Courtyards and Garden Design

The quintessential mission style courtyard was first introduced to California by the Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan order in 1769. California, like the Andulusia region of Spain, has a climate suitable for indoor/outdoor courtyard living. These early courtyards traditionally were walled gardens with a central fountain.

The courtyards served as work places for making bricks, tanning hides and keeping livestock.
The early California Mission architecture was the template for many of California’s civic buildings and residential houses in the 1920’s. The courtyard was part of this traditional architecture and served as the link connecting the home to the garden.

The important physical elements of garden design in a residential courtyard have always been water, walls and sky. Equally important in the garden design are the qualities of intimacy, security and quiet the space provides.

I recently have had the opportunity to restore a neglected courtyard for a 1929 Mission style home in Oakland. The house has the traditional Mission design elements – arches, stucco walls, barrel tile roof and wrought iron gates. Unfortunately, the courtyard’s garden design had none of the fine details that read “Mission courtyard”.

The existing courtyard was filled with struggling plants, uneven sod-lawn, poorly placed flagstone stepping stones and uninviting entry steps. Creating a new garden design for the courtyard required demolishing the existing hardscape and plants.

The Courtyard Before

The Courtyard After

The “make over” of the new but traditional courtyard garden design now incorporates curved vanilla limestone entry steps, vanilla limestone flagstone patio, drystack retaining walls and a traditional fountain.

The new garden designs plant material includes Mediterranean style plants such as Choisya, New Zealand Flax, Kangaroo Paws, Agonis, Agapanthus, Sea Lavender, Carex, Blue Oat Grass and ‘Hidcote’ Lavender. In between the flagstone you will find Blue Star Creeper, Campanula, Sea Thrift, Ground Morning Glory and several varieties of Thyme. To complete the look the large pots have been filled with ‘San Diego Red’ Bougainvillea and white Sweet Alyssum.

Another Before shot of the Courtyard

Another After Shot of the Courtyard

Low voltage lighting enhances the nighttime courtyard experience. Path lights allow you to safely navigate the steps. Up-lights, placed between plants and wall, accent the stucco walls. Down-lights, attached to the eaves, softly illuminate the curved entry steps. Underwater lights, in the fountain, highlight the rustic centerpiece of the garden.

Before shot of the courtyard

After shot of the Courtyard

All of the elements in the remodeled courtyard enhance and support the architecture of the home and the needs of the clients. The courtyard is filled with color, fragrance and the pleasant sound of trickling water. The homeowner enjoys all of these elements both day and night.

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