect stings, just in case your flesh gets in the way of one of those stingers.

Enjoy Your Patio on Summer Evenings

Patio with dining area at night, lit up with strings of lights

The summer patio at night time will need more than lighting to be enjoyable.  Hero Images/Getty Images

A little bit of light goes a long way toward making the patio a great destination on sultry summer nights. Your outdoor lighting need not be fancy. The simple string lights in this image work just fine.

Keep Mosquitoes at Bay on the Nighttime Patio

Five people enjoying a fire pit flame on a summer patio.

The flame from the fire pit will help keep down mosquitoes on this patio.  Hello Lovely/Getty Images

Sitting around the flame gushing out of a portable fire pit  helps keep mosquitoes at bay, so that you are better able to enjoy those wonderful evenings on the summer patio. We will see another major use for fire pits later in this presentation.

Enjoy the Lush Feel of the Tropics

Woman resting in chair on patio adorned with tropical plants.

Tropical plants lend a lush feel to your outdoor living.  Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz/Getty Images

Tropical plants say “summer,” and you can make use of them on and around your patio even in the North (if you take them indoors when it is cold outdoors). Tropical flowers such as dahlia bulbs colour up the patio splendidly. But do not forget the tropicals that function as foliage plants, such as elephant ears: They may not provide magnificent flowers, but their large leaves furnish a terrific background for the showier specimens on your patio throughout the summer. A versatile tropical plant popular now on patios is the famous papyrus plant: Use it in a water feature or simply grow it in a container.

Exploit the Harvest for Vibrant Fall Colour on the Patio

Pumpkins on a patio table in fall.

Setting up a pumpkin display is one of the easiest ways to make your fall patio pop with color.  totororo/Getty Images

The fall patio has its own allure. The growing season may be winding down, but the bounty of the harvest is at your fingertips. Exploit it to decorate your patio with the shades of orange, yellow, bronze, etc. that give autumn displays their unique feel.

Pumpkins are begging you to breathe life back into their orange flesh by carving them into jack-o-lanterns. But make sure you carve and display your pumpkins with safety in mind, especially if you have children around. In terms of a broader decorating plan for fall, browse the following pictures for help deciding between a harvest theme or a Halloween theme:

Select the Right Tree to Grow Near Your Patio

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Japanese maples (the trees with the reddish colour) are an excellent choice for planting around patios.  Ron Evans/Getty Images

It is a real treat to be able to appreciate a dazzling fall-foliage display from your own patio. Just be careful in your plant selection if you will be growing the tree right near your patio, since, as mentioned earlier, tree roots can damage hard-surface patios. Japanese maple trees double as great autumn-colour trees and relatively safe trees to grow around patios.

There are also shrubs that you can grow for fall colour. Being smaller than trees, shrubs also are generally less threatening to hardscape structures.

Make Your Patio Usable in Winter with a Fire Pit

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

A fire pit can make your patio usable even in winter.  Hero Images/Getty Images

How can you make a patio more usable in winter if you live in the North? Well, in discussing fire pits earlier, I mentioned another major use for them, and this is it: to keep you warm outdoors in the winter (supplemented by dressing properly, of course).

Beyond Fire Pits: Have a Fireplace on Your Patio

An outdoor fireplace is a useful feature on a patio.  Chuck Schmidt/Getty Images

Let’s take the thought in the prior slide up to another level: Having a wonderful outdoor fireplaces like this one on your patio would give you even more incentive to spend time on it in winter.

Outdoor Kitchens: All the Comforts of Home on a Patio

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

With an outdoor kitchen, you can cook your food outside, as well as eating it outside.  jim kruger/Getty Images

Having an outdoor fireplace on the patio may seem extreme to some, but even full outdoor kitchens are becoming more popular. They represent the ultimate in outdoor living, allowing you to both cook and eat your food in the great outdoors, with all the comforts of home.

