Paving ideas for small gardens: 12 options for compact yards

Small backyard? No problem. These paving ideas for small gardens will help you create an outdoor living space which oozes style

A curved light colored patio area with water feature
(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future Publishing Ltd)

These paving ideas for small gardens are suitable for lots of different spaces, whether you have a compact outdoor area, or a small unloved area of a larger backyard. 

Our experts cover the basics of color, shape and layout, but there are other things to consider with paving for small spaces too. Grouting, for example, can have a big impact on the visual effect in a small space. Go for the wrong style or color and it can make it look cramped and busy rather than sleek and well balanced.

As with designing any small space, it's all in the finer details. You can afford to be free and easy in a large backyard, but in a small space, choices must be much be more considered.

And when you remember that patio paving makes up a big portion of the budget for most backyard makeovers, it's important to do your research so you're happy with the end result.

Get started on a makeover with these paving ideas for small gardens

'If you're feeling adventurous, there are plenty of ways to shake up your paving ideas for small gardens,' says Johanna Elvidge, Head of Design from Marshalls

'Consider it an extension of the house, a second family room or a dining room. Like with your indoor flooring and rugs, experiment with various colors and sizes – choosing from coordinated paving ranges can stamp character onto a small patio or space.'

1. Think about the grouting between pavers

Large stone tile paving slabs in a minimalist courtyard with statement tree

'Aim to match your grout color as close as you possibly can to your tiles,' says Leigh Price, Co-Director of  Real Stone, Tile & Bathroom.

(Image credit: Real Stone, Tile and Bathroom)

'If you want to make a small garden look bigger, laying large-format paving is a great way to create the illusion of more space,' says Leigh Price, Co-Director of Real Stone, Tile & Bathroom.

'The size of tile you use for your paver patterns is really key, as large tiles with few grout lines contribute to the feel of a flowing, uninterrupted space which can make it appear bigger than it actually is. Small tiles, on the other hand, naturally require more grout, and lots of grout lines end up accentuating every break between tiles.

'This gives the impression of a smaller, busier space, as the eye ends up stopping at every grout line rather than viewing the whole space as one.'

2. Go for a light shade of paving in a small space

A wooden outdoor tabel and chairs on a small light colored patio

Light colored pavers will give a feeling of openness to a small space

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd)

For small gardens, most people tend to want to create more space, or at least the illusion of it. 'That’s why light-colored stone and porcelain pavers add that feeling of openness to a garden, says expert gardener Robert Morley of Morley Gardens, speaking on behalf of Rated People.

'Creams and light grays will do that,' he adds. 'Porcelain is my top paving choice for a small garden as it’s quite a modern paving look in its appearance, and it also happens to be very easy to maintain which is a definite plus point.'

3. Incorporate planting to soften paving edges

A small balcony garden with paving slabs interspersed with ground cover

Chelsea Flower Show 2021. Green Sky Pocket Garden designed by James Smith

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd)

This patchwork effect is becoming an ever-popular paving technique which particularly lends itself to paving ideas for small gardens, plus it makes a great option if you're looking for eco paving solutions. Leaving space between your pavers means that you can add lots of lush ground cover plants to your scheme.

In The Green Sky Pocket Garden, designed by James Smith, at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021, the 'green floor' was created from paving slabs interspersed with herbs, succulents and perennials, giving a lush feel to a modest 6x16ft space.

For creating an instant patchwork paving effect in your backyard we love these Decorative Stepping Stones with Ground Stakes from Walmart.

4. Design curved paving to add interest to a small yard

A curved paved area with water feature

Finding Our Way: An NHS Tribute Garden – RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021, designed by Naomi Ferrett - Cohen

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future Publishing Ltd)

Instead of classic block paving ideas, curves are a way of maximizing a small backyard space by tricking the eye into making the patio seem bigger than it actually is.

This is a go-to trick of Robert Morley who often uses curved edges when paving. 'By doing this you can create an extra level of dimension,' he says. 'Instead of a simple edge that stops, the curve gives it a sense of continuity that creates more space than you actually have.'

'When laying a curved patio or paved area, place the widest section by your door for seating and then taper it gently to leave enough space for a lawn or planting,' says Fiona Jenkins, Gardening Expert at My Job Quote.

5. Blend paving materials with your interior 

A small paved patio area outside byfold doors with bistro table sest

Make a paved area feel bigger by blending it with your interior

(Image credit: Colin Poole / Future Publishing Ltd)

Blurring the lines between inside and out is mutually beneficial for giving a feeling of a larger space. A paved area which leads on from your interior makes the inside of your home feel bigger, whilst at the same time giving the impression of more space to the paved spot in your backyard.

'Some people want their patio to feel like a secret escape, an oasis away from the everyday hustle and bustle,' says Johanna Elvidge, Head of Design from Marshalls. 

'If you're after the feel of a cozy home extension without the fuss, consider a no-frills patio paving stone that closely matches the flooring of the room inside.' 

'Neutral and buff-colored, or simple concrete paving ideas are perfect, if you've got lighter carpets or wooden floors in your adjoining rooms. That way, you'll have a seamless transition from the interior – whether it be a lounge, dining room or kitchen – to the outdoors.'

6. Use long paving slabs to stretch the feeling of space

rectangular porcelain beige tiles on a patio in front of a brick wall

(Image credit: Hyperion Tiles Ltd)

When it comes to how to lay a patio, Johanna Elvidge feels the shape of pavers can greatly impact the look of a small garden. 'For a sleek finish which lengthens your patio, create lines with longer, thinner paving slabs in alternating rows.'

