Creating his own entertaining courtyard was a labour of love for this Melbourne designer
Story: Scott Brown, MAILDM, MAIH
Photos: Patrick Redmond
After spending the past 13 years designing gardens and outdoor spaces for other people, this entertaining courtyard represents my first garden. Over the years, my wife has made many a remark about a plumber’s own taps dripping or a builder’s house never being quite finished. Well, now I can say Valentina is very happy with the (finally) finished product. And she’s no longer making pointed asides.
Living in a townhouse means space is limited both inside and out, but we fell in love with the rear northerly aspect (complete with plenty of glass looking out) and the tremendous “borrowed landscape” provided by the evergreen and deciduous trees in the yards behind us. This gives the rear of the house a great mix of summer shade and winter sun.
The courtyard is divided into three sub-rooms. The first is hidden from view, behind the water feature and its screen, and contains the necessities of domestic life — namely a post-mounted clothes line, storage for gardening paraphernalia and access to the transformers for the outdoor lighting (controlled by a switch inside the house, of course) and the programmed automatic irrigation controller.
This “room” is accessed via a gate that forms one of the screen panels beside the water feature. The large feature pots, which contain spectacular yucca (Yucca elephantipes) specimens, are actually set on wheeled trolleys and can be moved to provide access to the gate and clothes line.
The remaining two “rooms” are visually linked and consist of the main deck, which houses the dining furniture, water feature and barbecue, and a smaller, paved area, which houses a small cafe table and chairs. These two areas are part of the one space but, due to the narrowness of this area, I have differentiated them to provide interest from various viewing points.
The smaller paved area provides a more intimate space for a cuppa or refuge for smokers during a large gathering. This space also provides the outlook from the lounge room and the planting is dominated by a screen of magnolias (Magnolia ‘Little Gems’), the large leaves and white flowers providing textural interest. The original paling fence behind has been painted a colour called Thyme. This partially disguises the fence without causing the foliage in front of it to disappear (which would have happened if we painted the fence a dark charcoal grey).
The underside of the magnolias’ leaves are a rusty-bronze colour, which links that end of the courtyard to the main deck with its “rusty” water feature and pot stand. This colour theme pulls both ends of the courtyard together and ties them in with the brick façade of the house. The latter was critical, as the courtyard needed to relate to the external finish of the house so everything looked like it belonged together.
The main deck area is shielded from both the rear fence and the clothes line by a screen constructed using vision panels made of New Zealand pine. The screen and panels have been painted in a colour called Elephant’s Breath. This complements the house bricks, the deck, the red wine and rust colours of the pots and the rusted look of the custom-made water feature.
The planting has been kept very simple to create a more relaxing vista, especially in the smaller areas. A white-flowering compact azalea (Mrs Kint ‘White’) is mass planted, with dwarf Dutch box (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) forming a border hedge for both the decked and paved areas. These plants are very hardy and surprisingly drought-tolerant given they are on the south side of the fence screen and located at the base of the rear neighbours’ large trees.
The use of pots on the decking is important to bring the garden onto the deck, thereby linking these elements. The yuccas provide a modern sculptural ambience, as does the strap-like foliage of the flax lily (Dianella sp.), Cordyline australis ‘Sundance’ and giant liriope (Liriope muscari ‘Evergreen Giant’). We also have potted rosemary, thyme and lemon-scented thyme, as well as a bay laurel tree, positioned to receive appropriate amounts of light and heat and to balance the aesthetic appeal of the courtyard. The aromas are quite wonderful and it’s very easy for Tina to grab sprigs for cooking.
I used river pebbles as surface mulch in the pots (but not in the main ground-level garden beds) and it was important to get just the right blend of colours and pebble sizes. Too much colour variation and the pebbles would have been visually “noisy”, whereas one pebble colour would have negated the textural effect. Similarly, one pebble size would have tipped the scales and made the elements in the courtyard a little contrived, or forced. The existing size variation brings with it a subtle natural effect while the pebble colours reflect the built and planted elements in the courtyard.
The water feature is a stunning focal point, its quiet trickle creating a peaceful aura and contributing to the relaxed visual appeal of the space. Evaporation cools the courtyard on a hot day and I like the fact that the local bird population seems to be benefiting from the water (many come to drink during this dry period!) As much as this low-maintenance courtyard is a great place to be (or to look out on) during the day, it is truly transformed at night thanks to a thoughtful low-voltage lighting design. It also makes good use of the available space, forging a link between inside and outside living environments and providing an attractive outlook that can be enjoyed all year round