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Outdoor living solutions

Inner-city homes extend into multipurpose garden areas WORDS Jecca Blake


trictly speaking a courtyard is enclosed on three or four sides by walls, fences or neighbouring properties and they’re common in inner-city areas as a garden space. A well-designed courtyard balances practical needs with aesthetics, taking into account sunlight, privacy, access and plants with adequate drainage. Smaller outdoor areas are inspiring designers to come up with clever ideas for using every bit of space, including under-seat storage, built-in furniture and barbecues, planter boxes and vertical spaces with water features and climbing plants.

Colour choice, lighting, shade, screening, paving and noise reduction are also important elements in creating a functional courtyard.

SLIMLINE STORAGE Maximising the floor and living space of this inner-city rooftop was the main aim of Alex Haskey from Green Rooms ( He says, ‘We installed a dummy wall with slimline storage behind it, painting the wall the same colour as the building so it disappears. Using sliding doors means they don’t encroach onto the outdoor space.’

IKEA Rotera lanterns, $7 each.

Use vertical space Utilising walls or fences for shade or decorating maximises floorspace while giving the area more height. Training climbing plants up wires introduces a green element, softening a bare wall while reducing glare and heat reflected off hard surfaces.


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Use a qualified electrician to install suspended lights.

A dummy wall disguises a narrow space that provides extra storage.

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Steel sculptural windbreaks and paths of crazy paving with pebbles add Australian character. A nook surrounded by the relaxed planting style of a cottage garden.

Using Australian native plants adapted to the local area means they are more likely to survive than exotic plants and need minimal maintenance. Choose grasses of different heights such as low-growing fescue and tall lomandra for contrast and colour in garden beds. Nicola Cameron from Pepo Landscape Design and Management ( says, ‘This site didn’t have much more than buffalo grass and a large grevillea tree. It was hot, dry and windy.


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‘The new water-sensitive cottage garden was given distinct Australian character with rustic steel sculptural windbreaks, silver and rust-coloured plants, locally sourced sandstone, pebble paths and a simple wire and hardwood clothesline. ‘Adding large, mixed planting beds, a protected reading nook, an outdoor eating space under a jacaranda tree plus vegie and herb beds inspires more time in the garden.’ The combination of native plants and rustic features creates a space that flourishes and ages well.

Using light or neutral large pavers at least 400mm square adds a sense of space. In contrast dark colours and intricate laying patterns tend to constrict a small space. Creating a gently curving path with pavers makes a courtyard seem less angular and boxy. Spreading river pebbles under trees looks natural while allowing water to penetrate.

Water succulents in pots once a week in summer.


Easy-care paving

picture (FAR right) istock


Steps double as extra seating while the young frangipani grows to create shade.

Add a sail or market umbrella for shade or plant medium size deciduous trees to allow for winter sun. Deciduous vines such as wisteria or grapevine trained on overhead wires also have flowers or fruit. Alex Haskey from Green Rooms ( says, ‘The seating in this courtyard was built in to save space with hinges to access the area underneath as storage. ‘The same timber that was used for the decking was used for the seating so it appears seamless.’

Spoon jade grows into a shrub in the ground or as a compact feature in a pot.

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Grouping pots of topiary creates a feature at the entrance.

A herb garden close to the pizza oven provides a ready supply for cooking.

Vertically trained plants save space and help cool a small area.

Welded rectangular steel frames secured to the wall support the bench.

KEEP DECORATING SIMPLE An area for sitting is essential and can consist of a simple table with a couple of chairs or a large dining space and a daybed. Avoid using lots of strong tones such as red, yellow and orange in pots, paint and furniture as they make limited spaces appear smaller. The key for comfort is to avoid overcrowding, keep furniture simple and add colour and patterns with plants and soft furnishings. Nicola Cameron from Pepo Landscape Design and Management


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says, ‘This inner-city courtyard is surrounded by higher neighbouring homes. The challenge we faced was to create a private and lush courtyard space. ‘A rendered wall adjoining sandstone is the framework for a floating timber bench. ‘Mixing a variety of tropical, large-leafed plants that spill over the edges provides screening from the neighbours and a textural palette. ‘A second tier has a mixed bed of edible herbs and vegetables that complements the outdoor pizza oven.’

Create privacy SCREENING Shrubs, vines and trees offer privacy from a busy road or neighbouring properties. If using fencing choose a vertical pattern that draws the eye up to help create a sense of space. NOISE Water features attached to a wall can block out noise and create a cool environment in a courtyard. The sound of bamboo rustling in the wind also diffuses noise while adding privacy.

Use fast-growing, clumping bamboo as a screening plant.

THINGS TO CATCH THE EYE ‘We chose bamboo for the screening of an unattractive wall as it’s a fast grower that helps cool and soften a space,’ says Rory Graham from Joanne Green Landscape Design ( ‘Another way to hide a fence is to install stainless steel wires horizontally, vertically or in a grid, and train a fast-growing climber like star jasmine along the wires. In no time at all you have a green wall,’ says Rory. ‘Decorative urns in scale with the surroundings can also provide a focal

point. Pots of the same style and colour used in a sequence of different sizes, with plantings that replicate those sizes, can leave a lasting impression.’ Stepping stones delineate a path and a combination of materials in neutral tones creates a walkway that blends into the foliage.

star jasmine

Click on Outdoors & Backyards for more landscape design ideas.

Handyman APRIL 2010