Small Courtyard Garden Design Ideas: Transform Your Outdoor Space

If you’re lucky enough to have a small courtyard garden, you might a little stuck deciding how to make the most of the unique space you have. With a little creativity and some clever design ideas, you can turn your small outdoor area into a beautiful and relaxing space that you’ll love spending time in.

What is a Courtyard Garden?

Before we start, let’s just check what we’re talking about when we say a courtyard garden. A dictionary might tell you that a courtyard is basically, “an area of flat ground outside and partly or completely surrounded by one or more buildings“. So, for the purposes of this post, we’re talking about any small garden area that is bordered on at least 3 sides by tall vertical structures – therefre creating an enclosed space.

Modern courtyard gardens might present different issues to the traditional kind – privacy being just one of them.

Maximizing Space

One of the most important things to consider when designing a small courtyard garden is the layout. You want to make sure that you’re using the space efficiently and that there’s enough room for everything you want to include. Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your outdoor space:

Use vertical space

Make use of the height by adding hanging planters, pergolas or trellises to grow climbing plants (we’ll elaborate on this later).

Sometimes simplicity is best, as shown in this clean, contemporary garden.

Keep it simple

Avoid overcrowding your garden with too many plants or features. Stick to a few well-chosen plants and design elements to create a cohesive look.

Create zones

Divide your garden into different zones to make the most of the available space. For example, you could have a seating area, a dining area, and a planting area. Use different materials and textures to define each zone and make them feel distinct.

This neat and orderly courtyard garden uses different zones to add a feeling of space and depth.

Create a focal point

A focal point is a key element in any garden design, and even more so in a small courtyard garden. It draws the eye and creates a sense of interest and depth. Whether it’s a statue, water feature, a unique plant or something else, consider using bold colours, unique shapes, or interesting textures to draw the eye.

Designing for Functionality

When designing your small courtyard garden, it’s important to consider how you will use the space. Here are some ideas to help you create a functional outdoor space:

Think about seating

Make sure you have comfortable seating options, such as a bench, chairs, or a hammock, to enjoy your garden.

A seating area is always worth considering for a contemporary, courtyard garden.

Add Lighting

Install outdoor lighting to create a warm and inviting atmosphere in the evenings.

A courtyard garden – like any outdoor space – should be designed around you and how you will use it.

Incorporate Sensory Features

A small fountain or water feature can add a calming element to your garden. Planting can be used to create fragrance, colour and movement.

Consider Privacy

If your courtyard garden is overlooked, consider adding a trellis or planting tall shrubs to create a private space.


Getting the landscaping right will create the right look and feel for your courtyard garden. Think about garden themes, what elements you’ll need to fit in the space and what kind of vibe you want to create.


Use plants to create a sense of privacy and enclosure. Shrubs or trees can be used to create structure, tall grasses and bamboo can create a natural screen, while climbing plants can be trained to grow up walls or trellises.


Add texture and contrast with a mix of soft and hard landscaping materials. For example, you could combine a gravel path with a paved seating area, or use a mix of planting beds and raised planters.


The choice of flooring for your courtyard garden will depend on a variety of factors, including your budget, the style you want to achieve, and the amount of maintenance you’re willing to do. Here are some options to consider:


This is a popular choice for courtyard gardens, as it provides a hard-wearing surface that can be used for seating, dining, or entertaining. There are a wide variety of paving materials available, from natural stone to concrete to porcelain, so you’re sure to find something that suits your taste and budget.

Not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but this crazy paving lawn area is certainly cheerful and eye-catching.


If you’re looking for a more informal, rustic look, gravel can be a good option. It’s relatively inexpensive and easy to install, and can be used to create paths or seating areas. However, it does require regular maintenance to keep it looking neat and tidy.

Wooden Decking

If you want to create a warm, natural look, wooden decking can be a good choice. It’s relatively easy to install, and can be used to create a raised seating area or platform. However, it does require regular maintenance to prevent it from rotting or warping.

Whatever landscaping and flooring choices you make, be sure to consider the practicalities of your space, as well as the aesthetic.

Choosing the Right Plants

When it comes to designing a small courtyard garden, choosing the right plants is crucial. You want to create a beautiful and relaxing space that is also easy to maintain. Here are some tips on selecting the best plants for your courtyard garden:

Consider the Size and Shape of Your Courtyard

If you have a small space, you may want to opt for smaller plants or climbers that can be trained to grow vertically. If your courtyard is larger, you miight be abe to grow in beds or include a large specimin item – such as a large shrub or small tree.

