Creating a Courtyard Garden

Case Study

The Design Brief

The first stage in any design process is usually to visit the site and speak with the client about their aspirations for the space. The results of this initial visit form the 'Design Brief': a list of criteria on which the rest of the design process based. This case study is based on a courtyard garden I designed for a client in Kensal Rise, London. The brief was to create a garden that would feel like a hug of greenery screening the high walls; it would be lush and jungle-like all year round, framed by the large bifold doors when looking out from the main living space. It also needed to be low maintenance (we're not all green fingered) and have plenty of entertaining space, so it felt like an extension of the house at any point of the day or night.


Creating the initial concept sketches is usually the most creative (and sometimes challenging) part of the design process. I pretty much always do this stage by hand, pen to paper. This enables very quick development, often layering page after page of tracing paper until I get something that works from a design point of view that also meets the client brief. This design needed to be contemporary, with vertical layering, allowing the planting to cover the majority of surfaces. Therefore the concept was very much driven by how I could work in as much planting as possible, keeping everything accessible and low maintenance.

Plant Choices

Plant choices were key for this design. Getting a jungle-like feel with low maintenance plants that can withstand a British winter is always a challenge as most large leafed tropical looking plants like it a little warmer. All plants also needed to be able to thrive growing in containers, and the majority needed to be evergreen. The last, and arguably most important main factor affecting plant choice was the light conditions in the space - most areas were in continual shade due to the high walls and north aspect, however there were small pockets of intense sunshine, especially in the summer months, meaning it would be safer to choose some plants that could handle both deep shade and occasional bright sunlight.

Final Design Package

After a successful review of the concepts with the client, the final design package is created. This package includes scaled plans of the design such as hard landscape layout plans and planting plans, plus any necessary details including irrigation, drainage and lighting layouts, construction drawings, and materials and plant lists. Drainage was a key component of the design as the garden was surrounded on all sides by other developments and was also set a metre or so below ground level, so ensuring water was draining correctly away from the surrounding properties was essential.
The client had also requested an automatic watering system, plus a new lighting design that would allow for evening entertainment, so both needed to be accurately detailed at this stage. Once all aspects of the design have been documented the design package is then ready to be passed on to the landscape team for review prior to the design being built.


The build for the new design took approximately 3 weeks, split into three distinct sections. First the hard landscaping was constructed, involving building the raised beds and benches and installing all the new lighting. Then all the large planters were installed, the planting areas prepared, the trellis fixed to the walls and the automatic watering system put in place. Finally the plants arrived and were all put in place and checked prior to being planted.

Before and After Images

The images below show the transformation of the space before and and after the design was installed

A Year On

Gardens are dynamic living spaces that change and develop over time. Usually plants will be planted young and given the chance to mature in their new home, meaning that a new design will often reach its potential a few years after being built. Here is the Courtyard Garden a year after being planted, showing some very pleasing growth after being tended lovingly by a very happy client, who kindly sent in this pic.