How to design a courtyard garden

Your courtyard garden may be petite in size but don’t let that hold you back from developing a wonderful sanctuary to shrug off stress and reconnect with nature

Even the smallest garden space can dish up plenty of ‘wow' factor with some clever design principles.

Your courtyard garden may be petite in size but don't let that hold you back from developing a wonderful sanctuary to shrug off stress and reconnect with nature. The key to making your courtyard extra special is smart use of space and resisting the temptation to over-clutter the garden.

Create space

Make your courtyard garden appear larger than it really is by keeping the central area as open as possible.

Placing a water feature or garden bed right in the middle of the courtyard will eat up valuable traffic space. Instead, try placing key features at the rear of your courtyard to draw the eye outwards and create a sense of depth.

Even in a small area, there's plenty of opportunity to add greenery. Use the perimeter of your courtyard to create narrow raised garden beds that don't take up precious space.  Arrange plants in staggered heights, with low plants in front and taller plants at the back to create the illusion of depth. Vertical plantings using a trellis can help to draw the eye upwards.

Add some bench seating between garden beds to create different zones and a place to relax and unwind.

Allow light

Shade is something to be aware of when it comes to designing a courtyard garden. Not only will too much shade inhibit plant growth, it can also encourage mossy, slippery ground surfaces and make the courtyard uncomfortably cold.

Let in light by focusing on small, compact trees – always check the labels on nursery-bought trees to determine their likely height on maturity. Plants with tight growth will take up less horizontal space than bushy shrubs.

If the garden is north facing, consider adding a pergola that can act as a frame for deciduous vines. These will provide summer shade while allowing light into your courtyard garden in the colder months.

Lay the ground work

The ground surface you choose for your courtyard creates an important backdrop for the garden, and the materials you choose should ideally blend with the character and style of your home. Bricks and pavers involve some upfront work in the laying process but they are extremely low maintenance and will stand the test of time particularly if the ground surface is properly prepared.

Large pavers are useful for creating a sense of space though smaller pavers offer a wider choice of layout patterns. Sticking to simple patterns can prevent your garden courtyard from appearing ‘busy' or cluttered.

Opting for pavers or bricks in light colours adds a sense of space but be mindful that whites and creams can create glare if your courtyard garden receives direct sunlight in summer. Sticking to a neutral tones gives you more freedom to add splashes of colour through plantings – the vibrant reds of petunias, the lush pinks of impatiens or the elegant cream flowers and rich green foliage of gardenias.

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