Summer is the time when those city courtyard gardens really come into their own, because ‘the room outside’, truly a garden design classic, is what they are all about.

The protected nature of many courtyards means that you have shelter and almost instant warmth the moment the sun comes out.

Thus, you can catch the quick flashes of sunshine we get during the usually mercurial british summer. And of course, if it is the baking hot summer we long for (and what a tonic that would be!) you will practically live out there.

City life can be fun, but sometimes you long for peace and the many shades of green. In a courtyard garden you can make yourself a refuge, an instant release from the hype of the urban buzz. Few things are more of a stress buster after a busy day at the office than throwing open the french doors and catching the last of the evening’s sun with a gin and tonic.

With the economy still doom laden, and the election fiasco making the future seem even less confident, perhaps its time to hunker down with a security blanket or two! Many people will be spending less time away or out on the town and more time at home. So, let this enforced summer in town be in pleasant surroundings.

Timing is all

Get prepared now rather than start the ball rolling when you really want to use the garden. With the shops and garden centres full of tempting gardenery stuff, which they are desperate to offload, this is your opportunity to add value and build on what you already have.

Crisp and Chic

The classic room outside is simple- so don’t overdo anything. If ‘Inside Outside’ is the in look for you taking the paving from your kitchen right out into the garden sounds expensive but actually extends your house. If you want a more casual look, gravel and French café furniture is relaxed and laid back. However, the rustic eco look never quite does the biz in an urban landscape. Impromptu touches such as candles in jam jars etc are great, but don’t go too ditsy. The less you clutter the larger it seems.

Get in the Zone

If your garden is large enough, give yourself choices and have separate zones for different activities-a place for your dining table and chairs and a place for casual sitting. This zoning will actually make the area, which lets face it is often small, actually seem much larger. Do have seating already in place in sun and shade. If seats are already there you are much more likely to go out if all you have to carry is your coffee and the paper.

Cooling and calming

Water adds another dimension to most landscapes. In town gardens, where heat can build in hot weather given the amount of masonry around, water is even more important because it humidifies and soothes the troubled brow. A tinkling fountain can be used to successfully distract from traffic noise. Water also acts as a vital wildlife resource giving birds and animals that reviving drink. Think outside the box. Water features sound complicated but they can be simple and need not involve electricity and plumbing-perhaps just a pot with a miniature water lily.

Creature Comforts

In a small space furniture is critical to the styling and the success of the area. As with most purchases you get what you pay for in both style and comfort. Teak weathers well to a silvery grey and looks substantial and classic. Aluminium dries out really quickly after rain and is the ideal choice for that sharp and contemporary urban look. Be wary of making too obviously a rather wacky or self conscious style statement. Good quality, classic furniture will stay the course. An umbrella is a more flexible shading component than a fixed pergola.

Green it up

Courtyards offer both pleasures and pitfalls as far as the plants you can grow are concerned. Winters can be shady and summers hot. Plants which we find work really well are: Bamboos, Fatsia, and Palms etc. Evergreens such as skimmias and camellias are also useful-their leaves are often lustrous which introduces light into comparatively small spaces. Climbers are vital since they are another way of extending your borders and partly cover your all too close boundary walls.

Think Big

Space can often seem a limitation and the temptation in a small space is often for lots of small things. In fact in a limited space you need to think the opposite. Play the scale game and try big in a small space. You could actually think outsize for some true drama. Try growing Gunnera manicata in a large tub without holes in the bottom and you will begin to create your own lush jungle.

Maximise your microclimates

The microclimate of the urban courtyard also makes it the ideal place for success with exotics such as palms, hardy gingers, arum lilies and bottlebrushes. A vine clambering around gives you Mediterranean ambience. With a little thought you could actually make your courtyard a little like one continuous foreign holiday location.

Portable pleasure

Too much concrete and not enough border is often the problem with city gardens, but life can be a moveable feast with tubs and pots which can be moved around as the mood takes you. This means that you can play with plant combinations. Get creative!

Summer Fun

Summer deserves to be celebrated so have seasonal fun with carefully selected annuals to boost your spirits. The garden centres sell annuals in useful little trays which you can then carry around and match against each other to see what really works even before you buy. Keep the scheme simple. If you do lots of night time entertaining white always shows up really well. Some plants such Tobacco release fragrance at night.

Don’t forget the show can go on till early winter as you catch the last of the summer sun.

Enjoy!

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