Sumo Gardener

10 Best Design Tips for Your Courtyard Garden

It’s hard to resist the idea of a partly enclosed private space with elegant plants and an eye-catching water fountain. Right? Well, if your garden looks unkempt, dark, damp, and uninviting, it’s time to make some changes. And we’re here to help you.

Converting your courtyard garden into a functional outdoor space requires extra creativity and inspiration. But with the help of these courtyard gardening tips, you can create a lovely, relaxing, and enticing, unique space. Check them out!


What is a Courtyard Garden?

What is a Courtyard Garden

A courtyard is an outdoor space often enclosed by walls of another building or house. This space often brings about a sense of separation from the outside world. That explains why it’s considered the favorite spot to hang out. It’s more like a private sanctuary.

But the idea of courtyard gardens didn’t start today. As a fact, people have been hanging out in these outdoor spaces for centuries, long before the Romans, even before they thought of establishing an empire. But back then, the courtyard gardens featured lots of light spots and ventilation. 

Today, these outdoor spaces are smaller and often enclosed on four sides, with a doorway or gate for entry. However, some courtyard gardens are partially enclosed, with three sides only.

Although today’s courtyard gardens are small, they’re no less beneficial. You can still convert your garden into a tranquil space, flooding your home with natural light and bringing the outside world inside. Sure, they are not the easiest spaces to work in. But worry not! 

The tips and tricks below will help you liven your courtyard garden and make it more inviting, whether it’s a small light-devoid space or a more generous spot at the center of your home.

10 Best Courtyard Gardening Ideas

Best Courtyard Gardening Ideas

1. Keep Your Courtyard Garden Simple

It’s so easy to get carried away when designing a small courtyard garden. But, it’s a rule of thumb to keep small spaces simple. Carefully choose the materials for the floor (not more than two) and the plants. The same applies to the boundary and other structures.

For example, if the exterior joinery is constructed from timber, consider using the same materials for fences and pergola. Use a few palettes of material and plants to give your garden a more consistent and satisfying feel.

But this should not prevent you from being experimental. Just try not to jumble the compact space with the material. This will make your garden look cluttered, plus you’ll reduce its functionality.

Additionally, be mindful of the kind of material used for the design. Go for cheap and low-maintenance material. For instance, you can add gravel on the footpath instead of a solid floor. 

Gravel is easy to maintain and acts as a burglar deterrent. It’s important to keep it simple, otherwise having to give your garden regular maintenance can be a pain!

2. Set The Mood with Lights

Most courtyard gardening are fully enclosed on four sides by tall walls. As a result, they are usually dark and feel more like a prison, especially in the evening. But you can make it a more inviting outdoor space in the evening using clever outdoor lighting ideas. 

Hang some string light from one wall to another across the outdoor space, and bring your courtyard to life. Alternatively, a lamp and some green plants can make a concrete wall feel warmer and trendier,

Remember, no space is too small or too large to light. For a modern courtyard garden, solar outdoor lights will make the space cool and ideal for an evening drink.

Alternatively, you can go for decorative floor lamps, candles, and oil lamps which will add a glow by casting a soft, romantic light.

Install some path lights along the main walkways to help you navigate with ease. Pair the path light with light-up flowers for an accent that makes your courtyard garden look magical.

Lights will also help you draw attention to unique features in your courtyard-like garden art. Plus, they boost your home security.

3. Add A Water Feature

Water features like fountains or tranquil ponds will help you create a focal point in your courtyard garden

Water features like fountains or tranquil ponds will help you create a focal point in your courtyard garden. They help to boost the sensory experience of the courtyard by bringing life and movement to the outdoor space.

Classic water elements like a fountain can lend the feel of an oasis to the garden. Others, like a stream of water or pond, can offer a soothing and meditative experience.

Additionally, water evokes a sense of gentleness, softness, and calm. Plus, it reflects light, making a small courtyard garden look bigger.

You can also install a water feature in your courtyard gardening to introduce an array of aquatic plants and boost biodiversity for wildlife. Just ensure the positioning is correct.

Some water elements tend to make great centerpieces. Others are better tucked away so that somebody won’t know it exists until he enters the courtyard.

Besides the position, consider the size of the outdoor space. If you have a large space, consider adding a pool. Fountains work better for small courtyards.

4.Install An Overhead Shelter

Courtyard walls might shelter you from the sides. But what if it rains, or the sun is too hot? You might need to invest in a roof or overhead covers.

To save on space, shop for adjustable shelter-like awnings that attach up high. This way, you can pull it open and close it depending on the weather.

5. Plant Greenery and Flowers 

A courtyard garden is not complete without plants. Greenery and flowers help to soften the hardscape. And when placed strategically, they can convert your outdoor space into a breezy sanctuary for relaxing and inviting guests.

Use the high walls and fences to train vines. Flowering vines like sturdy pergolas and snapdragons will create an amazing vertical garden. Climbers like native clematis and bougainvillea will clothe your courtyard walls with flowers and foliage.

(See our complete guide on growing bougainvillea here.)

Other vines and climbers will even add scent into the mix. For a modern courtyard, consider a green wall, if the conditions are suitable. Green walls will help purify your outdoor space air, regulate temperature and even bring in new biodiversity.

