Courtyard landscape design helps establish a relationship with Nature and human architecture. Courtyards are built as important elements in both residential and commercial landscapes. Restaurants use them for special outdoor seating areas to attract larger crowds. Office parks use them for outdoor break areas and green space to lend a more environmentally-friendly image to business. Residential homeowners view courtyards as special areas set apart for meaningful conversation. While every courtyard is different in terms of its size and the materials used to construct it, most courtyards share certain common elements that contribute to the sense of being in what amounts to an outdoor room constructed with what amounts to a sense of uniqueness, special experience, and insulation from the outside world.
Scale is the most important consideration in courtyard design. We want the scale of the courtyard design to be proportional to surrounding trees. If the horizontal and vertical dimensions are correctly calculated, almost any style or materials used to build the structure will appear to harmoniously flow from the landscape back toward adjoining buildings. A courtyard may be constructed with three or even four brick walls; each nestled under the branches of an overhanging tree. A patio area can also be built that is surrounded by two or three arbors made of trellises. Here, vines can be planted that will intermingle with the iron work and blend into the overhanging branches of trees. In many cases, we will add a custom fountain that acts as a focal point of patio landscaping. The intent in all of these many possible options is to create a feeling of warmth and invitation that draws people to the courtyard at all times day or night.
In both residential and commercial environments, planters are often used to line the perimeters of a courtyard. The materials we use to build these planters, and the areas in which we position them, is determined by the nature of the structure itself. If it is an open-air structure constructed out of trellises or a grouping of arbors, then sufficient light will penetrate to the ground and allow us to build the planters are frames around the patio and fountain. This is also true if the courtyard has standing walls but is open on the top to allow sufficient sunlight to reach interior plantings. However, we may choose to use planters as exterior elements around smaller structures and garden patios. Particularly in restaurant design, a courtyard surrounding by lush vegetation appears lively and inviting to guests who have recently arrived.
One very popular form of courtyard landscape design involves building a patio surrounded by hedges that act as walls. Such hedges are normally planted to create an organic perimeter around an outdoor courtyard area within a garden or a private entrance to the home. This works especially well in private, exclusive neighborhoods such as River Oaks, Rice Village, and Tanglewood. In these parts of Houston, this form provides one of the most effective compliments to the Old World aspects of the multi-story homes and magnificent trees that characterize these areas. Hedges can be made from Japanese yew, any number of larger boxwood species, or even smaller poplar trees.
In all of our courtyard designs, we take great are to ensure that people can enjoy these unique outdoor areas any time during the day or night. Lighting is a consideration of major importance, second only to scale when it comes to the impact it has on the final appearance of the structure. The reason for this is rooted in the simple laws of Nature. No matter how large or open a courtyard is, it will only receive so much natural light on any given day. The remainder of the time, even the largest and most open of structures will be shrouded in shadows without professionally installed outdoor lighting fixtures. These specialty fixtures can range from concealed overhead tree lights to wall-mounted feature lights that highlight outdoor furniture, patio stonework, and plants. Another highly favored form of lighting is underwater fountain lighting, which causes illumination to disperse through water droplets with a prism-like effect.
We can see, then, how courtyard landscape design can play a very pivotal role in establishing outdoor things and defining the shape of the entire landscape itself through the construction of a truly unique outdoor structure whose utility is equivalent to its aesthetic. For businesses and homeowners’ intent on establishing a strong, tangible link between the comforts of indoor living and the expansive sense of freedom that Nature brings us, a professionally planned and carefully constructed courtyard can become the epitome of the multi-dimensional living experience in both public and private spheres.