Cozy, sheltered, warm and intimate, courtyard gardens offer a range of design options. Usually walled, fenced or hedged, courtyards also provide a safe and clean place for children to play. Although courtyards are often smaller than the average garden, their hard landscaping absorbs heat from the sun and radiates it later in the day, providing microclimates slightly warmer than open gardens. Garden styles suited to courtyards include Mediterranean, Asian and Persian, or gardeners can take advantage of the warm, sheltered area to grow their own vegetables and fruit.
Courtyards provide a suitable home for the mix of sun-loving herbs, fruits and drought-tolerant perennials and small shrubs that make up Mediterranean-style gardens. Plants such as rock rose (Helianthemum nummularium), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 7, and Coronado red hyssop (Agastache aurantiaca "Pstessene"), which is suitable for USDA zones 6 though 10, grow well in terracotta pots; and Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri "Meyer") adds to the a distinctive Mediterranean feel. This is one of the most cold-tolerant citruses, growing outdoors year-round in USDA zones 9 through 11. Add a cafe-style table and two chairs in a sunny spot, and a bottle of red wine and two glasses, to complete the picture.
Hard landscaping is one of the main components of an Asian-style garden, where formal lines combine with understated, elegant plants. Foliage plants such as dwarf mugo pine (Pinus mugo pumilio), suitable for USDA zones 2 through 7, or "Sky Pencil" Japanese holly (Ilex crenata "Sky Pencil"), hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9, form the planting structure. Add flowering perennials for splashes of discreet beauty, such as white re-blooming azalea Bloom-A-Thon (Rhododendron "RLH1-3P3"), which grows well in containers and is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9. Structures such as beautifully shaped rocks and formal ponds provide the required references to earth and water.
Divide up your courtyard into four squares or rectangles to create a Persian garden, where shade, water and fragrance provide respite from the noise, heat and bustle of life. A central, formal pond with cascading water forms the focus, and small trees, such as "Brown Turkey" fig (Ficus carica), offer shade, while fragrant, flowering shrubs, such as gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides), provide heady scent to fill the air. Both plants suit container growing and can be overwintered in a frost-free greenhouse or conservatory. "Brown Turkey" fig is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9 and gardenia is hardy in zones 8 through 11. (
Courtyard gardens allow gardeners to grow vegetables and fruit in shelter and warmth. Vegetables that grow well in containers include tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum), lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. capitata), beans (Phaseolus and Vigna spp.), cucumber (Cucumis sativus) and squash (Cucurbita spp.). Train a fruit tree such as dwarf plum Starking delicious (Prunus domestica "Johnson") against a sunny wall for spring blossom and summer fruit. Starking delicious is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9 and is small enough to pick its fruit from low-hanging branches.