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The Cult of the Courtyard: 10 Backyard Ideas for Small Spaces

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The Cult of the Courtyard: 10 Backyard Ideas for Small Spaces

May 20, 2018

Courtyard gardens, enclosed on all sides by walls or fences, can transform a cramped space into an oasis. They preserve privacy while welcoming sunlight. They make even the smallest home feel larger. We’ve collected 10 of our favorites.

Color Code

By putting colorful patchwork tile on nearly every inch of the walls and floors of a tiny house’s open-air kitchen and courtyard garden, Vietnam-based architects a
Above: By putting colorful patchwork tile on nearly every inch of the walls and floors of a tiny house’s open-air kitchen and courtyard garden, Vietnam-based architects a21studio transformed the minuscule into something magnificent. For more of this garden, see Saigon Story: Crazy Quilt Tile in a Courtyard Garden. Photograph courtesy of a21studio.

Balcony Views

 When garden designer Brook Klausing first saw his clients’ townhouse backyard in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, it looked bleak: a chain-link fence, an old concrete patio, and a patch of hard-packed dirt. No more. For more of this garden, see Garden Designer Visit: Brook Klausing Elevates a Brooklyn Backyard. Photograph courtesy of Brook Landscape.
When garden designer Brook Klausing first saw his clients’ townhouse backyard in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, it looked bleak: a chain-link fence, an old concrete patio, and a patch of hard-packed dirt. No more. For more of this garden, see Garden Designer Visit: Brook Klausing Elevates a Brooklyn Backyard. Photograph courtesy of Brook Landscape.

Privacy, Please

In Manhattan, an airy hedge of bamboo provides screening at the garden’s perimeter while a pared-down palette of green and white focuses the eye on the center of the space. “The white limestone is like a canvas. When the sun is directly overhead, you can see the shadows of the bamboo and other plants starkly against it,” says designer Julie Farris. Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Above: In Manhattan, an airy hedge of bamboo provides screening at the garden’s perimeter while a pared-down palette of green and white focuses the eye on the center of the space. “The white limestone is like a canvas. When the sun is directly overhead, you can see the shadows of the bamboo and other plants starkly against it,” says designer Julie Farris. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

For more of this garden, see Before & After: From ‘Fishbowl’ Townhouse Garden to Private Oasis.

Elegant Restraint

A high-low mix of luxury and restraint (and clipped boxwood balls) lend a European air to Kristin Meidell’s Brooklyn courtyard garden. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista. For more of this garden, see our book Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces.
Above: A high-low mix of luxury and restraint (and clipped boxwood balls) lend a European air to Kristin Meidell’s Brooklyn courtyard garden. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista. For more of this garden, see our book Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylish Outdoor Spaces.

Espalier Edge

Robin Key Landscape Architecture created a modern outdoor room for a young family in downtown Manhattan. For more, see Lush Life: A Townhouse Garden in Manhattan.
Above: Robin Key Landscape Architecture created a modern outdoor room for a young family in downtown Manhattan. For more, see Lush Life: A Townhouse Garden in Manhattan.

Indoor-Outdoor Living

A feature of larger English country gardens is the outdoor room, away from the house: It helps to structure a space and to provide shelter. Here in a small London garden, shelter is a given, with frost almost unknown, making it possible to throw open the connecting doors to the courtyard. Photograph courtesy of The Modern House.
Above: A feature of larger English country gardens is the outdoor room, away from the house: It helps to structure a space and to provide shelter. Here in a small London garden, shelter is a given, with frost almost unknown, making it possible to throw open the connecting doors to the courtyard. Photograph courtesy of The Modern House.

For more, see 10 Garden Ideas to Steal from London.

Clipped Topiary

A courtyard garden in Belgium by Archi-Verde. For more, see Steal This Look: The Spirit of Provence in a Walled Belgian Garden
Above: A courtyard garden in Belgium by Archi-Verde. For more, see Steal This Look: The Spirit of Provence in a Walled Belgian Garden

A Touch of Red

UK-based designer Jinny Blom’s own garden on a hill in London. She had the back wall lowered to frame the trees and has not smothered the brick in climbers. For more, see Required Reading: The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom. Photograph by Andrew Montgomery.
Above: UK-based designer Jinny Blom’s own garden on a hill in London. She had the back wall lowered to frame the trees and has not smothered the brick in climbers. For more, see Required Reading: The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom. Photograph by Andrew Montgomery.

Layered Look

Landscape architect Susan Wisniewski&#8
Above: Landscape architect Susan Wisniewski’s courtyard garden for a Manhattan townhouse has layers of texture—stone, wood, and greenery—to create an illusion of greater space. For more of her work, see Landscape Architect Visit: A Hudson Valley Farm, Pond Included. Photograph by Tom Moore.

Recycled & Renewed

Says Christine, &#8
Above: Says Christine, “One of our all-time favorite remodels in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is architect Julian King’s thoughtful update of a Victorian townhouse, which uncovered character-filled historical details and created a sunny back garden.”

Recycled bricks and stones found on the property during the remodel pave the garden and edge the garden beds. For more of this project, see Before & After: A Garden Duplex in a Historic Chelsea Townhouse.

Designing a new outdoor space? Start with our tips for designing Decks & Patios in our curated guide to Hardscapes 101. For more of our favorite courtyard gardens, see:

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