Courtyards are like empty jewel boxes waiting for you to fill them with color and drama. Designing a landscape plan for a courtyard or enclosed space is challenging. Consider sun exposure, walls cast deep shadows, and the shadows differ depending on the season. High-traffic areas, such as entry courtyards, suffer from messy tree litter or fruits falling on to the walkway. Courtyards also provide the structure essential for a successful outdoor space.
Planting in pots is an option in areas with space limitation or maintenance concerns. Change out plantings seasonally or whenever you want to freshen your courtyard's look. Check when areas of your courtyard are in full sun versus shade. Buildings and trees cast longer shadows in winter than in summer, when the sun is higher in the sky.
Sunny corners call out for bold colors. French lavender (Lavendula dentata) sports fragrant spikes of purple flowers throughout the growing season. Cosmos bipinnatus, or annual cosmos, has pink, purple, white, orange and yellow small- to medium-size daisy-shaped flowers on medium to tall slender stalks. Foliage is feathery and light green. Trailing wild strawberry provides attractive round foliage on graceful draping stems. Tiny red fruits are a bonus.
Succulents thrive in shady corners. Choose a large container for Agave attenuata, which has large single or multiple gray-green, soft-leafed rosettes. Avoid agaves with spiny tips in high traffic areas. Silvery-blue Senecio talinoides mandraliscae "blue" has upright plump finger-like branchlets. Plant the low growing groundcover around a large New Zealand flax (Phormium) in a large container.
Walls make good canvases for landscape designs. Choose a sunny wall and plant a fruit tree espalier along it. An espalier is a tree, often a fruit tree, trained in to a flat trellis-like shape. Espaliers first gained popularity in Europe in places where garden space was limited. Specialty nurseries carry trees already trained into espalier shapes. Apple and pear trees make good espalier plants.
Wooden trellises hung on walls decorate the plane and provide a grab-hold for flowering vines. Potato vine (Solanum jasminoides) is a neat, medium-sized vine that bears start-shaped white flowers in summer. Clipped hedges such as brush cherry (Syzygium paniculatum) or boxwood (Buxus) also are excellent selections to plant at the base of walls.
Add a vertical accent with one specimen tree. Choose a small- to medium-size tree that is also low maintenance. Eastern redbud forest pansy is a medium-sized deciduous tree. It has magenta flowers in spring and reddish purple heart-shaped leaves. Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) has smooth gray-and-pinkish bark. Small leaves fall in cold weather. Medium to large cone-shaped clusters of pink, white, purple or lavender flowers appear in late summer.
Hardscapes and Vines
Hardscape materials, such as brick and stone, are attractive and durable. Amateurs can install bricks set in sand, but high-traffic areas benefit from more permanent installations. Hire a professional to secure bricks in mortar or to lay down large pieces of bluestone or black slate for an elegant look. Cedar pergolas create instant privacy and some shade. Grow white lady bank's rose up and over a wood pergola for a tradition cottage look. The vigorous climber has spineless stems. Clouds of small fragrant white rose flowers cover the plant in spring. Metal arbor structures work for modern settings. Select bold-leafed vines such as climbing hydrangea (Hydrangeaceae anomala) or Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia durior) to clamber over the top.