Tips and ideas for transforming your courtyard

Courtyards are a great outdoor feature that can be easily turned into something special. Whether you have a large area or only a small space to work with, there are plenty of simple things you can do to transform your courtyard completely.

Let’s take a look at some ideas, tips and tricks for turning a regular old courtyard into an amazing outdoor area.

Have fun with greenery

Greenery is an effective, revitalising addition to any courtyard space. Creating a garden (or at least the feel of a garden) helps to breathe life into outdoor living areas, whether large or small. There are a number of different ways to incorporate greenery into your courtyard. Here are a few popular options…

Climbing plants/trellises

Courtyards usually have limited ground space for greenery, so climbing plants and trellises are always good choices.

If your courtyard has brick walls, you might like to try plants or vines that climb and cling to walls easily, such as creeping fig, star jasmine, clematis or even a passionfruit vine. Be aware that some plants may need to be trained and supported with a trellis-type structure before they are able to climb walls themselves.

If you’d rather your courtyard plants grow on trellises, there are plenty of great options – both for the climbing plants and the trellis itself. Bougainvillea, trumpet vine, pea vine, wisteria and clematis are popular choices when it comes to climbers. Trellises come in a variety of different materials and styles, from wire and wood to lattice or decorative wrought iron, and they can help to establish the overall theme or look of your courtyard.

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Vertical (wall-mounted) gardens

Another option for non-ground-based plants is a vertical garden. This is basically a miniature garden made up entirely of small wall-mounted containers or pots. A vertical garden is a great way to save ground space and create an attractive feature wall at the same time. All you need to do is attach some sturdy brackets to one of your courtyard walls and fill them with gorgeous greenery.


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Pot plants

If you do have a little more ground space in your courtyard, pot plants are the perfect choice for decorating and bringing life to your outdoor area. And the best thing is that you can plant everything from flowers to ferns to fruit trees in pots! This means you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting your courtyard greenery.

You can also have a lot of fun with the pots themselves. For an effective courtyard garden, choose a range of pots in different sizes, but try to ensure they’re all similar shapes to create a sense of visual harmony.


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Vegetable and herb gardens

Why not introduce some function to your courtyard foliage? Try creating a mini vegetable/herb garden, perhaps even utilising the vertical garden option we mentioned above, which works particularly well with herbs and veggie plants. An edible garden can be just as decorative as a regular one, and it really brings a sense of rustic homeliness to a courtyard space.


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Bring the indoors out

To really create a wonderful outdoor space, treat your courtyard as if it’s just another room of your house. A courtyard is the perfect place to introduce the ‘indoors meets out’ mentality, because it’s often a smaller space that’s enclosed to some degree. This makes it easy to turn your courtyard into a real outdoor ‘room’ of its own.

To achieve this, there are a few different things you can try…

Paint the walls

Painted feature walls aren’t just for inside! If you’ve got the right type of wall for it, try introducing a splash of paint to your courtyard. This might mean painting all the courtyard walls, or just one to create a feature or focus point.

If you’re creating a feature wall, consider using a bright colour to make the space more vibrant and lively. You can then model the rest of your colour scheme around the feature wall, choosing plant pots and furniture to match.


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Use art pieces and/or mirrors

Who said art was just for your living room? Why not jazz up a wall in your courtyard with an impressive feature piece? Obviously this won’t work so well in a completely exposed courtyard, but if your space is relatively protected, a striking artwork can look really impressive.

Mirrors are also a handy and attractive addition to any courtyard. We all know the old trick of installing a mirror or two to give the illusion of extra space. This can be particularly effective in a small courtyard – a large mirror at one end will open up the space and make it look much bigger.


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Accessorise

Try bringing a few traditionally ‘indoor’ accessories out into your courtyard. This might mean adding some colourful cushions to your outdoor furniture, or even a decorative rug on the ground. There are even options such as a fireplace/pit (if your courtyard is big enough), or an outdoor ‘ceiling’ fan (for creating a refreshing breeze), to further introduce that outdoor living room feel.


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Ensure comfort is key

Most people prefer their courtyards to be places of comfort and relaxation. It’s your own little private retreat, after all. No matter what size or style your courtyard is, there are a few things you can do to ensure it’s as comfortable and functional as possible, while still looking great.