The trees and other planting in this courtyard lead the eye upwards, creating a greater sense of space.

Think About the Conditions in Your Courtyard

Different plants have different requirements for sunlight, water, and soil. Make sure to choose plants that will thrive in the conditions of your courtyard. For example, if your courtyard gets a lot of sun, you may want to choose plants that are drought-tolerant and can handle direct sunlight.

Choose a Variety of Plants

To create a visually appealing courtyard garden, it’s important to choose a variety of plants. Consider a mix of perennials, evergreen plants, and climbers. You can also mix in different plant varieties to add texture and interest to your garden. Also think about combining flowers and plants that will add interest at different times through the different seasons.

A well-planted courtyard garden will create lush greenery and interest throughout the year.

Fruit Trees

If you have enough space, consider planting fruit trees in your courtyard garden. Not only do fruit trees provide delicious produce, they can also add visual interest to your garden. There are many great dwarf varieties available – perfect for smaller spaces.

Ornamental Trees

There are many options when it comes to ornamental trees for small spaces. Japanese maples are a popular choice and the sheltered space within a courtyard might just be ideal if you can get the right amount of sunlight. You could also consider Salix, ornamental cherries, or magnolia trees – known for their beautiful display of large and fragrant flowers.

Don’t Forget About Climbing Plants

Climbing plants can be a great addition to a courtyard garden. They can add height and interest to your garden without taking up too much space. Consider climbers like clematis, wisteria or palm fern to add texture and colour to your courtyard walls.

The beautiful climbing plants in this garden create a lush and sheltered oasis.

Incorporating Seating Areas

Creating a seating area in your small courtyard garden is a great way to make the most of your outdoor space. Whether you want to relax with a book, entertain guests, or simply enjoy the sunshine, a seating area can help you achieve your goals. Here are some tips for incorporating seating areas into your small courtyard garden:

Choose the Right Furniture

When it comes to choosing furniture for your seating area, it’s important to consider the size of your courtyard garden. Look for smaller pieces of furniture that won’t take up too much space and outdoor cushions to add comfort and style to your seating area.

Create an Outdoor Living Room

Transform your small courtyard garden into an outdoor living room by adding comfortable seating, rugs, and maybe a coffee table. Use a mix of textures and colours to create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. Don’t forget to add some lighting, such as string lights or lanterns, to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Your courtyard garden could serve as an additional living room – weather permitting!

Make the Most of Your Sunny Spots

If your courtyard garden gets plenty of sunshine, make the most of it by creating a seating area in a sunny spot. Use a parasol or gazebo to provide shade on hot days. Add a table and chairs for outdoor dining or a chaise lounge for sunbathing.

Consider Elevated Seating

If you’re very short on space, consider using vertical space to create a seating area. Hang chairs or benches from walls or fences to create a suspended seating area. How about a hanging egg chair or even a hammock? This will free up valuable floor space and create some unique and stylish seating options.

The hammock, bamboo screening and greenery in this garden create an almost tropical vibe within the urban environment.

Utilising Containers and Planters

If you have a small courtyard garden, you might be struggling with a lack of beds to grow plants in. Containers and planters can be a great way to add interest and colour to your space, even in paved or bricked areas. With a little creativity, you can turn even the most unlikely space into a beautiful garden oasis.

Containers allow you to grow in even the most difficult spaces.

Here are a few tips for utilising containers and planters in your small courtyard garden:

Use a Variety of Containers

Mix and match different sizes, shapes, and materials to create visual interest. You can use everything from terracotta pots to metal troughs to hanging baskets.

Consider the Placement

Think about where you want to place your containers and planters. You can use them to create a focal point, line a path, or add interest to a corner.

Pampass Grass can make a fabulous specimen plant – adding height, structure and movement to the space – and a little drama.

Right Plants in the Right Place

When selecting plants for your containers and planters, consider the amount of sunlight and water they need. You can also choose plants that complement each other in terms of colour and texture.

Get Creative

Don’t be afraid to get creative with your containers and planters. You can use everything from old boots to teapots to create unique and interesting planters.

Lighting for Ambience

Lighting is an essential element of any garden design, and it can transform your small courtyard garden into a warm, inviting space. Create a relaxing atmosphere that is perfect for entertaining or simply enjoying a quiet evening outside.

Lights can be used to highlight trees, shrubs, and other plants, creating a beautiful, natural effect. They can also be used to illuminate walls and other structures, adding depth and dimension to your garden.

Lanterns come in a variety of styles and sizes, and they can be hung from trees or placed on tables to create a warm, inviting glow. They are also portable, which means you can move them around your garden to create different lighting effects.

