A courtyard garden blocks street noise, provides privacy, and replaces high-maintenance lawns with low-care hardscaping. Strategic flower and garden accent choices will make this outdoor room a breezy sanctuary for relaxing and welcoming guests.
01 of 08
Push Growing Zone Boundaries
In a courtyard, you create a microclimate by sheltering plants from winter winds and by planting flowers close to stone walls that radiate warmth. This can help you cheat a zone warmer when choosing plants, so you may be able to overwinter marginally hardy plants like the pictured fuchsias, crocosmia, and Japanese anemones.
02 of 08
Keep Color Schemes Simple
It doesn’t matter if your color tastes are hot and tropical or peaceful and pastel, but a courtyard garden looks best with a limited palette. You can’t go wrong with a monochrome garden, such as the classic white garden. Plants with silver foliage and bright green flowers add depth and interest to any monochrome garden. If you want to showcase your passion for bright colors in your courtyard garden, choose flowers from the opposite ends of the color wheel, such as blue and yellow or purple and orange.
03 of 08
Edit Plants Ruthlessly
Don’t get sentimental about a perennial you brought home from vacation three years ago if it isn’t performing in your courtyard garden. In a small enclosed landscape, the eye takes in all of the plants at once, and a leggy hydrangea or lopsided bougainvillea will detract from the entire design. If you’ve watered, fertilized, weeded, and kept the pests away, and the flowers aren’t forthcoming, give yourself permission to have a shopping spree at the nursery this weekend for a replacement. Use a flowering container as a placeholder if you can’t make up your mind this season.
04 of 08
Go Big With Containers
Small spaces do not require small containers. A large or giant container makes a statement that several small pots cannot, and larger containers are easier to care for than small flowerpots. If you live in a temperate climate, choose a container material that won’t break when exposed to repeated frost-thaw cycles. Today’s fiberglass and plastic pots are impossible to distinguish from real terra cotta, but never flake or crack.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Create a Destination
Even in small courtyard gardens, one needs a reason to venture a few steps beyond the back door. Place a small cutting garden at the far end of the courtyard, a mysterious tepee, or a lounging bench. A courtyard garden probably won’t have room for a garden path, but you can fake the look with the beginning of a path that curves just out of sight, terminating at a fountain or piece of art. Even a small circular path will leave visitors guessing about its destination if you obscure part of the path with tall flowers.
06 of 08
Flowering vines are important players in a courtyard garden. Grow wisteria and old fashioned rambler roses on sturdy pergolas, and choose clematis vines and delicate annual vines like cardinal climber or snapdragon vine for containers and small trellises. If you have a dry stacked stone wall in your courtyard, include a crevice garden filled with shallow-rooted, drought tolerant flowers like saxifrage or dianthus.
07 of 08
Accessories Are Optional, Seating Is Not
Fountains, statuary and the like add interest to a courtyard garden, but if your area is small and the knickknacks are making the space look cluttered, pare down to a comfortable seating area with a small lantern or other interesting table toppers. Be aware of planting flowers that are attractive to bees close to seating areas. Bees normally mind their own business on their nectar-gathering travels, but the enclosure of a courtyard disrupts their flight pattern and may increase the chances of an unwanted encounter.
08 of 08
Make It Light and Bright
As an enclosed space, a courtyard can take on a dark, dreary appearance if you don't take some precautions. If your courtyard is on the north side of your home and only receives the sun's shallow rays, choose a bright gravel, tile, or wood substrate that bounces light around the space. Keep your pavers clean; a good scrubbing will remove dark moss and mildew growth.
Sometimes it's necessary to use screening materials to add privacy in shared spaces, but by choosing an open latticework or thin pergola, you can allow dappled light to come through. Hang lanterns or string lights from your structures to add a welcoming glow to your evening garden space.