We explore some quick tips for creating a gorgeous, functional courtyard garden
Keep it simple
Clean simple lines and a minimalist approach to design are better in small spaces and courtyards rather than a busy appearance.
Less is best
A few large pots or planter boxes will look less cluttered than numerous small ones.
Flexibility of use is important
Ideally, the courtyard should be able to be used for family Christmas and birthday gatherings, as well as for an intimate romantic dinner setting.
Create a thematic link between indoor and outdoor areas
Thematically linking a courtyard to the indoors makes the total area appear larger and avoids disjointed spaces. This is done by using similar colour, paving materials and decorations both inside and outside. For courtyards positioned within a home, consider providing visibility to the courtyard on all four sides and placing a plunge pool into this central area to create an interesting feature.
Light colours will create the impression of more space
Brightly coloured walls, plants or sculptures may look great and will help draw the eye, but they may visually shrink the space.
Consider the useful space in the courtyard garden
If a tree or feature were positioned in the centre of a small space, it would nullify the usability of the space for sitting or entertaining. The perimeter and corners of the courtyard garden become places where the soft landscaping can be planted.
Don’t overdo the garden art
One sculpture or water feature is more than enough for the average courtyard area. Try to select something that is timeless rather than something that will date.
Paving patterns can change the focus of a courtyard
Circular patterns focus paving inwards, while diagonal lines extend the space outwards. This increases the apparent size. Again, simplicity works.
Consider both functional and mood lighting
Functional lighting is bright so that everything is seen. This is often achieved with 240-volt spot or flood lights. Take care to place functional lights in locations that are high enough so that you do not look directly into them when in the courtyard. Mood lighting is subtle lighting, used to draw attention to a plant or garden feature, or to create low-light areas and washes of light to create a mood, often to simulate moonlight or star light.
Consider your planting style
Do you prefer native, tropical, formal plantings or a mix of all? Does the planting have to be low maintenance? What feature accent plants, such as gymea lilies, topiary or standard roses, could be incorporated and where?
Add variation in plant height
Choose both tall and low-growing plants to create interest. Bamboos can be kept very narrow to maximise the visual space of the courtyard garden, but can grow to the second storey of the house to provide screening, shade or a green vista from inside.
Choose colour wisely
In small courtyards, be aware that flowers with strong red, yellow or orange colours tend to “advance” towards you. This gives the appearance of shrinking a courtyard. Soft flower tonings of blues, purples and greys recede and are not as dominant.
Choose plants for year-round appeal
Make sure you select plants that are going to look great all year and not just for a few weeks of brief colour, and then look dull for the rest of the year. The variegated foliage of mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata), the interesting bark of the leopard tree (Caesalpinia ferrea), the swollen sculptural stems of Buddha belly bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris wamin) and the vivid purple foliage of Ajuga reptans ‘Bronze Burgundy’ can provide year-round colour and interest to the courtyard garden.
Heat and shade are very important
Adequate shelter from the sun, and creating a warm spot, can be the difference between constantly using the courtyard and using it only when it’s not too hot or cold. Shade can be achieved either permanently using a fixed structure, with plantings to create a welcoming canopy, or temporarily using a market umbrella or a retractable awning. A temporary structure such as an umbrella gives the additional option of having sun and heat when wanted. More heat can be provided with space heaters or braziers.
Style your courtyard garden to make it stand out from the rest
The right combination of homewares, furniture and soft furnishings including cushions, throw rugs and candles brings a space to life.
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