Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden

Inspiring Garden Design: 11 Tips for Creating a Courtyard

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One of the pleasures of traveling for lecture appearances is visiting old and new friends…and their gardens. As I headed to New Orleans last fall, I had one image in mind to seek out–courtyard gardens, which are synonymous with this magical town.  I’m sure you will find this example (in uptown New Orleans, across from Audubon Park) as memorable and inviting as I did. Indeed, any visitor will depart with the same  feeling that owner Ruthie Frierson loves so much about her own garden — that it imparts a sense of serenity.

There are many ideas and insights throughout this property. To me, the most instructive, in Ruthie’s own words, is that “the bricked courtyard serves as an artistic limb to unify the guest house and main house to the garden itself.” While this garden has evolved and changed over its forty-six years, reflecting the owners’ needs and desires, the first order of garden business still applies — start with a plan.

1. Create the structure and bones…walls of layered plant materials and brick and iron work create a totally private garden that completely frames the property.


2. Use bricks to raise each bed; filled with layers of plant material they will contribute a depth and structure to the overall picture.



3. Consider adding a “garden room” to the facade of the house that provides easy access directly into the courtyard.


4. Make year round fragrance and color a staple of your master plan — sweet olives, fragrant white jasmine on columns and arches on the main house and guest house, hedges of ‘Snow on the Mountain’ camellia sasanqua; ligustrum and bulbs , annuals and perennials insure that this will be a garden you will long enjoy.


5. Plan for various seating options to provide different views of the gardens (while a limbed-up Japanese maple adds marvelous seasonal color in the fall).


6. Introduce water into the garden; the sound and tranquility it imparts will soon become one of your favorite features. New Orleans designer René Fransen created the Palladian fountain for this courtyard, adding a pair of formally shaped ligustrum trees to frame the courtyard and provide a white flowered canopy when in bloom.


7. Bring home ideas from your travels…trellises and columns of flowering plants were inspired by English and French gardens.


8. Create reasons to stop and reflect as you walk from one garden area to another.  On a path to the back courtyard, a vine repeats the curve of a planted wall fountain with maidenhair fern trailing out.


9. Add a bit of whimsy or nostalgia…Ruthie’s tiny, hidden away garden — complete with another fountain and four season’s sculptures — are a nod to The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, “an all-time favorite.”


10. Go Bold! In this little jewel of a garden, four Ligularia gigantica make a statement at each corner of the pond…


11. Don’t overlook the design asset of limbed-up trees in a small area. Here, the aged bare-trunked ‘Snow on the Mountain’ camellia sasanquas shade the bricked courtyard area.


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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

15 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: 11 Tips for Creating a Courtyard

  1. LOVELY………I just posted on instagram my backyard……….with the GRAND PIGGY!I have the WATER FEATURE!
    STATUES and URNS……………need some BRICK WORK!
    I am ANTIQUEGODDESS over yonder on IG………….take a peek, any ideas welcome!
    I hope the snow is melting and BULBS are PEEKING through……………

  2. As always your article is a keeper.
    Basics covered then expanded with your experience.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Edward T. King

  3. Ruthie’s courtyard is enchanting. One of the most appealing aspects of New Orleans living is the indoor outdoor connection. All great suggestions – now I just need the courtyard!

  4. I love the plant boxes and planters, especially the large boxes outside of the garden room windows. Where can I find something like that? I’m looking for window boxes and planters

    1. Mine were custom made to scale with our house, but Restoration Hardware has similar Versailles planters and also Frontgate and/or Grandin Road (I believe).

  5. hello – can you provide me with the color of the home, trim and shutters.
    Thank you. they are gorgeous

    1. Oh Ann, that post was 4 years ago and I’m afraid I don’t have (nor never did)have that information. Happy summer, B.

  6. Hello, I realize this is an old article, but was wondering if the brick was grouted in place? It doesn’t look like it was laid out with just sand. If so could you tell me what was used?
    Thank you!

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