String lights (or fairy lights) can be hung to create a magical canopy above your head. They can also be fixed along the boundaries of your courtyard to create all-round ambiance.

Spot lights are great for highlighting feature plants or trees or as uplighters against walls and other surfaces.

If you have a modern garden, you may want to opt for sleek, minimalist lighting. If you have a more traditional garden, you may want to choose lanterns or other classic lighting options.

Creating a Water Feature

Water features are a great way to add a focal point to your small courtyard garden. Whether you choose a fountain, a small pond, or a water wall, the gentle trickle of water can bring a sense of calm and tranquillity.

A small fountain can be a great option for a compact courtyard, while a larger pond may be better suited to a larger garden.

Fountains are a popular choice for as they add a sense of movement and sound to the space. You can choose from a range of styles, from traditional tiered fountains to modern, minimalist designs.

Love it or hate it, this water feature has a powerful effect as a focal point, and the running water will add a sense of calm.

A simple bowl fountain can also work well in a small courtyard garden, providing interest, without taking up too much space. If you’re very short on space, consider adding a wall-mounted water feature or a tabletop fountain.

If you have a larger courtyard garden, consider a pond or water wall. A pond can be a great way to create a sense of depth and interest in your garden, while a water wall can add a contemporary touch.

When installing a water feature, it’s important to consider the practicalities. Make sure you have access to a power source for any pumps or lighting, and consider the maintenance requirements of your chosen water feature. A fountain may require regular cleaning and maintenance to keep it looking its best, while a pond may need to be stocked with aquatic plants and fish.

Building Vertical Spaces

If you have a small courtyard garden, building vertical spaces can help you maximize your space.


Pergolas are a great way to add height and structure to your courtyard garden. They provide a framework for climbing plants and can create a shaded area for you to relax in. You can build a pergola out of wood or metal, and there are many different designs to choose from. Some popular climbing plants for pergolas include roses, wisteria, and clematis.

The pergola in this stunning Tuscany garden adds height, structure and welcome shade.


Trellises are another way to add vertical interest to your garden. They are perfect for climbing plants like beans, peas, and tomatoes. You can build a trellis out of wood or metal, or even repurpose an old ladder or pallet. Trellises can be freestanding or attached to a wall, and they come in many different shapes and sizes.

Vertical Planting

Vertical planting is a great way to add greenery to your courtyard garden without taking up too much space. You can use wall-mounted planters, hanging baskets, or even repurpose old gutters or shoe organizers. Some popular plants for vertical planting include herbs, succulents, and trailing vines.

When it comes to vertical planting, you sometimes just need to think outside the box.

When building vertical spaces in your courtyard garden, it’s important to consider the amount of sunlight and wind exposure. Some plants may require more or less sun and protection from the wind. Additionally, make sure to use materials that are appropriate for outdoor use and can withstand the elements.

Feature Wall

A feature wall can add depth and interest to a small courtyard garden. Choose a wall that is visible from multiple angles and consider adding a mural or unique texture to make it stand out. You could also use the wall to display artwork, hang textiles or install a vertical garden, adding even more interest to the space.

Incorporating Fire Elements

If you want to add a cozy and warm feel to your small courtyard garden, consider incorporating fire elements such as a fire pit or fireplace. Not only do they provide heat and light, but they also create an inviting atmosphere for you and your guests to gather around.

A fire pit is a great option for those who want a more casual and rustic feel. You can choose from a variety of styles and materials, such as stone, metal, or brick, to match your garden’s aesthetic. A fire pit can also be a focal point in your courtyard garden, drawing the eye and creating a sense of intimacy.

Adding a heat source can be a focal point and make the area cosy in the evenings.

On the other hand, a fireplace is a more formal and elegant option. It can be built into a wall or freestanding, and can be made from materials such as stone, brick, or concrete. A fireplace can add a touch of sophistication to your courtyard garden, and can even be used as a cooking source.

When incorporating fire elements into your small courtyard garden, it’s important to consider safety of course. Make sure the fire pit or fireplace is placed away from any flammable materials, such as trees or shrubs, and that there is ample space around it for people to gather. Also, be sure to check your local fire codes and regulations before installing a fire element.

Choosing the Right Colour Scheme

When it comes to designing a small courtyard garden, choosing the right colour scheme can make a big difference in how the space looks and feels. Here are some tips to help you choose the right colour scheme for your courtyard garden:

Consider the Space

Using too many colours can make the space feel cluttered. Stick to a simple colour palette of two or three colours to create a cohesive and calming space.

