Budget Garden Inspiration: 5 Modest and Lovely Courtyards

updated Jul 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I’ll admit, when I think of courtyard gardens, I naturally think of sprawling estates with hidden outdoor rooms, bordered by perfectly manicured boxwood hedges boasting a grand urn water fountain. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much Downton Abbey, but courtyards aren’t just unattainable outdoor spaces limited to the wealthy. Often modest in size, they become even more relevant in tight city properties where privacy, shelter, and intimacy are necessary to create a sanctuary from urban stress. These five courtyards are a few examples of modest private respites for the simple home:

1. This secret modern courtyard garden in Chicago implemented a five-year planning strategy to transform their bare and boring courtyard shell. When you are low on cash, planning in phases is a well-founded idea. By establishing a lasting foundation first, they were then able to gradually phase in new ideas over the years to see how they would evolve. The central component of the courtyard is the bamboo grove that was planted in the first year of the garden to provide a quick, lush privacy screen. Bamboo is a quite invasive species and can often be removed for free if you are willing to do the arduous task of digging it up.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

2. This 20 square meter concrete courtyard in Germany is mainly used as a kid’s play space and vegetable garden, but also shows you that by using what you have, you can create a little tranquility in a concrete jungle. The vines trailing up the walls and hanging plants help give life to the bland backdrop. If your space is similar, why not consider adding a mural to the wall or stencil, paint or stain to the floor? A sail shade is an inexpensive way to provide protection from the sun and simply stacking bricks creates a low bed border (bricks are easy to find for free!).

(Image credit: Lenkin Design via Apartment Therapy)

3. This year-round courtyard in California was designed to have a Parisian feel through the use of stone pavers, wrought iron and a fountain. While these elements aren’t necessarily inexpensive, they can often be sourced secondhand for big savings, if you’re patient. The faux finish painting technique is labor-intensive but an inexpensive way to create an aging effect on inexpensive materials like concrete. Potted boxwoods, hydrangeas, and a topiary round-off the theme.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

4. This courtyard garden in Brooklyn is quite expansive for New York. Pea gravel and concrete pavers provide an economical base for a space this large where material costs can add up. If you’re unhappy with your fence, bamboo, willow or reed fencing comes in rolls and is a super quick remedy to disguise it. Stacked cinder blocks break up the willow backdrop and become a vertical planter for herbs. If you are dying for an unusual element like the fireplace mantel, they too can be easily sourced at secondhand stores. A lesson to take away from this detailed oriented outdoor room is it uses many indoor pieces to achieve it’s look. Do you have a table, chairs, or mirror that has no place in your home anymore? If it doesn’t have sentimental or monetary value, consider placing it in your outdoor space.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

5. This Minneapolis townhome’s 12 x 16 courtyard shows how to transform a space surrounded by a boring wood security fence. By painting it grey, the grey pebble and Mexican blue stone base blend harmoniously together and allow the green potted plants and modern yellow outdoor accents to pop. The dining space implements inexpensive standard cement pavers for its base, easy to acquire at any big home improvement store. If you have more time than money, you could go one step further by stenciling a pattern onto the pavers. This would be a unique way to customize them and have them resemble tile more than concrete.

Does your place have a courtyard?