10 Tips for Designing a Courtyard Garden

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Are you thinking about designing your courtyard garden? Do you already know what elements you want included?

There are several points you need to consider before designing a courtyard garden.

It’s important to understand that enclosed garden spaces include visions of architectural balance, shady corners, stately containers and personalised nature retreats that settle on interior spaces (such as glass walls and atrium ceilings).

Defining a balanced setting for your courtyard can be a challenge. That’s why we’ve selected a few tips to help you create a truly special outdoor space – your custom-made courtyard.

What are you trying to achieve?

It’s almost impossible to create an effective plan when you don’t know what you want to achieve.

So start by making a list of your space details and condition (such as existing walls, dimensions and shape). Ask yourself, “What do I want changed in the current layout? Why?”

Additionally, the following questions are intended to help you during the planning stage:

  • Are you trying to screen out the neighbours or a large ugly wall?
  • Or are you trying to enhance an area that you already enjoy?
  • Where are you viewing the courtyard from, one window or several windows?
  • Is it an area to become your peaceful sanctuary to retreat to?
  • Is it a large or small space? Is there any vertical space on solid walls?
  • What decoration and homewares do you want to add?
  • Would you like to have an outdoor kitchen or fire pit?

10 things to consider when designing a courtyard garden

Let’s explore the most important points you need to go over while designing a courtyard garden…

1. Aspect

The aspect of your outdoor space is a crucial point when designing your courtyard (when choosing the trees and plants for it).

Remember: Is your outdoor space sunny or shady? Is it facing north or south? Only a handful of plants will adapt and successfully grow in the specific conditions of your courtyard area.

2. Ground work

If you are planting directly in the ground, you need to evaluate its properties. Is it too dry? What are the pH levels? Do you need to add compost to improve the humus in the soil?

The same strategy applies if you are using pots. You will need a good quality potting mix to ensure your ground has enough nutrients for your new plants.

egardless where you are planting, you may want to consider mulch for the plants. It will keep the moisture in the soil, preventing it from evaporating (Tea Tree Mulch, Sugar Cane Mulch or Pine Bark are great options).

Pot Planting Ground Soil

3. Water and electric systems

Do you have water in the area? If not you may need to install a tap. As such, if you are planning on using an irrigation system you may need to consider the pipe placement.

Tip: Any irrigation system must be installed before planting or paving.
Dreaming of a fountain? You may need to consider a power point for the pump. If you want the switch inside the house, consult an electrician.

Don’t forget your electric system in the courtyard. You will need to consider where the lights are going to be positioned to determine where to install the conduit.

4. Consider access to the courtyard

If you have to bring large plants, furniture and hard landscaping materials through the house, measure the doorways to ensure they fit.

Bonus tip: check the width of your side path and gates. Make sure your air condition unit or down pipes are not in your way. In units, check the lift measurements.

You may want to drop sheets for some floors and walls if you need to go through the house.

Courtyard Access Path

5. Be bold

In general, it is better to have one large feature in your courtyard than a group of small ones. Designing your own courtyard also gives you the freedom to get creative and come up with unique, eye-catching focal points.

You might want to consider some of our premium pots, such as an Atlantis Urn or a tree, or a Little Gem Magnolia or Japanese Maple.

6. Balance

Before planting and decorating, consider the height and width of your walls or fences. You don’t want to have pot plants in front of your bifold doors that open up. This is a very important matter while designing a courtyard garden.

Take into consideration the mature height of the plants and trees you have chosen. You want the plants to be in proportion to the space.

7. Contrast

Don’t be afraid to use contrasting colours in foliage and flowers. It can produce a stunning effect.

Tip: You can use a ground cover like Ajuga Catlins Giant that has a large burgundy bronze coloured cabbage leaf with a beautiful spike of blue flowers around a Cycad that has been planted on a mound. This would give the impression that the Cycad is ‘floating’ on the Ajuga’s. Cycad has dark green spiky leaves and a woody trunk.

8. Layering

One of the most pleasing strategies to organise and display your plants is through layering. Start placing your tallest plants at the highest point of your courtyard. Then, decrease the layers gradually with smaller plants. Draw an imaginary line to guide yourself here.

When you are layering the plants, you want them to be within that structure. This way, the plants that are higher will keep growing and be the highest. That way, plants in the front won’t be hiding the ones in the back either.

You can use layering around a feature plant or pot plant, such as Dichondra Silver Falls around the edge of the pot that has a larger plant on it. The Dichondra Silver Falls will spill over the edge of the pot to soften the edges.

Courtyard Pot Layering

9. Colour and Texture

Are you trying to bring the inside out? You may want to consider the colour of your flooring inside the house, so it flows through to the outside.

Do you want to introduce natural finishes or a bold colour to have a contrast? You can use a Sandstone block as a bench seat on a timber deck to create a subtle contrast. Alternatively, you may want to have a Gloss White Pot to give a modern contrast to grey pavers.

10. Draw the eye

Draw the eye down the garden by repeating a certain key element, such as plants, pavers or pots. Use the same colour but different sizes and shapes for an increased dynamic.

Bonus tip: You can use a mirror on a wall to create a sense of depth in a small courtyard.

Keep in mind that a dark colour will also highlight the plants in the garden better. Blues and greys in flowers or foliage also contribute to a sense of depth.

Additionally, it’s important to decide where you want to place your “features” from the central point of view. Normally, it’s the entrance where you can view most of the courtyard.
Did you know…? Painting the fences with a dark grey colour will increase the sense of depth. Painting it with a light colour will draw your eye forward.

Do you need expert advice to design your courtyard?

Designing a courtyard garden by yourself can be a very satisfying DIY project. However, expert advice can prevent serious problems from arising.

If you need professional assistance, feel free to get in touch with us to get your questions answered. You can also schedule a free consultation or access our garden design services right away.

Craig Schofield

by Craig Schofield

Craig Schofield is the founder and owner of Mosarte. A qualified horticulturist and entrepreneur - he owned The Mosman Gardener from 1995-2010, then decided to refocus his business on garden design products and outdoor furniture, hence Mosarte was born. Now, Mosarte has expanded to encompass landscaping design, pot design and other bespoke services, such as horticulture consultation. Craig is a member of the Australian Institute of Horticulture (MAIH) and he has been designing residential and commercial gardens for over 30 years.