Think About the Mood

Colour plays a big role in creating mood and atmosphere. For a tranquil and relaxing courtyard garden, consider using shades of blue, green, and purple. If you want to create a more vibrant and energetic space, try using warm colours like red, orange, and yellow.

The vibrant reds in this garden add warmth and spice to the space.

Look to Nature

One of the best sources of inspiration for colour schemes is nature itself. Look to your favourite flowers, trees, and landscapes for ideas. For example, a colour scheme inspired by a meadow of wildflowers might include shades of pink, purple, and yellow.

Use Contrasting Colours

Using contrasting colours can create a bold and eye-catching look in your courtyard garden. For example, pairing shades of blue and orange can create a striking and modern colour scheme. Just be careful not to use too many contrasting colours, as it can make the space feel overwhelming.

Consider the Architecture

The architecture of your home and courtyard can also play a role in choosing a colour scheme. If your home has a traditional or classic style, consider using a more muted and traditional colour palette. If your home has a modern or contemporary style, you might want to experiment with bolder and brighter colours.

Admittedly, not many of us get to enjoy architecture like this in our garden, but whatever you do have should be complemented in the overall design.

Incorporating Mirrors for Illusion of Space

Outdoor mirrors can create the illusion of depth and space, making your garden seem larger than it actually is.

When it comes to choosing a garden mirror, there are many options available. You can choose from different shapes, sizes, and styles to suit your garden design. For example, a round mirror can add a soft, organic feel to your garden, while a rectangular mirror can create a more modern and structured look.

Mirrors in the garden can add a sense of light and space.

Placing your mirror opposite a focal point, such as a water feature or a sculpture, can create the illusion of depth and draw the eye into your garden. You can also use mirrors to reflect light into darker corners of your garden, making them appear brighter and more inviting.

When positioning your garden mirror, be mindful of what it will reflect. You don’t want it to reflect something unattractive, such as a rubbish bin or a neighbouring wall. Instead, aim to reflect something beautiful, such as a flower bed or a tree.

Themes for a Courtyard Garden

If you’re struggling to pull everything together, how about picking a theme for your courtyard garden. Following a theme might help you to make decisions about colours, plants and those extra little details – such as furniture and other décor.

Here are a few themes for inspiration…

1. Mediterranean: This theme features warm colours, terra cotta pots, and fragrant herbs like lavender and rosemary.

2. Japanese: This theme features clean lines, water features, and Zen-like elements like rocks and sand.

3. Cottage: This theme features a relaxed, informal style with a mix of flowers, herbs, and vegetables.

4. Contemporary: This theme features modern, minimalistic designs with clean lines and bold colours.

5. Tropical: This theme features lush foliage, bright colors, and exotic plants like palms and bromeliads.

6. English: This theme features classic, formal designs with symmetrical layouts, topiaries, and roses.

7. Desert: This theme features cacti, succulents, and other drought-resistant plants, along with sand, gravel, and rocks.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Some Beautiful Courtyard Gardens to Take Inspiration From?

There are many beautiful small courtyard gardens to take inspiration from. Some popular examples include the courtyard garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the courtyard at the V&A Museum in London, and the courtyard garden at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. These gardens feature a mix of plants, water features, and seating areas to create a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.

What are Some Tips for Planning a Small Courtyard Garden?

When planning a small courtyard garden, it’s important to consider the size and shape of your space. Start by measuring your courtyard and creating a rough sketch of your garden design. Choose plants that are appropriate for the amount of sunlight and shade in your courtyard, and consider adding vertical elements like trellises or hanging baskets to maximize your space. Finally, choose furniture and decor that is appropriately sized for your courtyard to avoid overcrowding.

They’ve packed a lot of features into this courtyard garden – including a trampolining area!

What Can be Done with a Dark Courtyard to Make it More Inviting?

If you have a dark courtyard, there are several things you can do to make it more inviting. Consider adding lighting like string lights or lanterns to create a warm and cozy atmosphere. You can also choose plants that thrive in low light conditions, like ferns and hostas. Finally, consider adding reflective surfaces like mirrors or water features to help bounce light around your courtyard.

What are Some Paving Ideas for a Small Courtyard Garden?

When it comes to paving ideas for a small courtyard garden, there are many options to choose from. Some popular choices include natural stone like slate or limestone, brick, and concrete pavers. Consider using different materials to create visual interest and texture in your courtyard. You can also create a focal point by using a different paving pattern or material in a specific area of your garden.

What will you create in your courtyard garden? Do you have a theme in mind? Tell us in the comments!

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