The look and feel of a classic Mediterranean courtyard garden is all about orderliness in the midst of spontaneity. These courtyards are practical and low-maintenance, make use of local stone and rock in their landscaping, and adopt a ‘tough love’ approach when it comes to plants. The mood is relaxed and functional as the space is largely designed for alfresco dining and entertaining.
A sizeable, level courtyard area such as this one can be challenging. Aim to balance its scale and proportion with the height of the house. Vertical elements such as trees present exciting opportunities for punctuation points in a large, open space and provide a leafy counterpoint to the high boundary walls that are so often a given in an urban context.
Windows, shutters and multilevel roofing create aesthetic appeal, while surface detailing helps define the space. Not only does the change in texture from smooth to pebbled treatments on the ground add visual interest, but it also cleverly delineates areas, differentiating high-traffic sections from tranquil nooks.
Lawns and plants are secondary to hard landscaping in a courtyard garden, so ensure that your stone and concrete work is of a high standard. It’s not always easy to achieve a naturally worn look, and there’s a fine line between rustic and rough, so go with reputable contractors and artisans, especially for larger courtyard gardens. And in smaller courtyard spaces, beware of introducing too many finishes: the experts say you should use no more than two. Contact a South African quarry or stone company for local wall and flooring alternatives including sandstone and slate.
Keeping the colour palette neutral and tones muted gives you more room to play when selecting soft furnishings and fabrics. Built-in planters, tables and benches in a combination of local stone and textured concrete will help add contrast to the space as well as act as focal points. Curved lines are a good way to introduce movement: get the effect seen here with organically shaped planting beds cut directly into the surface concrete.
Water is a vital element in any courtyard garden and you will almost always find some kind of water feature, swimming pool – or both – somewhere in a Mediterranean courtyard. In this garden, the pool and generous coping form a centrepiece for the space, and an outdoor shower is an indulgent way of freshening up while connecting to the natural world.
Fragrant climbers on the surrounding stone walls combine with evergreen, big-leafed species such as delicious monsters and palms to create a real sense of lush privacy. These, coupled with the presence of water and fruit trees, make it easy to feel as though you’re in your very own oasis.
the big picture
When it comes to pots and planters, don’t be afraid to go large. Award-winning landscape designer Cleve West says, ‘People are often timid about placing big forms in gardens, but the scale and volume of these pieces add drama and contrast beautifully with surrounding informal planting.’ Even in smaller gardens, overscaled pots have an amazing effect of expanding space, especially when cleverly chosen and positioned. If solo feature pots are not your thing and your courtyard allows it, opt for groupings to create added impact.
As for the style and structure of your pots, vary their size and height but stick to one look and shape. As a general rule, circular pots are considered more suited to working in groups. ‘Using repetitive forms is one of the simplest tricks to make a garden feel more harmonious,’ says Cleve.
There are many benefits to planting in pots; the first is that they are mobile and convenient to water with a watering can. This means that despite possible water restrictions (both future and current), you’ll have beautiful adaptable greenery at your fingertips. The soil in pots does dry out quicker than the earth though, so plant drought-tolerant species or start recycling your grey water from your shower or bath.
Pergolas create pockets of intimacy and much-needed shady zones for alfresco dining. Common materials include timber, brick, metal and reclaimed wood, and a variety of rustic timber options for pergolas similar to the one seen below are available from The Pole Yard in Cape Town and Northern Poles in Pretoria.
To soften and create extra shade, add hardy climbers that will thrive despite sun and wind exposure and still achieve the height required to reach overhead. Evergreen ivy is a robust choice, although it has a tendency to get woody if left unchecked, so keep it pruned once it starts to look untidy.
Other excellent climbing options for pergolas include ornamental or edible grapevines, wisteria, scented jasmine or roses. Underplant these with herbs such as thyme, oreganum, sage or rosemary – these edibles are perfect planted alongside a dining area and will protect the exposed soil at the base of your pergola. For climbing roses, ‘Renae’ or ‘Towering Rose Magic’, both from Ludwig’s Roses, thrive on tough love and smell glorious.
This garden originally appeared in House & Leisure’s March 2017 issue.