The average size of a new build property in the UK is one of the smallest in Europe and this extends to the great outdoors in many properties. The emphasis is hardly on the great in many gardens and yards attached to new properties, while apartments and many older properties feature nothing more than a small balcony or yard. Being a small and rather crowded island this is no great surprise but it does have its advantages in terms of maintenance and up keep; small in these instances can be beautiful.
Creating an attractive courtyard garden doesn’t require a degree in landscape design and by maximising the use of the space you can create a secluded, attractive retreat which requires little maintenance and offers a great deal of pleasure. Basic design principles should be applied to create a courtyard garden and these are detailed below.
Linking your outdoor space with your indoor space is generally a good plan especially with small gardens. Identifying a key theme in your interior design and extending this theme into the garden creates a smooth transition from one space to the other. The flooring material in the house is a good starting point; wooden floors should be complemented with decking and stone with either block paving or natural stone. A tiled floor can be continued with slate tiles or granite depending on your indoor material and budget.
Visual Tricks of the Trade
With limited space there are two visual tricks that will come in very handy indeed. The first is to create a focal point or feature that stands out boldly. A sculptural piece or a statue of larger proportions works well. Oversized for the space is actually better – as long as it does actually fit in! Where small places are very small the boldness of a large statement piece will stand out and with the right piece it shouldn’t appear overwhelming. Colour is your next best friend in the courtyard garden design. Walls (and flooring material) should be bright and light; this creates an airy space with a feeling of being more spacious than it actually the case. White is usually ideal but does need regular maintenance – however it will increase the feeling of space in the courtyard – especially on a bright sunny day.
Planting should (and probably will have to be) in pots and planters. Colour, again, is an important factor when choosing what sort of planting to establish. Bright coloured flowers, reds, yellows and oranges stand out very strongly and tend to ‘jump’ forward in the eye. For this reason it’s best to avoid them in small courtyard gardens, as they’ll be too overwhelming making the area feel cramped and small. Subtle colours, blues and greys in particular, work best in small spaces. Plants with small delicate flowers can be used to create a sense of fine detailing; jasmines are particularly good in this respect and will add detail and strong scents to the area.
Water is an important element in any garden – for obvious reasons – and a water feature is often one of the main design features in many gardens. Courtyard gardens should be no exception and a feature with running water creates sound, life and interest. Obviously in a courtyard we’re not talking lake and island sized features but any small container – including standard planters lined with epalyn pond liners – can be used.
In the case of the courtyard gardener there’s no limit other than imagination as to what can be used and one or several features will add another dimension to your haven of peace and tranquillity. Water features can be still pools or a running feature can be added which has an advantage of drowning out unwanted noise. Constructing a courtyard garden offers the chance to not only make your home more attractive but adds to the space available even in the smallest of homes.
Sally Dimmock is a freelance writer who specialises in home and garden topics; when not writing about gardening, she’s often busy doing it! Using epalyn pond liners to create tiny water features, bright paint and subtle plants all help to increase the feeling of space in small gardens.