Lounge About on Your Patio Chair and Let Your Stress Slip Away

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Accessorize your patio with furniture to make it more liveable.  Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images

Without some type of furniture, your patio is just an area in the garden to pass through, not a true outdoor room. You need chairs (or at least benches) on a patio so that you can rest while getting a breath of fresh air, reading a book, or dining. Furniture installation is a major step in making this outdoor space more liveable, more truly an extension of the home.

Have It Made in the Shade with a Pergola?

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

A pergola adds another whole element to a patio: shade.  Astronaut Images/Getty Images

If you will be spending a lot of time on the patio during the summertime, it is of critical importance that you furnish yourself with some shade. Erecting a pergola structure over your patio is one way to accomplish this. Cover the pergola with something (to form a “roof”) so that it can cast shade. Some pergolas have retractable awnings. But nature-lovers sometimes prefer to grow vines up their pergolas and let their foliage supply the roofing that will cast much-needed shade. Wisteria vines are commonly used for this purpose.

Take a Dip in the Pool — in Privacy

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Ensure privacy for your swimming pool with a hedge.  Astronaut Images/Getting Images

Swimming pools often go hand-in-hand with patios, especially if you live in a hot climate. But that raises the question of how to furnish your patio area with some privacy. Plants are one option. But landscaping around swimming pools is tricky, because there are a number of factors to consider ensuring that you get the right plant for the spot. In this slide, a hedge of shrubs supplies the homeowner with privacy.

Erect a Living Bamboo Screen for Privacy

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Bamboo can be an effective plant to grow for screening.  Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

But there are other options for furnishing your patio with privacy besides a conventional hedge — consisting of yew bushes or privet shrubs, for example. Another type of “living wall” for privacy consists of a looser collection of plants that you allow to grow freely — rather than trimming them into a tight “hedge.” In the slide shown above, the homeowners have chosen bamboo plants to serve this function.

Good Fences Make Good Patios

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Wooden privacy fences are one of the most popular choices for creating a private setting.  Spaces Images/Getty Images

Hardscape fencing is another popular choice for achieving privacy around a patio. There are various styles from which to choose. The most visible boards in the wooden fence in this picture have a vertical orientation.

Choose a Fencing Style That Suits Your Tastes, Needs

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Wooden fencing comes in a number of styles. This one has a solid look to it.  Hamilton Knight: Martine/Getty Images

Here is another wooden fence used to provide a patio with privacy. But its style is quite different from the one in the prior slide. The prominent supporting posts here call attention to the sturdiness of the structure. Not sure what fence style suits you the most? Check out these fence pictures for ideas.

Screen Out Prying Eyes in the Simplest Way Possible

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

These wooden screens serve one purpose: to afford privacy.  Simon Battensby/Getty Images

Portable wooden screens such as the ones shown in this picture represent a simpler and less expensive option than does a full fence. If you are really looking to save money, it is easy to build one on your own using lattice. Such a privacy screen further functions as a trellis upon which to grow vine plants.

Divide and Conquer

Fence divides one portion of a landscape from another to

An internal fence can “set off” one portion of the A Guide to Garden Buildings from another as a distinct outdoor space.  Paul Hart/Getty Images

Do not think that the only use for a fence is for privacy or security along a property line. An internal fence such as the one displayed here can help define outdoor spaces, giving a clear sense of the separation of the patio area from another portion of the A Guide to Garden Buildings. The presence of the fence makes this patio seem cosier. “Divide and conquer” is a handy principle to keep in mind when creating outdoor living spaces.

Put the Finishing Touches on Your Patio Masterpiece

Pool and patio ringed in by wall with mural art work on it.

The finishing touch put on this elegant setting is the plant artwork on the wall.  Caiaimage/Martin Barraud/Getty Images

The privacy for this pool-and-patio area is furnished partly by a masonry wall. As a finishing touch, a simple mural has been painted on the wall, suggesting cactus plants. If you are not much of an artist, check online for sources for plant stencils.

By painting plants onto the wall, these homeowners have avoided a thorny problem commonly faced by folks who decide to grow the real thing (as we will see in the next slide).

Beware of Invasive Plants

Patio with table and chairs, flowers, surrounded by ivy-covered wall.

