Design tips for a small courtyard garden

July 10, 2015
Ali Batten

Nowadays it seems as though courtyards in inner city pads are getting smaller & smaller. With this limited room, it can be a challenge for individuals to make this space feel open, light and feel comfortable within it. Through utilising a series of design principles and techniques, a small courtyard can been turned into a beautiful versatile space. 

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, and also by using a mirror. By placing a water feature or garden bed at the rear of your courtyard and by placing a mirror on the fence, this simple trick can make the garden look twice the size. As well as this, use the perimeter of your courtyard to create narrow raised garden beds, and arrange the plants in staggered heights to create the illusion of depth.
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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