How to court the ‘courtyard’ look


VERY OFTEN apartment living in Spain means having to make do with a poky terrace, with just enough room for a couple of chairs and a geranium, but generally, at least there may be something of a view, even if it is of the neighbor on the balcony opposite.

But spare a thought for the ground floor dweller, with a walled yard and no view.
So, just how do you turn an unloved ground floor space into an elegant cared for courtyard?
The term ‘courtyard garden’ conjures up visions of stately containers, architectural balance and cool, shady corners. Maybe your courtyard isn’t there yet? Well, here is a sure-fire way to turn your outdoor space into a special place you’ll enjoy and want to spend time in.

Here a few golden rules to help you get the perfect courtyard look:

1. The first rule with small spaces is – don’t add too much. Filling up a courtyard with pots and containers will make it look like a storage room. So think about using what you put in there to create structure for the whole space, just like you would in a room inside the house.

2. Don’t let the boundaries overwhelm the view. If the fences or walls are all completely different, the enclosed space won’t feel like a room. So work on getting all the boundaries, at least if not the same, working together.

3. Only put screening where it’s absolutely necessary. Courtyards can be overlooked by neighbours’ windows and it’s tempting to put up trellis or plants to block them off. But you’ll also be cutting out light so use screening carefully.

4. Always put in comfortable seats. Unless you really like sitting on benches, try something a bit easier on the rear. Outdoor sofas or rattan easy chairs look good and feel good.

5. Track the sun to make sure it reaches your sitting area, or opt for shade, if you’d rather stay cool.

6. Hide the meeting place between the walls and floor as much as possible. It’s one of the reasons courtyard gardens often look unwelcoming, seeing this join of the wall or fence and paving looks clinical and yard-like, so put something like containers around the edges to soften the area.

7. Because there’s likely to be no grass in the area be really careful about how you lay your paving, especially with the grouting that’s used. In a small space the lines formed by grouting can become the most dominant feature in the courtyard. A good general rule for grouting is to go one shade lighter than the stone slabs, and recess it slightly.

Now you have the ‘look’, but what about the perfect plants for your new outdoor space. Try these tips:

1. Plants in containers can be used to establish the usable space within the courtyard. One way to do this is to keep them to the edges and group larger plants in the corners.

2. Courtyards are often shady: big-leaved, glossy, green plants will love these conditions (as long as they get enough water). Try Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica), bear’s breeches, (Acanthus mollis), and hostas.

3. Every plant needs to earn its keep in a small space, and evergreens are going to give a lot more payback than deciduous plants. Box and yew can be cut into shapes which will give year round structure.

4. As well as being shady, courtyards can also be sheltered, so it might be worth taking advantage of this by trying to grow some exotics which wouldn’t survive in more open areas. Have a go with tree ferns, bananas, pittosporum and cordylines.

5. Because the boundaries are so important in courtyards, climbers will play a big part in the planting scheme. For a tender but wonderful evergreen with scented flowers in the summer try star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides).


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