We all know that old real estate catch-cry about buying the worst house in the best street! It’s good advice, especially in cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, where you can discover some forgotten gems that simply require some TLC. The trouble is, if the house is in a bad way, the garden is probably worse! Many of Australia's older city properties feature courtyards, rather than gardens, which puts many people off. But it shouldn't! In fact, embrace it!
If you don't actually require a large garden - ie you haven't got a pack of ankle-biters, or pets - a courtyard garden is quicker and easier to spruce up and requires less attention in the future. And often, the worse it is the better, as you then have a blank canvas on which to create your perfect picture. And possibly a bargain price, too.
Discover Hidden Treasures
The first step is to clear away the years of neglect and see what you are actually working with. Generally it looks worse than it actually is. Long grass, weeds, rusty old garden furniture, dead plants and piles of rubble paint a pretty bad picture. But below that layer of dirt and weeds you may actually discover some hidden treasure, like some gorgeous old flagstones or cobbles, raised garden beds, or even a lovely old sculpture or bird bath. Decide which bits you want to preserve, clean them up and store somewhere safe until you are ready to place them.
And a great idea is to use your finds to create a theme for your courtyard. For example, aged stone might inspire a rustic or Tuscan theme, with terracotta pots, weathered stone and rough timber furniture. Modern pavers are probably better suited to a Mediterranean theme, with white-washed walls and furniture and splashes of colour. Once you start you'll find the ideas really start to flow!
Do Your Homework
Use design magazines and websites to give you more ideas and tips. And before you start planting, do a bit of research on the area. What sort of soil do you have? What's the climate like? Does your courtyard get sun, shade or a mix of both? Is it windy, or do you get a frost in the mornings in winter? These are all really important factors in determining what you grow. Ask your neighbours what they've had success with, and what has failed. And if you're in an area prone to long dry spells, look for drought-resistant plants.
Once your courtyard is cleared it's best to plan out on paper how you want it to look. You don't need to be an artist - just roughly sketch out what's going where, taking into account those factors above, like sun and shade.
Now you are ready to start work creating your masterpiece, and also ready to start spending money! Using your sketch, mark out your different areas - ie garden beds, paved areas, water feature etc.
Then work out what quantities you need of things like soil, rocks, turf, pavers, so you can get the basics in place. Once that's done, the real fun begins!
Create Your Masterpiece
To make your courtyard unique, start searching for your ingredients! Scour junkshops and garage sales for quirky items and pre-loved furniture, and garden centres for the perfect plants. And think outside the square when it comes to planting. You could paint up an old wheelbarrow and fill it with herbs or potted colour, or seek other unusual plant pots, like old watering cans and jars. If space is an issue, buy a cheap old wooden ladder, paint it white and place pots of colour on every rung for an eye-catching centrepiece.
Let your imagination run riot and soon you will have your very own piece of paradise, adding pleasure and value to your home. And remember, having created your private oasis, make sure you can enjoy it from inside the home, too, by incorporating lots of glass, sliding doors or French doors.