Seating

Make sure there is plenty of comfortable seating in your courtyard. If it’s a smaller space, you don’t want to overcrowd it, but do make sure there are at least a few comfy places to sit down. Depending on your chosen style, you may wish to go with traditional outdoor furniture or something a little different like an outdoor lounge/daybed. And for ultimate comfort, you could even introduce a hammock to your courtyard for lazy afternoons swinging in the breeze!


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Protection from the weather

A courtyard is usually open to the elements, so you want to ensure that you’ll be comfortable spending time there, and also that your outdoor furniture and accessories will be protected. Despite the fact that courtyards are generally walled in, sun, wind and rain can still cause havoc through the open roof! Luckily, there are multiple options for weather protection, including retractable awnings, shades and large umbrellas.


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Privacy

As well as protection from weather, you want protection from prying eyes! Depending on the location and style of your courtyard, you may need to introduce additional privacy measures to really get the most out of the space. Try screening the area with a decorative lattice or surrounding it with leafy trees.


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Light it up

If you’re putting work into making your courtyard a nice space, you’ll obviously be spending a fair bit of time in it – including evenings. This means you need to consider the type of lighting you want to use. Lighting can have a huge effect on the appearance and mood of a courtyard, so it’s important to get it right.

The lighting you choose will depend on the overall purpose and style of your courtyard. If you’re creating an intimate space in a small courtyard, lanterns or candles might just be enough. In a larger courtyard that’s intended for hosting gatherings, you’ll probably want a variety of light sources. Try strings of warm gold fairy lights to create a festive atmosphere, accent lighting, such as an illuminated water feature, or even ‘hidden’ lighting, such as lights underneath flooring.


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Introduce a key feature or focal point

Sometimes the key to creating an effective courtyard space is introducing a feature or focal point. Most commonly, this will be a water feature. Small features such as fountains, bubbling urns and miniature pools or ponds are perfect for courtyards. Placed at the centre or at one end of the space, a water feature always looks impressive, and the sound of running water provides a relaxing sense of calm.

Alternative focal points can be things like statues, larger plants, or even painted feature walls as we mentioned above.


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Create an intimate hideaway

Even if you have the tiniest courtyard in the world, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything nice with it! If you’re working with a small space, use it to your advantage. Play on the size of the area to emphasise its cosiness and introduce a warm, inviting atmosphere.

A small courtyard is the perfect place to create a romantic and intimate space. Imagine a quiet, candlelit outdoor dinner for two… All it will take is a bistro furniture setting, a few plants and some warm, sparse lighting (such as tealights), and voila – you have the perfect outdoor retreat for you and your partner.


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Decide on a theme

If you’re struggling to decide how exactly to transform your courtyard, try choosing a theme to help guide your makeover. It’s often easier to stick to a cohesive, consistent style when you have a theme to work with. Take a look through some outdoor design magazines or browse Pinterest for some great theme ideas and inspiration.

Here are a few examples to get you started…

French themed courtyard

What could be nicer than relaxing in your very own French-style courtyard? The following elements will help you feel like you’ve been transported to Paris every time you step outside:

  • Pots or planter boxes filled with lavender
  • Elegant stone elements, such as pavers or a feature fountain
  • Bistro furniture
  • Sculpted greenery, such as trimmed hedges or shrubs
  • A natural or pastel colour palette

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Moroccan themed courtyard

Bring your courtyard to life by introducing a vibrant Moroccan theme. Try incorporating a few of the following elements:

  • Lots of lush greenery, such as ferns and decorative grasses
  • Terracotta elements such as urns or tiles
  • Brightly coloured accents – use pots and throw pillows in a mixture of bold patterns and block colours
  • Indoors-meets-out furniture, such as ottomans or a daybed
  • Mosaic-style tile features

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Japanese themed courtyard

An elegant Japanese theme can turn your humble courtyard into an oasis of calm and tranquillity. All you need are a few key ingredients:

  • A water feature such as a pond, reflecting pool or gently flowing fountain
  • Plants such as bamboo, hakone grass and dwarf shrubs
  • Stepping stones or a small path
  • Minimalist furniture
  • A focal point such as a small stone statue or pagoda

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With these ideas, tips and tricks in mind, you’ll be able to transform your basic courtyard into a beautiful outdoor living space.

Written by Claire Bradshaw

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