By Sarah Wilson
These courtyard garden ideas will transform even the smallest area into an inviting zone. Sure, they're not the easiest plots to work with – a lack of space, a lot of stone, and walls that err on the side of imposing can all lead to a boxed-in vibe that feels devoid of character and charm. However, there's no need to despair. There are plenty of tips and tricks you can try to liven up the scene and turn it into one that you'll love.
Just as good small garden ideas can give less-than-large backyards a new lease of life, there are plenty of fabulous courtyard garden ideas that can also work wonders. As you'll soon see, these spaces have so much more potential than you might initially think, whatever your budget or style.
Courtyard garden ideas: 22 chic looks for small spaces
We've brought together some of our top courtyard garden ideas below to help you give your plot a refresh this season.
1. Create an outdoor living room
Your courtyard is a precious extra space for socializing with family and friends. So, why not view it as an extension of your home and style it in the same way you would your interior?
Take this design for instance, which offers a cozy yet eclectic vibe. Outdoor furniture has been arranged to define zones for dining and lounging, whilst lights overhead add to the laid-back look and will offer an enchanting glow when night falls.
We love the quirky details too, from the traditional fire place to the window-like mirrors, whilst plenty of bright colors help the space to really sing. Looking for more inspo? Our small patio ideas feature has plenty.
2. Add a cover overhead
Courtyards may be sheltered from the sides, but if yours is overlooked, you may wish to invest in patio cover ideas too. To save on precious floor space, opt for an adjustable shelter that attaches up high, such as awnings or a sleek design like this. That way, you'll be able to pull it open and closed as the mood (and weather) takes you.
We like the use of neutral-hued finishes in this set-up too, from the wooden bench to the sleek decking underfoot. It brings a soothing vibe into the space, especially in combination with the pale painted walls. The odd potted plant and carefully chosen accessory are all that's needed for a splash of color.
3. Set the scene for a film night with friends
The enclosed nature of courtyards make them the perfect setting for your own private cinema. Just take a cue from this cozy scene; pick one of the best outdoor projectors and hang a sheet from a washing line for a screen.
Add plenty of comfy seating and colorful cushions and some low glowy lights for an enchanting vibe that everyone will love. Then pop on the latest blockbuster and snuggle down beneath the stars.
You'll find plenty more cozy outdoor living space ideas in our dedicated guide.
4. Slot in a sofa
Picking the right-sized furniture is key when it comes to small garden layout ideas. And this set-up shows how it can be done to perfection.
The corner sofa seems like it was purpose-built for the zone. Matching stools make a great addition for when entertaining guests, whilst a central coffee table offers a space to pop drinks and pretty accessories.
Again, the walls are painted white, to help brighten and lift the zone, whilst clambering foliage offers a welcome shot of green. Growing plants upwards softens walls and fences and provides a riot of color and interest in a small area, as says Gardenesque. 'Create height with vertical climbing plants such as honeysuckle, clematis, passiflora, and jasmine, trained on wall mounted trellises to grow upwards where the footprint is sparse,' they suggest.
Want to recreate the look? Our guide to the best climbing plants has more advice.
5. Fill with vintage features for an eclectic vibe
Now here's a space that's full of boho charm. The ornate metal furniture offers a whimsical, shabby-chic appeal. And, we adore the fireplace mantel which evokes a sense of grandeur.
A large mirror propped in the corner helps to expand on the feeling of space, whilst potted plants add a modern touch with their architectural foliage. A set-up like this doesn't have to be expensive either – why not have a rummage through thrift stores for vintage treasures, or get creative with upcycled salvage?
6. Keep things toasty with a fire pit
For extra wow-factor and practicality, consider planning your outdoor furniture's layout around a fire pit. That way, you can entertain alfresco all year round.
As long as there's enough room for them to be lit safely, they make a brilliant addition to courtyard garden ideas. This in-ground design instils a sense of huddling around the camp fire, but with a much more sophisticated edge.
Surround with modern furniture and potted palms for a luxe vibe – these grey chairs make an elegant statement with their woven rope design.
Looking for more fire pit ideas? You'll find lots of lovely designs in our feature.
7. Add extra interest with an outdoor rug
Colorful textiles are an easy and affordable way to channel personality into your courtyard garden ideas. As well as layering up soft cushions and throws, add one of the best outdoor rugs from our buying guide to create a look that transitions smoothly from indoors to out.
The ochre, geometric design of this one is both trendy and fun – perfect for a modern urban plot.
8. Use statement planting for dramatic effect
'Where space is at a premium, a pot or container is a great way of adding the option to grow,' says Gardenesque. 'Where paved courtyards make it hard to dig down, containers give the option to grow vertically.'
Tall planters and statement pots are a stylish idea for both paved and decked areas. This selection of pots and plants show how you can create interest by varying heights with plant stands, whilst vibrant blooms add a sizzling pop of color.
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. You'll find more lovely looks in our garden planter ideas guide.
9. Choose multi-tasking pieces
A stylish wooden bench is a great buy when it comes to utilizing 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 container gardening ideas, you can simply move the plants if you need to repurpose it for more seating.
Made of fibreglass, the larger grey pot in this scene is super lightweight, making it an easy choice for moving around if you like to restyle your space regularly.
10. Revamp your furniture
Create a visual link between indoors and out for a seamless look in your courtyard garden. For instance, if your kitchen is painted yellow or you've used yellow accents in your kitchen accessories, carry on the color 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 coordinating cushions or perhaps painting your garden furniture. The vibrant color of this set-up will really help to lift a shady space, especially if your courtyard is overlooked.
