Fronting Up

Fronting Up


Garden DesignThis small yet dynamic entrance courtyard proves that big is not always better
Story: Claudia Nevell, MAILDM
Photos: Bob Weeks

A colourful wall along the street frontage offers total privacy to this dwelling overlooking the ocean in Coffs Harbour, a bustling beachside suburb on the far north coast of New South Wales. Anticipation of what lies beyond invites the visitor through the front gate and through an inviting space to the front door. A courtyard provides an enclosed area, sheltered from the elements.

In this case, it also provides a functional extension to the living area in one of the most commonly underused spaces — the little bit of land between the front door and the street. By creating an enclosure along the front boundary through the addition of a wall or a hedge, the function of this space changes. The texture and colour of the enclosing structure will set the tone for the whole area by providing the background for plants and features inside the courtyard. 

Keeping surface treatments simple is important in a small space. Honed granite tiles were chosen for their elegant simplicity and neutral colour. The dominant element of the courtyard is the oversized water feature. Size is an important consideration when choosing a feature. With anything too small, the impact is lost and the space will look cluttered.

The round, organic shape of the urn contrasts well with the angular lines of the architecture. Individually made by an artist, it was designed to provide sound and movement without requiring a lot of maintenance.

The location of the water feature was chosen carefully to be viewed through the glass front door from the living area of the house. Especially at night, the well-lit feature extends the living area and adds another dimension to a property that essentially is a two-storey apartment.

In fact, the enclosed nature of a courtyard allows for all rooms facing onto it to be opened up with patio doors, turning a study or bedroom into a special place with a view created to please.

When selecting plants for a small space, it is imperative to consider that each individual plant contributes to an overall picture. In this instance, the south-facing location of the courtyard meant that some plants would have to cope with being overshadowed by the building but other parts are also exposed to the sun from the north and west. Plants with very different cultivation requirements had to be chosen that nevertheless harmonised with each other.

Foliage colours had to be subtle to contrast with the strong blue and red of the building.

In a limited space it is even more important that plants perform all year round. This is why foliage colour and texture are most important. Seasonal interest can be added with one or two special pot plants.

An important element of a successfully designed courtyard is the third dimension. Height is necessary to extend the space upwards. Here, a coastal banksia (Banksia integrifolia) has been chosen for its sculptural qualities. It provides volume and height but is not a bulky tree, which would obliterate the space.

Other plants include Cordyline australis ‘Dazzler’ and Syzygium ‘Bush Christmas’. The latter is a lilly pilly that performs best with regular pruning and the intention here was to have round shapes of varying sizes to contrast with the spiky shapes of the grasses. Being limited in number, the maintenance of these shapes is not so much a chore but a pleasant diversion.

The strong blue-grey foliage of the bird of paradise (Strelitzia juncifolia) and Lomandra ‘Seascape’ are set against the blue wall, whereas black mondo grass and the orange foliage of Carex testacea harmonise nicely with the rusty tones of the water feature.

Nandina ‘Moon Bay and Lomandra ‘Tanika’ work well in the shadier parts of the garden.

The setback area along the length of the building and the boundary is also part of the garden. Rather than creating shade with a solid paling or metal fence, a simple galvanised Cyclone fence was installed, which allowed for the planting and fast establishment of a Syzygium ‘Cascade’ hedge. Lomandra ‘Tanika’ and dwarf mondo grass complete the low-maintenance planting scheme.

About the author: Claudia Nevell is a landscape designer and founder of Garden Expressions, which is based in Coffs Harbour, NSW.