The ivy on this wall is attractive, but it can also be invasive.  Andrea Rugg/Getty Images

This fence is covered with a plant that — while attractive — also has a negative quality: Namely, it is an invasive plant in many areas. It is called “English ivy.” Invasive plants can cause you headaches. Do your research before you begin growing plants, so that you can make wise decisions. A better choice here than English ivy may have been the tamer Boston ivy vine.

Plants and Patios: A Match Made in Heaven

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Plants can make all the difference in patio design.  Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Patio plantings can turn a ho-hum patio into a nice one and a nice patio into an awesome one. Container gardens are particularly effective on patios. Is your concrete patio showing its age? Does your budget currently preclude investing in a new one? Then dressing your old patio up with plants may be the best solution for the time being.

Ways to “Take the Edge Off” Your Patio

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Rounded patios are less jarring to look at than rectilinear ones.  Ron Evans/Getty Images

If you are not a green thumb, have little time for plant care, or simply are not in love with growing plants, you may well wonder, “Should I even bother incorporating plants into my patio plans?” Here is one argument that may sway you: Plants help soften the harsh, straight lines of a rectilinear patio. But if you are dead set against growing plants, there is another way to “take the edge off”: Build a patio with a rounded edge, as in this photo.

Go Southwest Without Leaving Home

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Cacti lend a patio a Southwestern flavour.  Anthony Harrison/Getty Images

Do you adore plants and decor that promote a Southwestern theme? Then be sure to include some pots of cacti and succulents on your patio.

Break Up a Large Patio with an Island Bed

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

This “island bed” of plants breaks up the patio and makes it more interesting.  YinYang/Getty Images

In this slide, plants serve the purpose of breaking up a large patio, visually. Specifically, the designer created an island bed and planted it with barberry shrubs, etc. Other small shrubs could have done just fine, too, if you dislike barberry.

Grow Fragrant Flowers for the Sweet Smell of Success

Patio festooned with fragrant flowers such as lilies.

This patio design appeals to the sense of smell as well as that of sight, using fragrant flowers.  Neil Holmes/Getty Images

Here is something that neither cactus nor barberry offer your patio: sweet fragrance. The latter is precisely what the owners of this patio have chosen. It is festooned with fragrant flowers. The wonderful smell coming from flowers such as Easter lilies adds to your quality of life on the patio. What floral smells attract you the most? Be certain to include some of them in your patio plantings.

Bring Rusticity to Your Patio with a Cottage-Garden Planting

Stone patio with cottage-garden planting.

The cottage-garden style used in this planting is very popular now.  Claire Takacs/Getty Images

The cottage garden is a landscape style that is quite popular. It has a wild-but-controlled look to it that many gardeners admire. If you will be building your patio in the city or suburbs and want to give it a rustic feel, give it a planting in the cottage-garden style.

What Your Patio Would Look Like If It Wore a Tux

Patio with formal landscaping and multiple levels.

A patio with formal landscaping like this is not for everyone, but its appeal is undeniable.  Silmon: Pedro/Getty Images

In contrast to the previous slide, which featured a patio with a cottage garden, this one sports a very formal landscape design. This style is less popular but still eye-popping.

Dial It Back and Make a Meditation Garden

Bench on stone patio overlooking a serene planting bed.

This relaxed setting is perfect for a meditation garden.  YinYang/Getty Images

You have seen a number of pictures in this photo gallery showing scenes of people congregating on a patio, perhaps for a meal or for a party. In some of those pictures, the patios have been accessorized in sophisticated fashion, culminating in examples of glitzy outdoor kitchens and the like.

With the present photo, we dial all of that back for a moment, doing a 180. Instead of a social scene enhanced by fancy gadgets, we have a patio with a simple bench. From this bench, we look out over a tranquil flower bed.

What a perfect place to relax and collect your thoughts! This is a patio designed with seclusion in mind. It is part of a meditation garden, where the eye falls upon plants such as Russian sage shrubs. This is a patio not for parties but for unwinding after a hard day at work.

