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How to: lift your courtyard

Problem: a bleak inner city apartment courtyard needs a lift. 

Solution: a makeover! 


In just one weekend the Garden Clinic team transformed this chilly corner into a welcoming sanctuary, that is simple to pack up and move to a new location when necessary. 


Linda explains how it was done.


The 'after-shot'! Photo - Linda Ross


I wanted simple clear colours, a warm timber floor and a variety of green foliages to bring the cold void to life. Small spaces should be kept simple, stylish and not overcrowded. A water feature focuses the eye and its gentle sound disguises traffic and city noise.



You can make a dynamic backdrop to a courtyard by disguising its walls. I used a ply ‘false’ wall (7mm marine ply), painted with Bristol Paints ‘Celery’ to give the courtyard a neutral background and immediately lift the mood. On the feature wall we erected two wicker panels that offer visual interest and texture.



To warm up a cold tile floor a DIY floating deck (this one available from Freedom Furniture) is the easiest solution. This great timber decking system locks into place with plastic brackets and can be used over any level surface. It can be lifted, packed and moved to another area if you move house. It instantly changes the entire feel of the courtyard into a more liveable space.


Green Room - one colour, repeated on walls, pots and cushions ties the room together. I find the colour green soothes the soul and calms the psyche. Green is the colour of nature, symbolizing growth, harmony and freshness. Green has strong emotional links with shelter and healing. It is the most restful colour for the human eye. Photo - Linda Ross

Water feature

The slender water feature I chose, from a wide selection at Garden Life, in Sydney’s Surry Hills, is made from Hebel, carved with horizontal lines to catch the light as the water falls from the top into the reticulation trough. No maintenance is required. Water cools the courtyard, refreshes the air and adds movement and sparkle to the space.


Pots and planters

I chose lightweight fibreglass planters in a modern design, using different sizes, unified by colour and style. The pot shapes add a sculptural element and are terrific with bold or interestingly patterned leaves. Unlike most large pots these fibreglass pots are light and portable. To add some drama, I included a white porthole planter.


Echeveria in our porthole planter. Photo - Linda Ross



In a small courtyard keep the chairs low in height and simple in style. I added cushions to match the colour theme of the courtyard – green and chocolate brown.



Dramatic visual interest is created with foliage that lasts year–round rather than gorgeous, but ephemeral, flowers. Top of my list are bromeliads. These heroes of the plant world do well in shade, endure neglect, never need feeding and thrive on the air around them. Plant bromeliads directly into cheap pine bark, they don’t need planting soil, as bark drains better. The only maintenance required is to keep the central crown full of water. Add some seaweed solution to keep your bromeliad healthy. You will have a stylish plant that looks like a living piece of sculpture! A quick mist will keep their broad leaves shiny and glistening. If you wipe their foliage with a solution of milk and water you will keep the leaves free from dust.


Giant bromeliad. Photo - Linda Ross

Plant notes: our living scultpure

Hen and chicks

Echeveria ‘Black Prince’

Description: a colourful succulent with rosette-shaped foliage, black leaf with green centre. 

Size: 15cm x 5cm

Special comments: keep on the dry side. New plants are easily made by propagating leaves. Plant directly into succulent potting mix. Good for pots in full sun.


Vriesia hieroglyphica

Description: bromeliad with distinct purple and green striped leaves.

Size: 0.6m x 0.6m

Special comments: excellent for containers inside or out, prefers light conditions and no direct sun.


Vriesia. Photo - Linda Ross

Giant bromeliad

Alcantarea imperialis

Description: this long-lived container plant has broad, steel-grey leaves that make a dramatic focal point. It comes in red, blue, lime and green forms. 

Size: 1.3m – 2m

Special comments: the central well of this plant from the mountains of Brazil can contain up to 50 litres of water making a good habitat for frogs. Grows from full sun to part shade.

Bird’s nest fern

Asplenium nidus

Description: a broad-leaf fern with undulating leaf margin. They grow in a series of erect, spoonshaped, apple-coloured fronds that rise from a central rosette.

Size: 1m x 1m

Special comments: these ferns are naturally epiphytic, and in their rainforest homes, can be found growing high in the crooks of trees. Filtered light to light shade.


Birds' nest fern. Photo - Linda Ross 


Text: Linda Ross

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Author: Linda Ross