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Small Courtyard Garden Design Project

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

My book club has been reading "The Last Garden in England" this month which is about this extravagant series of gardens at an English estate. It's an historical fiction that takes place at one garden across three different time periods: 1907, 1944 (WWII era) and present day.

What I've loved about this book is learning about differing garden themes. For example, the book has a winter garden that exclusively uses plants that will fully come to life in the coldest months. Or there is a poet's garden that utilizes water features and nonlinear structure to stimulate thought.

The book has widened my imagination for how landscaping can intentionally be segmented which brings me to our home's latest update: our side yard.

Where the Side Yard Started plus the Vision

This space is directly between our house and our neighbors. It is about 15ft wide and 40ft long. At one time we planned on running a fence down the middle of this space but with climbing lumber prices, it felt excessive and would only create more dead space. So we decided to collaborate with our neighbor instead!

Our house, on the left, had some nandinas and monkey grass that were a bit over grown. On our neighbor's side there's a beautiful crepe myrtle that provides the perfect amount of shade in this Texas heat.

Along the edges you can see some faint white lines where I spray painted some initial landscaping measurements. This is a great, low cost way to visualize any yard project that will eventually get cut on your next mow.

Then came time for the heavy manual labor of pulling up the old plants and all the grass. We repurposed all the nandinas and placed them in clusters by the front gated fence. As for the monkey grass, we decided we wanted to use plants that felt more whimsical.

This is where the inspiration from the book really set in. I wanted to transform this area from a forgotten patch of yard to more of an English styled courtyard.

The key elements for this transformation were intentional landscape beds, a walkway, and an area for a bistro table to enjoy the space. What really takes this transformation to the next level was adding a water fountain to create soothing background noise for intimate conversations.

Creating a Paver Walkway

For the walkway, we decided on 16" concrete pavers with surrounding pea gravel. There were a number of reasons we went with this type of walkway including price point, longevity with shift

ing soil, and the pattern we could achieve.

After determining our materials came time for the specific measurements and flow. We have a gate that leads to our front yard and this is a natural place for the path to begin and also created our walkway width.

The whole area is divided with the large crape myrtle in the middle so I wanted the walk way to have the interest of the fountain in the first half and for us to have the option of a table on the back half.

Since this is a shared space, we won't have a dining table out day to day but I wanted this path to allow the possibility of a garden party that could seat 6-8 because who doesn't love a dinner gathering in a beautiful space??

This was the very rough sketch I made before we started the weekend project and while some details changed, it remained the overall direction. Something else we played with was creating a little more interest with staggering the pavers on the back half.

All our materials were sourced from Lowes, though it took a number of trips with how heavy the materials weighed. We actually used the same paver base for the space in between the step stones as underneath. This was simply because I liked the coloring more than the brown pea gravel options at our local home goods store.

Once the layout was set, the most meticulous part of laying and leveling each paver began. The reason that pavers need to be leveled is to prevent tripping hazards and to avoid potential cracking of the stones.

We began by laying the paver base, which is a rock/sand mixture, and then we would compact the material with a tamper to make sure the surface was settled before laying the paver.

Once the paver was placed, we used our level to make sure the adjacent stones were approximately the same height for walking. This was hands down the longest part of the process for us as we laid over 80 pavers.

If you're attempting this type of project, make sure to not only level each paver with adjacent stones but also with ones that are catty corner a couple rows back. We also ran into the issue of the ground sitting higher at the back of the house from where we started. This meant we had to dig up a couple inches of dirt before even laying the paver base in that area. Like I said, it's time consuming but we're hoping it pays off in the years to come.

Once the pavers were set, all that was left was lining the walk way with landscape edging and adding plants to the surrounding sides. See below for our final product! Next phase will be adding some string lights and seating of some sort.

What do you think? Hopefully you feel inspired to transform any unused spaces in your own yard too!




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