How to Design a Courtyard Garden

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Whether you want the simple look of a Japanese courtyard garden, or a showy flower-filled courtyard, be sure the style reflects your preferences. Knowing your design style will produce a courtyard garden that suits your needs and brings years of enjoyment. Spend time on a good design that includes some experimentation. You can use your decorating style in the courtyard for an outdoor room that flows naturally from your interior rooms. Think of the courtyard design as an ongoing process to enhance and change over the years.

Things You'll Need

  • Graph paper and pencil
  • Chalk
  • String
  • Magazines, courtyard examples from books
  • Lumber
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Cement
  • Plants, flowers, trees and shrubs
  • Pots and containers
  • Shovel, trowel, garden gloves
  • Potting soil, mulch and fertilizers
  • Decorating elements
  • Determine your courtyard garden style. Base your style on your dreams, yet match your lifestyle. Incorporate styles used in your home. Make style decisions from ideas you discover by visiting nurseries, neighborhood courtyards and landscaping websites. Keep style details consistent and go for simplicity. Use your style to guide your plant choices. For instance, if you choose a cottage style you want generous flower bed areas, but may want to exclude exotic plants. Keep a wish list for items that you want to add in the future.

  • Study the courtyard space by walking the area. Lay out pathways with chalk lines. List all weaknesses and strengths of the area. List architectural details, walls, entrances, vertical spaces and flooring. Determine traffic patterns. Note who will use the courtyard and for what purposes. Learn the direction of water drainage in the courtyard. List locations of fences, windows, doors and traffic patterns. Note neglected areas. Find architectural details and scenic views to enhance. Decide where more privacy is needed. Decide where to place plants and trees.

  • Draw courtyard plan to scale on graph paper. Use the information gathered in Step 2. The design should allow the eye to easily flow over the courtyard. Use vertical spaces in the plan.

  • Start with basic plantings. First plant privacy trees and hedges. Choose plants for zone hardiness and drought tolerance. Use different levels of plant beds. Plant by height, color and drought resistance. Consider sunlight and shade. Allow room for plant growth.

  • Individualize your courtyard garden by adding special features such as pathways, a water element, or a raised flower bed. Use your style in your choices. Add interest with private seating areas and meandering paths.

Tips & Warnings

  • Buy plants and trees from a store with a replacement policy. Use plants that bloom at different times during the summer. As trees grow they add shade, so plant accordingly. Use a front yard or side yard as a courtyard.
  • Make sure the courtyard has water drainage away from the house.

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