Courtyard garden ideas and designs for walled spaces

Has your courtyard garden design got you climbing the walls? Experts share their tips to make the most of these contained spaces.

Courtyard gardens are a familiar feature to British homes. From regal palaces to cosy urban developments, our outside spaces are often encased by three or more walls. 

Designing a courtyard garden can seem like a challenge, particularly if your previous plot was more spacious. But while theres no doubt that a garden that backs on to rolling hills and leafy glades is a thing of beauty, we have a soft spot for walled spaces.

Rose covered garden wall with gateCredit: Shutterstock / Andrew Roland

Why? Not only are they a little easier to maintain, but they make a great canvas to create al fresco living spaces.  

Our courtyard garden ideas will show you how simple it can be to transform your walled garden into your new favourite “room” of the house. 


1. Plant up the walls

Adorn every surface with foliage

Though walled spaces have the potential to feel a little overbearing, these additional hard surfaces are prime real estate for more planting. 

Courtyard garden with central water feature and trees planted on the wallsCredit: Parka and Boots Photography / Karen McClure Garden Design

Though walled spaces have the potential to feel a little overbearing, these additional hard surfaces are prime real estate for more planting. 

Utilising vertical opportunities with trees maximises the usable space,Fiona Northover of Karen McClure Garden Design told us. In this walled fruit garden (pictured), we ensured that every bit of space had an opportunity to play its part. Espalier fruit trees dressed the boundaries… [and] tall roof form (or tabletop) trees created a canopy above and framed the water feature. 

2. Don’t go without a greenhouse

Source a mini version for your plants to thrive outside

Green-fingered city dwellers dont have to sacrifice their sowing schemes in a tiny courtyard garden.

Greenhouse against a wall in a garden surrounded by tools and materials for plantingCredit: Thorndown Paints

A slimline greenhouse with a sliding door will maximise space and provide a home for your seedlings. It can be made into a part of the overall aesthetic by painting it a colour that either blends into or complements your planting scheme. 

Buy Field Green Wood Paint at Thorndown from £20

3. Create a cosy dining area

Start your own twinkly supper club 

A practical yet luxurious courtyard garden idea is to extend your interiors outside with a rustic eating area. This is especially useful if you dont have a separate dining room indoors but love entertaining people.

Two women sat in a courtyard garden at night at a large tab;e with bench seatingCredit: Doug Holloway Garden & Landscape Design

A space for secret suppers can be created with farmhouse bench seating, like this design from Doug Holloway, complete with twinkly lights. The surrounding walls provide a certain amount of protection against the elements, making it a perfect place to gather with loved ones for feasting throughout the year. 

Expert tips from a garden designer

James Scott, managing director of The Garden Company, tells us what he doesnt do when working with a courtyard or walled garden:

Three design mistakes to avoid in a courtyard garden

Resist the temptation to push planting to the boundaries of the garden, which will accentuate the lack of space, says Scott.

Instead, keep the eye in the garden with deeper borders and additional features within the space, including possibly a central focal point.  

These can become oppressive if overused, Scott continues. Instead, choose some specimen plants [larger plants that provide immediate impact] and underplant them with textural varieties to create long-lasting seasonal interest.

Remember that courtyards tend to be more sheltered and therefore more tender plants are a possibility compared to exposed gardens. 

Scott says it may be harder to capture sunlight in a walled space or courtyard owing to more shadows being cast. When deciding on the overall design and location of particular zones, such as a dining area, this needs careful consideration. 

4. Tile the floor

Introduce colour through paving slabs

Brighten up and bring personality to the courtyard by making the floor a feature surface of its own.  

Blue and white tiled garden with table and chairsCredit: Tile Mountain

Its good to break up some of the hardscaping with details that signal a different use for an area,suggests Scott. For example, a flagstone terrace may be inlaid with a brick path; or a dining section may be created through brick patterns. 

We love the idea of laying hardwearing tiles to inject colour and patterns into shadier courtyards that need an instant lift. Don’t forget to make sure any tiles you choose are suitable for use outdoors. 

Buy Hanoi Star Blue floor tiles at Tile Mountain from £25.95 per m2

5. Build a statement wall

Exercise your inner architect

If you dont like the texture of any pre-existing surfaces or want to vary up the view into your courtyard garden, then a feature wall could be for you.

