Commonly described as intimate, intriguing and inviting, front courtyard gardens serve as a transition from the chaos of the streets and world to the serenity of your garden and home. In areas with warm climates, such as California or the Southwest, front courtyards are often used as outdoor living spaces, while in the colonial architecture seen in New Orleans and other areas of the South, formally landscaped entry courtyards are common. But no matter where you live, a well-designed courtyard can add to the curb appeal of your home.

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Enclosing a Courtyard

The most important characteristic of courtyard design is enclosure. A courtyard can be enclosed with walls, fencing or even plants. Depending on the level of privacy you desire, the walls of a courtyard can be tall or short, solid or transparent. Enclosing a courtyard on all four sides is not always a requirement - typically three sides will be sufficient for creating a sense of enclosure. In order to avoid a fortress-like appearance, many homeowners opt to use low walls or partially see-through fencing. This helps create a sense of intrigue and welcomes visitors, while still providing privacy for the courtyard.

A roof or patio cover can be added to a courtyard to further increase the sense of enclosure. However, this may make the garden space feel small and dark. One way to fix this problem is to have windows cut into the walls or fence. Consult a landscape designer to determine the best way to let the maximum amount of light into your courtyard.

Courtyard Water Features

A front courtyard would not be complete without a water feature. The sound of moving water will help to mask ambient noises such as traffic and neighbors. In a formal courtyard design a classically styled fountain can serve as a centerpiece, while in an informal courtyard a wall, or disappearing urn fountain will do the trick.

The size of a water feature should be proportionate to the size of the courtyard. For example, a large tiered fountain will visually overpower a small courtyard and produce too much noise for the space. A landscape designer or architect will be able to help you determine the proper scale for your courtyard water feature.

Adding Furniture, Plants & Lighting

The size of your courtyard will determine how you put the finishing touches on the space. A large courtyard may be able to accommodate an outdoor dining table and chairs and possibly even a fire feature. On-the-other-hand, a small courtyard can be easily overwhelmed with accessories. In this case, keep things simple - a basic bench and a few potted plants will work well.

Plants are the key to softening both the inside and outside of courtyard walls. Hedges and ornamental grasses can be grown along the walls, or a grouping of container gardens can be placed in a corner. Climbing plants are great because they will grow up and over the walls. If you live in a climate that allows, bougainvillea will add a nice pop of tropical color. The plants you choose can help establish a theme in your courtyard. For example, ferns and evergreens will create a Japanese vibe.

Finally, a courtyard needs lighting. First and foremost all pathways should be lit for safety. Then you can think about lighting your water feature to make it a nighttime focal point. And last but not least, you can add sparkling string lights or Moroccan inspired lanterns for ambiance.

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