On the side of the walls, you can grow the following plants: 

6. Go Big with Containers

Having soil in your courtyard should not stop you from getting containers for your plant. Containers or pots are great ways of adding dramatic effect.

If your courtyard garden covers small space, then get a large or giant container. It will make a better statement than several small pots. Furthermore, large pots are easier to maintain than smaller ones. 

Place a tall planter on paved and decked areas in the outdoor space. Select pots with varying heights and plant plants with unique blooms and colors to create interest.

Pots of various heights will offer different levels to create dimension and use more vertical space. Plant gerbera in large copper or ceramic pots and long-flowering rudbeckia in white pots from more effects.

Reposition the flower pots occasionally to shift the focal point and create more space. For a contemporary look, get fiberglass pots instead of terracotta containers.

These containers will look beautiful in your garden, and they won’t break when exposed to various elements.

7. Visually Merge Your Indoor and Outdoor Space

Try to merge your indoor and outdoor spaces by creating a visual link between them. For instance, you can use the same flooring for your home’s interior and courtyard garden. This way, you can establish some sense of continuity from your indoor to outdoor space.

The design will make your outdoor space feel more like part of your home. For example, the patio will feel like an extension of the dining space, particularly during summer when the door is left open.

You can also establish continuity using paint color, plants with flowers or leaves that complement the interior, and other things. But remember, some stone floors or paving material tend to weather over time when used outdoors. 

8. Add a Fireplace

A fireplace helps to move the warm social heart of the home out of indoor living space into the courtyard garden

For an additional wow factor, consider adding an outdoor fireplace. Nothing compares to the primitive attraction of fire. The flames act as a magnet, drawing friends and family together at night, drinking, singing, talking, or just chilling and watching the flames as the dark closes in.

If your courtyard is spacious enough, add a ground fire pit into its layout. This way, you can enjoy warmth during the cold times of the year. Furthermore, this is a sophisticated design element being explored by architects and designers for its architectural value and focal point.

A fireplace also helps to move the warm social heart of the home out of indoor living space into the courtyard garden. Surround the fire pit with modern furniture and pots for a luxury vibe.

9. Add Quirky Accessories

When it comes to courtyard design, don’t be afraid to experiment. Find quirky accessories and install them in your garden to add some personality and increase its appeal.

Find unique pieces that appeal to your personality and will take attention away from the small dimensions of your courtyard. Whether it’s a head-shape planter or a small troll, they will add a wow factor to your outdoor space.

10. Create A Scene for A Film Night with Friends

If you’re a movie lover, your courtyard garden can make a great private outdoor film space. All you need to do is add several comfortable seats with beautiful cushions.

Get an affordable but quality projector and hang a white sheet on a washing line to serve as the screen. Install low-hanging string lights for a charming vibe. Don't forget the snacks and blankets.

How to Make a Small Courtyard Garden Look Bigger?

Sometimes your little haven of escapism may feel cramped, forcing you to think of ways to make it bigger. Luckily, it’s possible to make your small courtyard garden feel bigger by thinking out of the box and following a few ticks, including:

How to Make a Small Courtyard Garden Look Bigger

Adding Mirrors to Your Courtyard Garden

Mirrors create an illusion of additional space. Add a large mirror in your courtyard garden to give it extra size. Place the mirror along the wall length to double it - ensure nobody walks into the mirror.

Plant Vertically

Establish more ground space and make your outdoor space look larger by planting plants vertically. Planting a living wall or using hanging baskets for your greenery and flowers eliminates the need for a border around the edges and adds color and depth to your space.

See our review on the best vertical planters you can use in your courtyard garden. 

Furniture Choices

Consider removing furniture that is too big in your courtyard garden. If a table, sofa, or chair looks huge, it will become the focal point in the space, instead of the elegant plants and quirky elements you’ve added. It’s wise to ensure all the items work together to avoid overpowering the space.

Install Bespoke Seating with Storage

When it comes to outdoor furniture, nothing beats a bespoke built-in design. Get a smart bench, designed to match the exact measurements of a section in your courtyard garden without making it feel smaller.

A piece of bespoke garden furniture takes functionality a notch higher, especially if it comes with a storage compartment. That way, you can make the most of your valuable outdoor space.

Start Designing Your Courtyard Garden

Designing a courtyard garden might seem overwhelming, but it’s not! As long as you have the right idea of what you wish to install or add to the outdoor space, you’re good.

The next step is figuring out where everything will go to create a charming and inviting environment. As we said earlier, try to keep it simple. 

There’s no need to clutter your outdoor space. Use the right furniture, add some lighting and plant vertically, and add storage to create more depth to your small space.

That’s all for today. Thank you for stopping by! We hope you will use these tips and tricks to design a beautiful-looking and relaxing courtyard garden. 

About the Author Lane Perry

Lane shares her knowledge and creative ideas with our audience at Sumo Gardener as an exterior decorator. She has previously worked as an exterior decorator on home renovation projects across the west coast USA, adapting to different environments for both large and small homes. When it comes to transforming your outdoor entertainment space or coming up with creative ways to enjoy your garden, Lane is our expert.

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