Courtyard garden ideas: 16 ways to transform small spaces

Make the most of your compact space with our clever courtyard garden ideas that prove small can be stylish too

Courtyard garden ideas showing a corner sofa with outdoor rugs and garden lighting
(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

These courtyard garden ideas will transform even the smallest area into a dream space. You shouldn't let your lack of space limit your design options, by thinking creatively and following a few basic design tips and tricks it's easy to maximise the available space you have in your courtyard and create an outdoor area you'll love.  

To start, fences and walls should be in neutral shades as bold colours will jump out at you and make the space seem smaller. If you’re overlooked, don’t be tempted to put up high boundaries to screen out your neighbours as you may end up cutting out too much light. Instead shift the focus to wall hangings and climbers scrambling over trellis. You can also take advantage of the sheltered space and try lush exotics such as tree ferns and banana palms in large pots. 

Courtyard gardens have so much more potential than you might initially think, so read on for our favourite ideas and get ready to take your courtyard space to the next level. Want even more garden inspiration? You'll find plenty in our garden design gallery, plus check out our small garden ideas for innovative small space solutions. 

1. Create an outdoor room

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: The RugSeller)

Your courtyard is a precious extra space for socialising with family and friends. View it as an extra room and style it in the same way you would your interior. The quickest way to create a sociable space is to set up a comfortable seating area around a table or fire pit that you can use all year round. Layer up soft cushions and throws, and add a smart outdoor rug like this Malmo rug from the RugSeller to create a look that transitions smoothly from indoors to out. 

2. Add drama with statement planting

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Dobbies)

Tall planters and statement pots are a stylish idea for paved and decked areas. This selection of pots and plants from Dobbies show how you can create interest by varying heights with plant stands. Vibrant blooms add a sizzling pop of colour. Try long-flowering rudbeckia (in the green and white pots) and gerbera (in the ceramic and copper pots). As well as providing a focal point, you can reposition them to suit the occasion, or move them out of the way if you need more space. 

3. Choose multi-tasking pieces

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Wayfair)

A stylish wooden bench is a great buy when it comes to utilising every inch of space and finding objects that double up for different purposes. As well as using it to create a modern-looking plant display to show off your beautiful pots of greenery, you can simply move the plants if you need to repurpose it for more seating. This sleeper wooden bench from Wayfair looks great teamed with the tall Geo cachepot planter from Wayfair. Made of fibreglass, it’s super lightweight making it an easy choice for moving around if you like to restyle your space regularly.

4. Take the indoors out

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Annie Sloan)

Create a visual link between indoors and out for a seamless look in your courtyard garden. If your kitchen is painted yellow or you've used yellow accents in your kitchen accessories, carry on the colour theme outdoors for visual continuity. This doesn’t have to be a big (or expensive) job. It can be as simple as adding a few co-ordinating cushions or perhaps painting your garden furniture. Opting for bright colours that make a strong statement also tricks the eye into thinking your space is much lighter and bigger than it is. This furniture has been painted in English Yellow chalk paint from Annie Sloan – the vibrant colour will really help to lift a shady space, especially if your courtyard is overlooked.

5. Choose quirky accessories

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Audenza)

Every small courtyard needs a statement piece as a diversion. It will add some personality to your space for that standout factor. This classically-inspired head planter from Audenza (it's of the Greek god Hermes, in case you’re wondering) will take attention away from small dimensions and add some wow factor. Planted up with grasses it will look like Hermes is growing hair. You can layer up the look with a planter of his winged foot too!

6. Add a level

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Carpetright)

One of the best ways to make more of a small space is to add another level to make your garden look and feel spacious. This can be done with raised beds and steps up to create an additional area for plants. Bench seating doubles as storage for cushions and rugs. You don’t need to miss out on lawn either. This faux grass from Carpetright is great for courtyards. Made from high performing fibres that look good all year round and feel luxurious underfoot, all it needs is a quick spritz with the hose now and then to keep it pristine.

7. Keep planting simple

Courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Walls and Floors)

In a small courtyard garden limit the number of different types of plants as mixing together too many varieties can look fussy and overdone. Choose a simple combination of grasses, ferns and evergreens. It works every time and even better there’s no deadheading to be done, freeing up summer evenings for you to enjoy your space. Pair your cool green planting with smooth grey slabs, like the sleek designs pictured from Walls & Floors, for a timeless look that will take you from one summer to the next.