View into a courtyard garden with blue rendered wall and table and chairsCredit: Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design

You could even create a multifunctional storage wall this one incorporates decorative shelving just as you would have a statement wall in an interior room. 

This example from Alladio Sims Garden Landscape Design features rendered wall, which has been painted in blue, and is also partially clad with aged brass sheets to alternate finishes and textures. 

6. Install a vertical planter

Do it yourself, or buy a ready-made structure

Are you concerned about the time it will take for young climbing plants to establish and cover the walls? A vertical planter can provide an immediate transformation.

Garden wall planter with blue chair in frontCredit: Forest

Depending on the shelving type, smaller potted plants can be placed alongside other garden accessories. This adds huge visual interest and is beneficial for wildlife too,says Scott. Its also important to know which direction your wall faces, to help with plant choices. 

Upturned pallets are a good option if you fancy taking on a DIY project, but there are readymade versions available that just need screwing into the wall. 

Buy Forest two-shelf wall planter at B&Q for £112

Ever considered a living wall?

As well as growing plants that will either climb around twine or trellises, there are ways you can install your own vertical living wall as a courtyard garden idea. 

There are a few different ways to create your own at home, including upcycling wooden pallets. But perhaps the easiest way to start a living wall is to buy a simple starter kit.  

Many of these kits usually arrive with a base that you attach to your wall, and a system of planting pockets for you to fill. Some even have their own self-watering irrigation system  small reservoirs that use gravity to slowly drain water from the top down.

This starter kit from Waitrose is £56.99

7. Contrast straight lines with curves

A circular lawn makes a strong focal point

Drawing your eye into the centre of a courtyard garden and away from the boundary walls can be a good idea.

Walled garden with central circular lawnCredit: Anna Helps Garden Design

A striking circular lawn, like this one by Anna Helps Garden Design, creates an idea focal point to help any overbearing walls fade into the background. 

Scott is also a fan of this approach.

It will be the first thing people pay attention to when entering the garden,he says. It means that people slowly notice other features, rather than trying to absorb everything at once.” 

8. Create an outdoor living room

More space to lounge around throughout the year

A courtyard garden can echo your interiors, with the walled space creating a readymade room

Garden bench covered with cushions and coffee tables laden with candlesCredit: Lights4fun

Benched seating, dressed with cushions, and blankets, can be used throughout the year for socialising and relaxing if youre able to also invest in outdoor heating and a canopy cover.

Adding a central coffee table with potted plants and other interiors accents, such as a tray of candles, gives your garden personality and colour without you having to worry too much about complex planting plans. 

9. Don’t shy away from deep borders

Take advantage of the shelter a wall provides

In the same way that a central focal point keeps our eyes in a courtyard garden, so too can deeper borders. Scott suggests you dont have to rely on narrow border planting to free up space, as his design, built by The Garden Company shows here.

walled garden with deep planting border and water featureCredit: The Garden Company

Additionally, the sheltered conditions provided by walled spaces means gardeners can add fragrant planting. 

A personal favourite is Trachelospermum jasminoides or Star Jasmine,” he says. Its a lovely climber with richly perfumed white flowers and evergreen foliage. In a walled space, the scent can be contained, adding a further sensory experience to the enjoyment of the garden. 

10. Hang a mirror

Reflect light and space in a smaller courtyard

A simple trick to draw light into a particularly dark corner of a courtyard garden is to hang a mirror.

Arched, backlit mirror hanging on garden wallCredit: Gardenesque

Mirrors added to walled gardens reflect light from brighter spots and create the illusion of portals into more space. This example benefits from added lighting, which brightens things even further. This is a useful trick to break up the darker hues of evergreen plants. 

Buy this solar-powered Blacklit Arch Mirror from Gardenesque for £139.99

11. Limit plant colour for very small spaces

Tiny courtyards can still have bold ideas

In very small courtyard gardens, planting may need to be secondary to the pre-existing hard surfaces.

Garden designer Marlene Lento says that a 70/30 weighting between hard and soft landscaping is an aesthetically pleasing proportion (and this can work either way depending on your final design and size of the space). 

Small courtyard garden with water fountain and two chairsCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Choose evergreens [that keep their leaves year-round], limit colour and pay attention to the texture of the foliage,she suggests in this instance. Be bold and dont be afraid of large gestures such as large plants, large planters – or a tree. However, one item has to be the clear focal point and the rest of the design is more or less the supporting cast. Repeat a small number of plants to create a cohesive scheme. 