Shoot for the Moon!

Patio with table and chairs, plus white flowers suited to a moon garden.

The white flowers in this planting would work well in a so-called “moon garden.”.  Tom Merton/Getty Images

Moon gardens are characterized by white flowers (and other brightly-coloured blooms), especially those that are fragrant. Why have a moon garden adjacent to your patio? The idea is to achieve a planting that you can appreciate on those warm summer evenings that we talked about earlier. White flowers show up with even just a bit of light, and fragrance is not dependent upon light at all.

Beach Landscaping Rewarding, Challenging

Patio with an ocean backdrop.

The owners of this patio enjoy an ocean view, but their plantings must be salt-tolerant.  Astronaut Images/Getty Images

Who wouldn’t want a patio with a beach backdrop such as this one boasts? But there is a challenge here, too (if you wish to incorporate plants): Some plants tolerate salt well, while others do not. Choose plants wisely.

Edge Your Patio Beds for a Refined Look

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

This patio planting is edged, giving it a more finished appearance.  david olah/Getty Images

If you have a planting bed adjacent to your patio, make sure to edge it — as in this photo — if you desire a neat, finished look.

Incorporate Ornamental Grasses into Your Patio Planting

50 Ways to Leave Your Old Patio in the Dust

Tall ornamental grasses are partly responsible for the sense of seclusion this patio enjoys.  Mark Turner/Getty Images

Don’t overlook ornamental grasses when choosing plants for patio areas. Tall types such a maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) are particularly helpful if you are trying to create a secluded patio setting.

It’s Your Call: Genius or “Cracked?”

Patio stones with grass growing between them.

Grass “outlining” makes this patio attractive, but at a cost.  Hoxton/Tom Merton/Getty Images

Here is an interesting look for a patio. The designer has left a grass strip around each of the pavers The resulting “crack” sets off the pavers nicely. Here’s the trade-off, though: This patio is hardly low-maintenance. Why give yourself more mowing work than you already have to do? But it’s your call.

Reduce Lawn Space, Reduce Workload

Large lawn with patio and house in the background.

This homeowner still has a large lawn to mow, but the job would be bigger without the patio.  Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images

Speaking of lawn mowing (prior slide), this property has a huge lawn. Some people admire a lush, green lawn, but it comes at a cost — including the maintenance entailed in mowing it. Among its many other virtues, a patio such as this one could save you work. If the space were taken up by additional lawn rather than by the patio, the homeowners would have an even bigger mowing job on their hands.

Install a Cool Water Feature

Garden pond with numerous plants.

Water features with lovely plants like these are soothing to gaze upon.  Mark Turner/Getty Images

A water feature can add great value to a patio. If you choose to have a fountain, the sound made by the cascading water is very soothing. Here are some fountain styles to consider:

But even a garden pond (without a fountain), such as the one in this picture, can be soothing — to look at. Nor need it be large to have an impact. Read about plant for small ponds.

Play with Colours

Stone patio with orange chairs and table.

Add colour(s) to your liking as a finishing touch for your patio project.  chuckcollier/E+/Getty Images

As a finishing touch, it is always fun to play around with colour. The owner of the patio in this photo clearly has a thing for orange. Patio furniture is one thing; plants are another. Working with plant colours is more complex, but here’s some help in choosing a landscape colour scheme.

Install a Complementary Walkway for Your Patio

People dining under a tree on a flagstone patio.

A flagstone walkway complements a flagstone patio.  YinYang/Getty Images

How will you be accessing your patio? Will you be using a walkway? Why not choose a material for your walkway, then, that complements the patio? For this flagstone patio, the designer wisely chose a stone walkway In other cases, a garden stepping-stone walkway could work.

Deck Out Your Patio

A deck and patio combined, adorned with plants.

Decks and patios are not mutually exclusive. This landscape sports a combination of the two.  Linda Burgess/Getty Images

Here, the patio is accessed via a floating deck, obviating the need for a walkway altogether.

By David Beaulieu