8. Limit your colours

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Weaver Green)

When it comes to choosing accessories for a small space, stick to a simple palette of one or two colours in addition to green, which tends to be the defining element in most gardens anyway. Outdoor rugs, cushions and throws in muted tones of dove grey like these ones shown from Weaver Green feel contemporary yet at the same time classic. Grey is a good neutral to tie in with your planting scheme, complementing the cool tones of lavender and white shown here. And it’s a natural fit with landscaping materials such as concrete and stone too. 

9. Squeeze in an outdoor bar

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Trex)

Who wouldn’t want to hang out here? We love this secluded courtyard garden with its cosy seating arrangement, pergola for plants to scramble over and swish slimline bar. The idea from Trex features eco-friendly, low-maintenance decking made from 95% recycled materials including reclaimed wood and household plastics. A green bar you say? What's not to like.

10. Create an illusion

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Nest)

Reflections from a stylish garden mirror panel make this courtyard look much bigger, enhancing the space by bouncing light into a dark corner. It creates impact, particularly when paired with coordinating garden chairs from Nest and an architectural fern or two to complement the minimal look. If you’re not keen on glass because of safety reasons, try a lightweight acrylic mirror sheet by Reflect (Primrose has a good selection). Easy to clean, you can resize them with a sharp blade to fit any space.

11. Go for the luxe look

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Tile Mountain)

Limit your landscaping materials to one or two for a sleek and streamlined look that's on trend and makes the most of a compact space. With only  a small courtyard area to pave why not go for the best? Beautiful to look at as well as durable, these elegant Ohio porcelain slabs from Tile Mountain will add an understated style. The unusual rectangular shape also draws the eye to make the space look bigger. Simple seats built into raised beds make the best use of space, as does the fire pit platform, which doubles up as a table when not in use.

12. Decorate the walls

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Screen with Envy)

Give fences or walls an instant fix by hanging panels to add a decorative touch. These Corten metal screens from Screen with Envy feature a pretty tree motif and are an easy option to reimagine fences or walls. They can also be used to add privacy if you want to redefine your courtyard space with separate areas. 

13. Lounge in style

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Lime Lace)

We love the idea of a daybed and this Scandi daybed from Lime Lace can be left outside all year round, whatever the weather, as it’s water resistant. Just the thing for creating a cosy corner in your courtyard. As well as being super comfortable, it’s perfect for cocooning with a sheepskin throw. You can use it as a standalone item or push it up against a wall together with cushions and it transforms into a sofa. Enhance the sleek styling with plenty of cushions and throws to layer up a contemporary look. Find more flexible seating in our outdoor beanbags buying guide

14. Zone your space

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Nest)

It’s worth dividing  your courtyard into dedicated areas as this will make it look and feel bigger. Think about creating a second seating area that’s separate from your dining table and chairs, such as a spot for quiet reading or a moment of contemplation over your morning coffee. Built-in seating is a super space saver, while slimline benches can be stowed easily under tables. This Palissade bench from Nest is multi-purpose as it can double up as a side table for plants and other outdoor accessories too.

15. Set the mood with lights

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

In the same way a room needs different lights to create the right ambience so does the garden. A garland of pretty festoon lights will add a sense of enchantment to your courtyard, while you can never have enough lanterns to make it feel intimate. Choose different sizes and dot them around. If you have a favourite piece of garden art or other feature you want to draw attention to add lights to turn it into an eye-catching night time feature. Try Lights4Fun for great selection of lighting buys for courtyards, or head to our garden lighting buying guide

16. And relax…

courtyard garden design

(Image credit: Nedgis)

Enhance the relaxation potential of your courtyard by using an existing beam to put up a hammock or egg chair for some real laidback living. Not an option? No need to miss out. Instead choose a freestanding hammock like this Extreme Lounging hammock in grey from John Lewis. Made of a super soft, quilted fabric, it has a lightweight tubular steel frame and is quick and easy to set up and fold away. Add subdued lighting to create the right mood. This lantern by Nedgis can also be hung from a beam or pergola. Laidback living has never been so easy.

More small space ideas: