How can I make the most of my tiny courtyard?

Lights, water and tree ferns create a small but stylish space, says Rebecca Morgan

Shady courtyard garden design

by Rebecca Morgan |

When it comes to garden design, bigger is not necessarily better. In fact, the smaller the garden, the more intimate, stylish and colourful it can be, though you do have to work harder to make it practical and inviting. This tiny courtyard is a case in point.

Here I’ve introduced a circular patio in the middle to pull attention away from the boundary fences. The circle provides a solid area of hard landscaping for furniture, surrounded by gravel. This change in materials helps to break up the space, adding texture and interest. More paving at each end of the courtyard frames the centre and creates some formal symmetry when viewed from above.

Don’t be fooled into thinking a small space demands small plants: in fact the opposite might be true. Here I’ve included large containers that play around with scale, each planted with magnificent Dicksonia antarctica tree ferns – but any large architectural plant would help to create some drama.

A spherical water feature provides sound and movement; it’s been aligned carefully so you’re able to see it from inside the house too. Add subtle lighting and you can enjoy its shape and shadows throughout the evening. Festoon lights are ideal for lighting the courtyard from above. In this design they’re suspended above the circular patio, again taking the focus away from the walls and fences, which will disappear into the shadows at night.

A centrally-placed mirror helps to reflect light around the space. Mirrors are a clever way to play around with perspective in a small garden, creating the illusion of more light and extra space.

In a sunny courtyard, you could paint the fences dark grey or black to help them recede, creating a smart backdrop for planting too. Here the courtyard is shady, so I’ve steered clear of darker colours in favour of a panel of horizontal trellis at the top of the fence, with lush planting at the base to soften the look and create vertical planting space.

Shade-tolerant plants often have the most interesting foliage and here I’ve mixed the lush fronds of ferns with larger-leaved, leathery bergenias and delicately-flowered epimediums to provide a serene planting scheme that would suit any shady spot.

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