For customers who live in the city or may not have a lot of excess space to work with, a good solution for their green craving is a courtyard garden.
Courtyard gardens feature a space enclosed by buildings or walls on three or four sides, or it can be a confined yard that is surrounded by houses with an opening off a street.
The size of a courtyard can range from as small as a few square feet to quite large depending on the amount of space your customer has to work with. Courtyards are very common in inner city areas where homes are built closely together, or at homes with limited garden space.
Whether your customer has all the space in the world or just a tiny lot beside his/her home, a courtyard garden gives the option of having a relaxing and private utopia. Check out a few elements to keep in mind as you talk to your customers about what they want in their courtyards.
Water and drainage
Usually boasting an open top, courtyards can be partially covered with structures such as pergolas, or they can be completely covered with transparent coverings. This protected nature of the courtyard means that plants in the garden may not get a sufficient amount of rainfall, especially for those plants close to walls and fences. Using a hose or watering can may do the trick for smaller courtyards, but for larger ones a drip irrigation system is the best answer.
Another good option is to make water a feature in the garden by installing a small pond, fountain or birdbaths. When the water evaporates from these, it will help create a humid environment that will benefit some of the plant types, such as ferns.
Unfortunately, drainage can be a big issue in a courtyard, particularly if there are water features present. Installing a good drainage system is essential as there is usually a high percentage of paved areas, enclosing structures and no natural surface drainage (slopes).
What to plant
Remember that it is very important not to overplant your customer’s courtyard garden. Plants will grow quickly once established, and once that happens you may find the garden to be very crowded if you brought in a lot initially.
While the privacy and seclusion of a courtyard may be very appealing for some of your customers, the protection from wind can lead to poor ventilation. This can prove to be a problem for some plants that may be subject to fungal diseases.
In larger areas with paved surfaces and concrete or brick walls, heat can build up in the garden, which may be beneficial in the cooler months, but it can be a problem in warmer times. Tender plants can also be damaged by heat and glare on brighter days. Simultaneously, poor lighting can also be a problem if the courtyard is surrounded by tall buildings or overhanging trees on one or more sides.
For gardens that are very shaded, focus on using plants such as ferns, fuchsias, balsam, impatiens and begonias. Espaliered plants and vines are also beneficial, as they do not require much ground space. These can be used to create a focal wall and can help reduce heat and glare buildup. For a few options on vines, click here.
Containers and hanging baskets are great additions to a courtyard, and they are also easy to move and redesign. They also allow you to maximize the space you have to work with while also ensuring your customers get more bang for their buck when it comes to plants. Having hanging baskets will allow you to utilize the air instead of the ground when adding a few more attractive plants to the landscape.
The type of paving material used will have a big effect on the courtyard’s overall appearance. Concrete slabs and glazed pavers can create more of a formal effect, while using bricks and stones can give a softer, more informal look.
To create planting spaces, gaps and spaces can be left in paved areas, or feelings of space can be expanded by having the garden merge into your customer’s house. This can be achieved by having glass entry areas and by using indoor plants.
To enable use of the courtyard at night, as well as highlight particular features and plants, lights can be installed. When possible, keep any cables hidden from view, but be sure they are not placed somewhere you will be digging.
To reduce the ‘box-like’ look of the courtyard, consider talking to your customers about “stepped” or irregular shaped walls or garden beds. Avoid using too many different types of plants and materials, as the space can begin to seem more confusing and small the more colors and textures that are present.
Active colors such as yellow, red and orange can makes small spaces seem smaller, so focus on colors such as whites, greens, blues and purples, as they can make small spaces seem larger.