How to style small spaces: courtyard gardens

Laura Fantacci’s London courtyard – forever my inspiration

We’re at a bit of a standstill in terms of big renovations, so we’re looking to sort a few areas of the house that can be spruced up (relatively) cheap. We have started to clear out the back bedroom as it has been housing a lot of crap we can’t move into other rooms currently, and we’re hoping to temporarily paint it and put the bed together for guests.

And now we’ve decided it would be REALLY lovely if we can sort a bit of the garden, too, because I’m not the kind of person who can just relax and enjoy where we’ve got to with the renovations, I’m a ‘what next’ type of person and I’ve accepted that. The heatwave almost killed us knowing we had outside space not being used! We’ve never had a garden in London, or in fact any outside space, and it was one of the sticking points for us when we moved. Our garden isn’t huge but it’s perfect for what we need (and can achieve with our distinct lack of green fingers) and I gave up the idea of having a large garden in London long ago – to have anything is a huge bonus! When we knocked down the old downstairs lean-to bathroom, we gained a bit of side access as a lovely little extra outside space which isn’t overlooked and I would love to turn into a little dreamy courtyard.

It’s not quite a walled garden (more concrete jungle) but it has a lot of potential.

So of course I bought an outside sofa and some ceramics to go in it before I’ve actually painted or prepped anything.

Sarah Clark’s courtyard garden, from Little Spree

I think the real skill here is not worrying about making the space look ‘bigger’, but ‘homely’ instead. Embrace the small space, bring in foliage and plants and hidden mirrors which will, in turn, open up the area and let even more light in. Another trick is to keep the furniture light, too, rather than too cumbersome. Cox & Cox are always great for outdoor furniture, as is Ikea.

We are going to paint the floor and rendered walls a light grey to keep the space looking fresh and airy (and perhaps one day, tile it but for now, paint will do!) and add some ceramic pots and hopefully a bench to sit and read – whether this will work and I will get any reading actually done is a different story but, for now, I can dream.

Laura Fantacci’s fences are painted in Farrow & Ball ‘Ammonite’.

Oh and fairy lights, outdoor cafe lights in particular, are a must for me.

Image via Style Me Pretty

We’ll be concentrating on painting for now and making it a usable space and hopefully we can work on foliage over time, as we learn more! Wisteria would be the ultimate wish but I think that takes around 10 years to flourish….

So hopefully we will have a space worthy of sitting in, at least, before the summer’s out. Watch this space (literally – over on IG stories!).


  1. Hi Alex
    I’d definitely concentrate on planting (once you’ve painted), as plants take time to grow.
    Some great plant suggestions here. Another climber to consider is hydrangea petiolaris. It self clings to walls and has pretty white flowers .
    Elaine X

  2. Trachelospernum jasminoides good plant to grow in a big deep tub. Evergreen, scented white flowers, trim it once a year and hard to kill. Far better than Wisteria which isn’t good in a pot. It doesn’t flower for long, needs lots of attention and the leaves fall every where in the autumn which have to be cleared up.

    Buy the biggest pots that you can afford and I’d also say glazed pots. Easier to manage than lots of small pots which take far more caring for. You haven’t got the spare time!

    Suggest you go to Gardenista site and put in Court Yard Gardens for masses of inspiration.

  3. Yes, recommending jasmine – even though I have no sense of smell 🙂 … I have a very small garden and am not a gardener, much more of an interiors person. But I get visual pleasure from the borrowed landscape of the outdoor space all year round – you don’t have to be out in it to get pleasure from it – which is one of the reasons why it’s good to go for evergreen, so that you aren’t looking at a bleak twiggy space in winter. Jasmine is evergreen and it flowers spectacularly. It doesn’t need mad amounts of care – just the level that makes you feel involved with it, in that good way that you feel involved with how your interiors look. You’ll find over time that you develop the same relationship with your outside space as with the inside, in the way that it rewards you, and you even begin to feel like a gardener, in a small way 🙂 … An essential for me is having the indoor space relate to the outdoor (it doesn’t matter how small that actual space is), and if you have glimpses of the exterior space which are gorgeous, it enhances the interior too x

  4. Thanks for sharing your project – looks absolutely great and has definitely inspired me! It’s so funny how often our outdoor spaces get neglected but can actually be some of the most fun ones and best appreciated to re-do.

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