7 Design Ideas for Small Courtyard Gardens

A large garden leading down to open rolling fields may well be the dream for many. But the reality is that the work and expense involved in maintaining a large chunk of land can turn that dream into a rather costly nightmare. Most of our homes will include more modest, small courtyard gardens or outdoor spaces.

Photo of a man seated around a firepit with lights in a small courtyard garden - 7 Design Ideas for Small Courtyard Gardens
There’s no reason your small courtyard garden couldn’t look this amazing.

7 Design Ideas for Small Courtyard Gardens

But having access to outside space has become more important – particularly since COVID. Having a small garden or backyard not only gives you additional living space, but can also add to the overall value of your home, or command a higher rent. Whether you’re looking to create the perfect outdoor entertaining space or something more private, we hope these ideas can jumpstart your imagining.

If you are clever and execute a number of creative courtyard garden ideas, you can develop an added living space. And if you plan accordingly, you can use it all year round, not just during the warmer months. 

1. Shift Your Mindset

Before you even start, you might need a bit of a mindset shift about what it is you want to create. Don’t get fixated on the fact that you are creating a ‘garden’. Instead, look upon the project as an extension of your home. Look to create another living space that can be enjoyed all year round. Making this shift in your approach to the project will open up your creativity to a whole new range of options and ideas.

2. Think in Four Dimensions

Whether you want to DIY your outdoor space or hire professionals, remember that your garden areas don’t only include the ground. Think about the walls, and raise your eyes and thoughts to the sky. Every dimension needs to be taken and worked into the overall plans, and a clever designer will integrate all aspects to create an experiential design.

3. Merge Indoors with Outdoors

Photo of a seating area in a small courtyard garden
Beautiful plants will always be a draw for your outdoor space.

If the structure of your property allows it, then try and merge the indoors with the outdoors. You can achieve this by blurring the boundaries, continuing floor designs from one to the other, and using mirrors to create space-expanding reflections that reflect light and space.

4. Get Your Utilities In

If you want to be in a position to use the space all year round, make sure that you get your utilities connected to your courtyard before you start any work. Electricity is not just essential for running lights. Plan to install a few electrical outlets. You may need them to power a laptop or cellphone. 

You might also want to consider having a mains gas supply point installed, which can feed a fire pit, barbeque, or both. If it’s not logistically possible (or financially viable) to do this, you can use bioethanol or propane gas cylinders as an alternative.

5. Create a Central Focus

There’s nothing quite like flickering flames to create a central focus for small courtyard gardens. Even on chilly evenings, you can enjoy the space in relative warmth, and layer up in some soft, cozy throws and blankets. Alternatively, you may want to have a water feature as your central focus. Though not so warm on cold days, there are studies that claim that the sound of trickling water can create a calm and relaxing atmosphere that soothes anxieties and helps you to de-stress.

A fire pit central focus and a water feature on a feature wall will tick both boxes.

6. Shaded in Summer, Sheltered in Winter

If your budget allows, explore ways in which you can have a retractable roof structure installed. This would allow the space to be sued even in the most inclement of weather. And in the summer months, they also help to keep the area shaded from the hottest part of the day. 

7. Use Height to Add Drama

Small courtyard gardens that are particularly tight need to move upward. The smaller your space, the more you need to incorporate tall plantings or a lofty pergola to add drama and luxury to the space. An area of high, dense planting can soften any hard edges created by hard structures, and create an overall sense of exclusivity and seclusion.