Robert Morley agrees: 'The size and shape of a thin oblong tile makes it a perfect choice if you’re looking to cheat the feeling of space. I would suggest 18x36in (45x90cm) as the optimal size, to really emphasize the space and all that your garden has to offer.'

7. Use a bold paving design to make a statement

Decorative patio paving on a small gray patio

(Image credit: Walls and Floors)

If you want to make a statement with your paving ideas for small gardens, Johonna Elvidge suggests trying a beautiful paving design that raises its aesthetic to a new level.

'A tasteful decorative patio pattern is sure to provide a talking point for visitors and gives an eye-catching focus, which can be sharpened by using a mix of colors and styles in your paving, or planting lush greenery around it.'

'When it comes to paving options for small gardens, there is a huge variety of patio materials and shapes to choose from. They range from the purely basic, such as a stack bond using a single size, to the more adventurous multi-sized flag design, such as a repeatable pattern offset at 45 degrees.'

'A simple guide to laying patio patterns is: the greater the number of flag sizes available within a pack, the more complex the laying pattern will look. However, even with just a single flag size, it's possible to create different layouts or patterns,' she adds. 

8. Play with different levels of paving in a small backyard

Paved area with steps and built in planting beds

'Even if your garden isn’t sloping, adding steps and height will give a small space more interest, and provide extra planting spots,' says paving expert Rowan Cripps

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future Publishing Ltd)

Even if space is tight, try to create different levels for your paving, incorporating garden steps and raised garden beds to make it look spacious and interesting.

'Changes in level will create a garden that’s visually more interesting,' says Rowan Cripps, paving specialist and founding director of Infinite Paving. 'A simple change of level adds a new perspective to any design, but introducing more vertical planes will make a paved space feel bigger.'

'Adding levels to your garden also can help divide your outside space. A lower area to your garden can be used as a relaxed seating space, or adding a single step up to a higher point can create a secluded paved area. Doing so will add depth and create zones for privacy in a small garden layout,' finishes Rowan.

9. Try a small circular paved space 

Small circle circular stone paved patio and lawn with a table and chairs seating with cobble cobbled pebble path and reclaimed brick raised bed

A circular paving style creates an inviting space

(Image credit: A Garden / Alamy Stock Photo)

'Small spaces benefit from thinking outside the box,' says Fiona Jenkins. 'Circular patios not only make an eye-catching feature, but can also make better use of compact spaces. They’re ideally shaped for a small table and chairs with plenty of space around the edge for planting.' 

Rowan Cripps advises you should first assess the shape of your garden. 'Adding a large circular tile design in a small space can have a unifying effect, making a garden seem less claustrophobic.'

'The bigger the circle size, the more prominent it will be as an entertainment zone, helping you and your guests take your minds off the actual size of your outside space,' he says.

10. Pave a small, narrow area for a more useable space

A side garden transformed into a useable space with paving and pot plants

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd)

Even a simple side garden can become something special. If it catches the sun it’s the perfect spot for a kitchen garden or even an extra seating area.

Terraced urban houses tend to have awkward side areas that often get very little light in the shadow cast by the house. A pergola or a seat could be nice situated there. 

You could try laying gravel with stepping stone pavers and pots of lush, shade-loving plants. The key is to start with a simple clean-up of the area. Once cleared, a muddy patch or a pathway can be spruced up with a layer of mulch or gravel.

11. Be aware of your size limitations

A small paved area with outdoor dining table and lush surround planting

Don't be tempted to squeeze too much into a small space

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd)

The reality when considering paving ideas for small backyards is that you will have limits to how many people your space can accommodate. It's better to seat fewer people in comfort, than trying to squeeze in too many and ending up with a cramped set up.

Depending on the shape, paved areas measuring between 30 and 40 square feet may only be big enough to fit two or three comfortably. For this small layout consider a bistro set with a small table and two chairs.

For a family dining area (around 6-8 people) you will need a minimum of 100 square feet. This may sound like a lot, but remember that you need space around the edges for people to get up from their seats and walk around.

Just be aware of your size limitations and don't try and push your luck with patio furniture that is too big for your paved space, as you'll end up with an area which feels overcrowded rather than inviting.

12. Inject some fun to a small yard with herringbone paving

Small obling pavers arranged in a herringbone pattern on a small patio

(Image credit: Baked Tile Co)

'If you're looking for something more fun, choose from a range of different colored paving stone slabs,' says Johanna Elvidge, 'or try herringbone or basket weave layouts for a dash of personality and interest.'

'For a sleek finish which lengthens your patio, create lines with longer, thinner paving slabs in alternating rows.'

What color paving is best for small gardens?

'Use lighter colors for a larger feel,' says paving specialist and founding director of Infinite Paving, Rowan Cripps. 

'Lighter colors reflect more, allowing more natural light to enter your outdoor space and giving it a more expansive sense. For a neutral aesthetic, add light gray, stone or porcelain tiling to maximize the illusion of space.'

Teresa Conway
Deputy Editor

Teresa has worked as an Editor on a number of gardening magazines for three years now. So she is lucky enough to see and write about gardening across all sizes, budgets and abilities. She recently moved into her first home and the garden is a real project! Currently she is relishing planning her own design and planting schemes. What she is most passionate about when it comes to gardening are the positive effects it has on our mental health to grow and care for plants, as well as being great for the environment too and help provide food and shelter for wildlife.