11. Choose quirky accessories
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 planter (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 he's growing hair!
12. Add a level
One of the best ways to make more of a small space is to add another level to make your garden look and feel larger. 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 ideas, either: faux grass is great for courtyards. There are tons available that are made from high-performing fibres that look good all year round and feel luxurious underfoot. All they need is a quick spritz with the hose now and then to keep them pristine.
13. Keep planting simple
In a small courtyard garden limit the number of different types of plants as mixing together too many varieties can look fussy and overdone.
How about choosing 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 for a timeless look that will take you from one summer to the next.
14. Limit your colors
When it comes to choosing accessories for a small space, you could try sticking to a simple palette of one or two colors 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 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 many hard landscaping features, such as concrete patio ideas.
15. Squeeze in an outdoor bar
Who wouldn’t want to hang out here? We love this secluded courtyard garden with its cozy seating arrangement, pergola for plants to scramble over and swish slimline bar.
The scene features eco-friendly, low-maintenance decking ideas made from 95% recycled materials, including reclaimed wood and household plastics. A green bar you say? What's not to like.
16. Use reflections to create an illusion
Reflections from a stylish window panel nearby make this courtyard look much bigger, enhancing the space by bouncing light into a dark corner. Another option is to use garden mirror ideas, which are available in all types of styles. If you're not keen on glass mirrors because of safety reasons, try a lightweight acrylic mirror sheet. Easy to clean, you can resize them with a sharp blade to fit any space.
When paired with coordinating chairs, this scene provides tons of visual impact. An architectural fern or two complements the minimal aesthetic.
17. Go for a luxe look
Limit your landscaping ideas to just one or two for a sleek and streamlined look that's on-trend and makes the most of a compact space.
And, with only a small courtyard area to pave why not go for the best? Beautiful to look at as well as durable, these elegant porcelain pavers 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.
18. Decorate the walls
Give your garden fence ideas or walls an instant fix by hanging panels to add a decorative touch.
These Corten metal screens 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.
19. Lounge in style
We love the idea of a daybed and this design can be left outside all year round, whatever the weather, as it's water resistant: just the thing for creating a cozy 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 to transform into a sofa. Enhance the sleek styling with plenty of throws to layer up a contemporary look.
You can find more laid-back seating for your courtyard garden ideas in our best outdoor beanbags buying guide.
20. Zone your space
It's worth dividing your courtyard into dedicated zones as this will make it look and feel bigger. Think about creating a second seating area that's separate from your outdoor dining ideas, 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 bench is multi-purpose as it can double up as a side table for plants and other outdoor accessories too.
21. Set the mood with lights
'To make your courtyard come alive at night, why not hang some string lights from wall to wall across your space to add the perfect lighting for an outdoor get-together?' suggests Gardenesque. After all, in the same way a room needs different lights to create the right ambience, so does your courtyard. A garland of pretty festoon lights will add a sense of enchantment, while you can never have enough lanterns to make it feel intimate.
Choose different sizes and dot them around. If you have a favorite piece of garden art or other feature you want to draw attention to, add lights to turn it into an eye-catching nighttime feature.
22. And relax…
Enhance the relaxation potential of your courtyard by using an existing beam to put up one of the best hammocks or egg chair.
Not an option? No need to miss out. Instead choose a freestanding hammock like this one. 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 can also be hung from a beam or pergola. Laid-back living has never been so easy.
More top tips for making a courtyard garden look good:
By now, you're hopefully feeling inspired by lots of courtyard garden ideas. But, if you're after even more inspo, take a look at these tips:
- 'Storage and multi-functionality are the two key elements that all outdoor furniture for small gardens should have,' says Jonny Brierley, CEO of Moda Furnishings. Furniture that interlocks when not in use is a great option to limit the footprint, allowing you to use your garden for other activities, he adds.
- Don't forget about potted trees. As Gardenesque suggests, a terracotta planter can transform a small courtyard, adding a focal point when filled with architectural plants such as conifers and bays. You can find our pick of the best trees to grow in pots in our guide.
- Why not take advantage of your sheltered space and try lush exotics such as tree ferns and banana palms in large planters? They make a great fit if you're after a tropical-inspired mood. If your space is too shady, opt for some of the best shade loving plants instead – ferns and hostas will always turn heads.
What colors should you use in a courtyard garden?
To start, fences and walls should be in neutral shades as bold colors will jump out at you and make the space seem smaller. So, avoid those on-trend inky-hued walls, and paint them in bright whites or very pale greys instead for a soothing and brightening effect.
You can either continue the neutral theme with your accessories, or add in splashes of color to draw the eye – whichever suits your style. However, for a pulled-together look, it's always best to stick to a tonal palette – that way your courtyard garden ideas won't feel overwhelming and chaotic.
You can find more garden color scheme advice in our guide.
Sarah Wilson has been a lifestyle journalist for many years, writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, as well as Country Homes & Interiors and Modern Gardens magazines.
Her own (small urban) garden is a work in progress - so many ideas, not enough space to cram them in. Hero plants include her ever growing collection of ornamental grasses, black bamboo and ferns, and the perennials like salvias and penstemons that come back reliably year after year. All very restrained though when in fact she'd love to pack her garden with gaudy dahlias and giant cannas, so these are top of her wish list for what to grow next.
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