By definition, a courtyard garden is a garden (usually floral) surrounded by walls or buildings, or even nestled inside a building. Courtyard gardens can be found in public spaces like hospitals, schools, or corporate buildings, as well next to private homes. They are a breath of fresh air and an oasis; an escape from the hustle and bustle of life.
Courtyard garden ideas generally reflect the design of the surrounding architecture. Some examples of courtyard garden themes:
1. Southwestern courtyards are filled with terra cotta, cacti and other succulents, and Native American patterns. Sand and stone dominate the ‘flooring’ rather than lush green grass.
2. English courtyards feature stepping stones amid grass and flowering ground covers, delicate aromatic flowers, garden sculptures and wrought iron benches with floral cushions. Popular choices for flowers in an English courtyard garden include sweet peas, morning glories, geraniums, daisies, foxglove, pansies, zinnias, roses and lilacs.
3. Wildflower courtyards feature the native flowers and grasses of the area and tend to be casual and unstructured. Wooden or rattan seating with sturdy outdoor cushions will make this garden a comfortable and enjoyable place to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.
4. Butterfly courtyard gardens are filled with blooms to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. These include zinnias, petunias, marigolds, butterfly bush, honeysuckle, trumpet vines and other aromatic flowers. Including a bird feeder and bird bath are wonderful additions to such a garden. A cozy wicker rocking chair or two and a good book make spending time here Heaven on earth.
5. Some courtyard garden designs will focus on the serenity of a water feature. The peaceful sound of water running over rocks has a calming effect like few others. Flowering trees such as red bud, dogwood, Bartlett pear and flowering crab are often found in this type of garden. Wooden benches and a few pieces of garden sculpture are attractive additions.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to courtyard garden ideas. Some may prefer grass, shrubbery, trees, water, and garden sculpture over flowers that need to be deadheaded and weeded. Others want a more modern or stark look; paving stones and rock for the ‘flooring’ to reduce the maintenance level of the garden. One thing that all courtyard gardens need to have, though, is seating. After all, it’s a place to relax! Small café style tables are a good idea as well.
When thinking about courtyard garden designs, you need to keep the following in mind:
1. Plant vegetation that is easily grown in your planting zone and that is appropriate for the level of sun each area of your courtyard will receive. For information on what zone you live in, go to PlantMaps.com.
2. Plant the kind of courtyard garden you will enjoy taking care of (if it’s your job to do so).
3. Make sure you have adequate watering sources for what you plant.
4. Take sun exposure into consideration. If you live in the hot, sunny, southwest, you might want to plant palms and other trees that will shade your area in the hottest part of the day. If you live in the humid Midwest you’ll want to construct your garden on the east, southeast, or northeast part of the building if possible, to avoid the late day sun.
5. Provide easy access to the courtyard garden from both the house and yard or street.
Designing your courtyard garden can be an enjoyable challenge. But if you feel you don’t want to take on such a task, there are several sources online that can help get you started, or take you through the entire process start to finish — including telling you what to plant, how much to plant, and how to plant and care for it.
Better Homes and Gardens features this great article about planning a courtyard garden.
HGTV shows this terrific conversion to a courtyard garden on its site.
Videojug features a good 6 minute video explaining how to design a courtyard garden.
Oregon Live interviews two garden designers about courtyard garden ideas.