Side garden ideas: 11 ways to transform the small space alongside your house

Looking for inspiring side garden ideas? We've rounded up plenty of planting, layout, and styling inspo to help you make the most of the space

side garden ideas with gate gravel and potted plants
(Image credit: Mark Bolton Photography/Future)

Do you live in a detached or semi-detached home? A good dose of side garden ideas may well come in handy. That awkward, narrow slice of space can easily be overlooked and underused when really, it can be turned into a practical and stylish feature for your plot.

Often, side gardens offer a pathway from the front yard to the back. But some may just be a lacklustre space to nowhere – an unloved area that just happens to be there – out of sight and (mostly) mind. In fact, a patch like this is susceptible to turning into a dumping ground for broken garden furniture, piles of building waste, and who knows what else.

Of course, this doesn't have to be the case. As with any small garden ideas, side gardens are all about making the very most of every inch. And yours can easily be transformed into a place that feels curated, considered, and valuable.

Side garden ideas: 11 ways to put that small and awkward space to good use

We've collected together some of our top side garden ideas, to demonstrate just how much opportunity they can offer. You may well be inspired to give that dull patch to the side of your home some proper TLC after you've finished perusing through these.

1. String up a hammock for summer siestas

hammock in side garden

Turn your side garden into a relaxation space

(Image credit: Matthew Williams/Future)

If you've got one strong wall and another one opposite, as is often the case with side gardens, then there's potential for installing a hammock. And who wouldn't want one of these laid-back luxuries to gently sway their worries away?

In fact, hammocks are great for all kinds of small patio ideas, but we especially love how this narrow side space has been transformed by a natural, woven design. Plus, because it's tucked away from the main backyard, the set-up will feel like your own private hideaway – perfect if you're after a bit of peace and quiet. Our buying guide to the best hammocks has plenty if you're on the lookout.

Finish the scene with pared-down accessories to match the Zen-like vibe – think potted foliage, artfully arranged pebbles, and lanterns for an after-dark glow. A slimline wooden bench also makes a good addition to encourage year-round use of the space, as you may wish to take your hammock down over winter.

2. Cool off with an outdoor shower

outdoor shower on decking in side garden

Give a garden shower more privacy by tucking it to the side of your home

(Image credit: David Brittain/Future)

Whether you want to freshen up before jumping in your hot tub, cool down after working out, or simply soap up in the fresh air, showering outdoors is revitalizing with a capital R (even more so if you turn the faucet to cold). And, an outdoor shower doesn't take up much space at all, so it's well worth bringing one into your side garden or other small garden layout ideas.

Popping one to the side of the house will give it more privacy. You could even add a garden screen or two, too. Keep the look luxe with metal chrome features, a dark and moody color scheme, and a reclaimed ladder and stool for storing towels and your favorite body washes.

3. Border with slimline planters

roof terrace garden designed by Bowles & Wyer

A chic rooftop side garden designed by Bowles & Wyer

(Image credit: Bowles & Wyer/Photography: Paul Upward)

Slimline planting is perfect for side garden ideas (and also balcony garden ideas), offering texture, color and life. Opt for a row of matching, tall planters in a pared-down finish for a contemporary look. 

You can fill them with seasonal blooms and bedding plants to chop and change as the year progresses – that way they'll always look spectacular. Take the mass of cyclamen seen here – it adds drama whist tying into the red-hued foliage climbing above the seating spot. If you want something low maintenance, consider ornamental grasses (also used in this set-up) and hardy scented herbs such as thyme for a pleasing fragrance.

We like the garden path ideas used in this scene too – if you look closely you'll notice the playful stepping stone detail interspersed with more greenery. In fact, the mix of ground cover materials continues throughout the space, from deck to paving to gravel, adding yet more interest to the stylish nook.

4. Utilize steps

side garden with hammock under steps

We love the moody tones of this stunning urban space

(Image credit: Sussie Bell/Future)

Some side gardens may be graced with a flight of steps – often the case for basement dwellings. Necessary – yes – but they may well feel clunky and difficult to work around. Well, this set-up shows that steps can actually be used to your advantage to up the style factor of a zone. 

Try painting them in a charcoal hue for an urban, on-trend vibe and adorning each step with boho-inspired lanterns and small potted plants pushed neatly to one side. Then, use the space beneath for a cozy seating spot – hammock optional (we did tell you they were great).

Looking for more urban small-space inspo? Our courtyard garden ideas feature has plenty.

5. Make a container display of shade-loving hostas

hostas in pots in side garden below window

Hostas in pots make for an uplifting scene

(Image credit: Joe Wainwright/Future)

Container planting is well-favored in our small garden design tips from the experts guide – it's versatile, easy, and can pack a real visual punch when done well. 

A cluster of pots is also ideal for pepping up your side garden ideas, especially if the space is paved, decked or gravelled. Opt for an array of terracotta designs for a timeless look, or go bright and bold if you fancy a bigger statement. Hostas are a perfect planting pick as they'll grow happily in shady positions (often the case with side gardens) and look fantastic.

Don't forget about dressing up windows too, if your side garden has them. A colorful window box will boost the view from both indoors and out. You'll find plenty of lovely looks in our window box ideas feature.

