Shade and water features are Mediterranean courtyard must-haves.

Mediterranean Courtyard Design

by Susan Lundman

It makes perfect sense that the word "paradise" comes from the Persian word for an enclosed garden, because that's exactly what you have with a Mediterranean courtyard -- outdoor living in a beautiful setting. With warm, dry summers and mild winters, the Mediterranean climate lends itself to a wide variety of plants and trees for you to add to your courtyard. A successful Mediterranean courtyard recreates the paradise with both hardscape and plants.

1. Enclosures

Your courtyard may already have a sense of enclosure with existing trees or fences, or you may need to add additional features to separate the courtyard. An enclosure could be as simple as a low wall or as elaborate as a casbah or pavilion structure with columns leading into the courtyard. Create an archway, also typical of Mediterranean design, with hedging or by adding an arch to your current patio or deck walls and ceiling.

2. Stone

Certain materials are must-haves for a Mediterranean courtyard, and stone in all its forms is one. Use large stones for low walls and flagstone, other paving stones or gravel for the floor of the courtyard itself. Use gravel too for ground cover in the planting areas next to the courtyard. Add other stone features, such as urns, pillars or ceramic tiles as accents throughout the courtyard.

3. Water

Having a large fountain or 10-foot-long reflecting pool is not a necessity for your courtyard, but you do need some kind of water feature, large or small. Small immersible pumps allow you to turn any size urn or planter into a small fountain and you can create a reflection pool in a shallow bowl as well. Incorporate Mediterranean colors, such as terra cotta and Pacific blue into tiles edging your pool or as the color for reflecting bowls.

4. Trees

You need at least one tree, either planted in the ground or in a container, to give the courtyard structure and a focal point. Typical Mediterranean choices include Meyer lemon (Citrus meyeri), which grows 6 to 10 feet tall in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8b through 10, or, if you live in USDA zones 8 through 10, an olive tree (Olea europaea) that grows up to 30 feet.

5. Plants

Once you add scented herbs and other plants that do well in full sun, your courtyard will be complete. Choose rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) if you live in USDA zones 8 through 10, or thyme (Thymus vulgaris) for USDA zones 5 through 9. For a pop of brilliant color in the courtyard in USDA zones 9 through 11, plant a bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spp), which comes in an array of colors.

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