Be bold and dont be afraid of large gestures”

In very small spaces, refining plant choices into a concise colour scheme and focusing instead on a variety of texture is a smarter way to create this cohesion. It helps to keep the courtyard from becoming too busy yet can still appear abundant in foliage. 

12. Render existing walls

A sleek, smooth concrete finish

Cover up unsightly courtyard walls with rendered concrete (you could polish this for a smoother finish).

Bamboo garden table and plant pot in courtyard with concrete wall and monkey artwork hangingCredit:

This not only creates a consistent, more modern look, but is also a great blank canvas for planting, hanging art and adding contrasting furniture made using natural materials. Rattan and bamboo are popular, but make sure they are waterproofed, or can be covered in wet weather. 

13. Go for gravel

Create a sensory experience underfoot

Some people may prefer the aesthetic and sound of gravel underfoot in a courtyard garden, rather than paving slabs or another hard surface.

Courtyard garden with gravel and central bird bathCredit: Anna Helps Garden Design

Gravel adds another texture alongside planting to juxtapose with exposed bricked walls, like this example from Anna Helps Garden Design. Replacing existing tired slabs with gravel is an efficient way to quickly transform the aesthetics of a courtyard garden. 

Be careful about the size of shingle you use, however. It needs to feel comfortable and sturdy underfoot if its being walked on – 20mm is good for this, and 40mm if it’s for plant beds or display. Avoid smaller ‘pea’ shingle as it can be mistaken for cat litter, encourage the local felines to use it as a toilet. 

Wall climbers for shady spots 

Shady areas are a given in a courtyard garden, as the sun wont be able to bathe every surface in its rays throughout the day.  

But you dont need to leave this fertile space in the dark. There are a number of wall-climbing plants that dont mind these shady realms, and weve chosen three that are particularly easy to maintain…

Shade-loving wall climbers

If you dont want the inconvenience of attaching twine or a trellis to the wall, then try a self-supporting plant. Hydrangea seemannii or Seemann’s hydrangea, is an evergreen with pretty, small white flowers appearing in summer that can be grown in full shade if needed. This means it can be grown on a courtyard garden wall facing any direction. As the plant originates from the warmer climes of Mexico, try to find a spot that isn’t exposed in frosty conditions. 

Buy yours from Hayloft.

Though Clematis Carnaby is deciduous, it rewards gardeners with two flowering seasonsone in spring and another at the end of summer. Its roots need shade, but its foliage and blushing pink flowers can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Youll need to tease this climber around a trellis or along wire or twine. This clematis will thrive in a large, well-drained container. 

Buy yours from RHS Plants.

Evergreen ivy is ideal if you’re seeking lots of wall coverage. It does need some trimming due to how fast it grows, but Hedera helix Goldheart can provide cover for wildlife in shady areas of a courtyard garden. Its dark green leaves are occasionally brightened with a splash of gold. This ivy will flower in autumn and provide small black fruit for birds visiting your outside space. 

Buy yours from Waitrose.

14. Choose to cover up

Hide all walls with foliage

You may want to completely cover your walls in foliage to make a green oasis, but without the maintenance.

Garden wall covered in leaves with bucket planters and a white gateCredit: Shutterstock / Konmac

Climbers such as common ivy, Boston ivy or climbing hydrangeas can be good options for people who dont want to prune or train fruit trees, and would prefer their wall plants to be able to cling to the surface without any help.

Dense foliage can be broken up with hanging planters. We love this idea of attaching small bucket planters that can inject some bright blooms between the foliage. 

15. Slice up your courtyard into sections

Add more walls if there’s space (trust us!)

Adding more walls wont necessarily shrink the space. If executed carefully, like this Chinese-influenced garden from May & Watts Garden Design, you can carve out cosy sections that play to the strengths of bright patches for dining and secluded shady spots for relaxed planting. 

courtyard garden with two chairs and dividing low wallsCredit: May & Watts Garden Design

The interior space of a garden can be sliced through with decorative, low-level walls. The walls pictured contain inset panels of green glazed lotus tiles and are clad with natural grey clay brick slips and capped with reclaimed terracotta tiles. 

Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her


Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller,, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

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