6. Pair gravel with pretty features

side garden with gravel, potted trees, flowedbed and gate

Plenty of plants and a gravel pathway work well in this timeless design

(Image credit: Mark Bolton Photography/Future)

This side garden is full of character – perfect if you're looking for a more country-cottage vibe.

Crunchy gravel underfoot is low-maintenance, affordable and useful for pathways as you can hear people approaching. Match the hue to other stone features in your garden – like these pale rustic walls, for a sense of harmony. Our garden gravel ideas feature has more looks to get you inspired.

A deep flowerbed to one side of the space will add color and interest – raise it up closer to eye-level for a more dramatic (and accessible) feature. Small potted trees and a pretty chair or two add additional charm, and don't forget a gate at one end for extra security and definition to the zone.

7. Create a view for indoors with a living wall

seating in window with view of living wall

Give an indoor seating area a verdant view

(Image credit: Paul Raeside/Future)

If your house has large windows at its side, then there's even more reason to make sure the view from indoors is one to admire.

A great way to do this is by adding a living wall to your side garden ideas – after all, a vista of verdant green is much more exciting than a blank fence. Nowadays, you can find easily-assembled designs made by slotting together purpose-built containers, or alternatively, you can use a trellis to support climbers. 

Pick pale hues for any additional features, such as planters or paving, to keep the space feeling lifted and bright.

8. Embrace ferns for a mini jungle vibe

side garden with ferns and lighting

Ferns aplenty offer a luscious vista

(Image credit: Alisdair Mcintosh/Future)

You could also turn the slice of space into your own private jungle with a jumble of ferns. They make a great choice for shady spots and add a cool, old-world allure. 

Plant them straight into the ground, or introduce containers at multiple heights using a streamlined shelving system. Keep the vibe considered by installing contemporary wall lights above – that way, the scene will be illuminated beautifully come nightfall, offering a spectacular view.

You can find lots of tips on how to grow ferns in our dedicated guide.

9. Add neat outdoor storage

potting table alongside house outdoors

A potting table will encourage you to use the space

(Image credit: Tim Winter/Future)

Speaking of streamlined shelves, garden storage ideas are a great addition to side plots, especially if yours is currently hosting a chaotic collection of random bits and bobs. 

From shelves and storage boxes to mini sheds, there are plenty of stylish ways to get everything in order. A potting bench is also a good addition and will encourage you to use the space. For maximum practicality, opt for a design with drawers and a place beneath to tuck bulkier items, such as watering cans.

10. Make an impact with a potted tree

bowles & wyer side garden design with potted tree

Sometimes simple is all you need – like in this sophisticated design from Bowles & Wyer

(Image credit: Bowles & Wyer)

Of course, not every side garden is cool and shaded, some are graced with sun. And for these, what better way to make the most of things by bringing in a small bistro set? It'll provide a perfect nook for enjoying a morning coffee or evening drink.

A singular statement tree in a pot can offer all the additional visual interest needed, especially if you love a more minimalist approach. We love how this one not only acts as a subtle screen for the zone, but also brings pattern and movement to the wall with its delicate shadows. 

Feeling inspired? Our guides on the best trees for small gardens and the best trees to grow in pots have more advice.

11. Think sustainable with a water butt

water butt lawn and flowerbed at side of shed

Collect rainwater run-off for watering your plants in periods of drought

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography/Future)

If you're a fan of sustainable gardens and looking for more ways to improve your plot's eco-credentials then a water butt or two is a must. They're great for side garden ideas as can be hooked up to the guttering on your home (or even your shed or other garden building) to collect rainwater run-off.

They don't have to be an eyesore, either – this barrel design is full of rustic charm. We also love how it's been bordered with plenty of colorful summer blooms – and you can bet that pollinators will like it too.

Which plants are good for the side of your house?

ferns hostas and astrantias around stone garden path

Ferns, hostas, and astrantia offer a vibrant mix

(Image credit: A Garden/Alamy Stock Photo)

Often, the stretch adjacent to your exterior walls will be in shade for at least some of the day, so it's worth opting for plants that can cope with lower light levels. You'll probably want to choose easy-care varieties too – as they're tucked away from your main backyard you may well forget about them from time to time, so it's better to play it safe.

There are some other considerations to take on board when choosing plants for side gardens. As the RHS says, areas next to a wall may be drier than a more open bed due to their sheltered position from rain. Their narrow nature may also limit the use of broad or spreading plants, especially where they border a path required for access, they add.

Ideas include hydrangeas, astrantia, hostas, ferns, the ground cover Japanese spurge, brunnera, hellebores, and evergreen clematis (for vertical planting), plus other low-maintenance shade loving plants. It's generally a good idea to add organic matter to beds, and mulch after planting.

However, not every side garden has these conditions. If yours has plenty of sun then there are even more lovely possibilities – from colorful summer annuals, Mediterranean herbs, or even veggies if you fancy growing your own crops.

Holly Crossley
Holly Crossley

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion. But, she loves all things digital too. She joined the team at Gardeningetc after working as a freelance content creator for a web agency, whilst studying for her M.Sc. in Marketing. Now she feels lucky enough to combine both digital and botanical worlds, every day!