The key to a good courtyard is one great idea well executed.
In courtyard gardens the lack of space encourages us to stick to one central and well thought out scheme and makes attention to detail very important. Stay with one central and simple design concept in a very small space, a variety of ideas and schemes will result in a messy affair!
Start by looking at your space from the windows of the house – a courtyard can be enjoyed as an outdoor recreational area as well as a decorative element from indoors which will add great value to the property.
Check which wall or space is seen from most of the windows and what dominates the view. What looks attractive and what do you need to conceal? Are there any neighbours you wish to screen out?
Different perspectives will make your courtyard seem larger and emphasising the width or the length will make that dimension stretch visually. Using a diagonal will give you the longest possible dimension in a small space.
Similarly, large, monochrome paving will expand space and busy, patterned pavers decrease it. Choose a focal point which will give the garden a focus and reinforces the design concept. A focal point can be a water feature, a small tree, a sculpture, an arbour of even a trompe d'oeil effect.
If the courtyard is totally paved or the 'soil' is more like rubble then the alternatives are raised planters or free standing pots – large, dramatic pots that is, and not a hotchpotch of different little ones which will just give an impression of clutter. When choosing containers for the garden, it is best to select ones that are similar in style but varying in size.
Small gardens don't need lots of small plants but rather one or two larger plants which will pull the scheme, and the smaller plants, together and provide scale. Choose plants carefully as a straggling, half-dead plant is going to be glaringly obvious in a small space.
Walls can be clothed with a wide variety of climbers which will soften the space, provide colour and scent.
A well planned lighting scheme will transform the courtyard at night and greatly increase the amount of time spent in it.