Need help designing Courtyard

NovieAugust 11, 2014

Can I please get some help designing the landscape for the courtyard (about 420 Sq Ft) on our new home. The house has yet to be built and we can't really decide if we want to build a 4 ft wall or plant shrubs/flower beds as fence to save cost, etc... Putting up the stone wall would cost $12,000 so we are trying to avoid doing that if we can help it.

In the courtyard, we want some kind of water feature and a couple trees/shrubs and a small round table that will seat 4... Should we do concrete, pavers, grass??? Any tips is greatly appreciated.

This post was edited by Novie on Mon, Aug 11, 14 at 11:13

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yardvaark

Explain the basics. This is the front of house? It would be a shot in the dark to develop a courtyard scheme with no idea at all of what the architecture looks like. Where is the elevation drawing? The materials used are a factor of what appeals to you and what you can afford, which people here cannot know. I'm sure anyone helping you design would hope you use the best material that fits in your budget. In general, using plants in lieu of stone for a wall will require more space. It looks pretty tight to accommodate a table, seating and a water feature ... though not impossible. It would be good if you could expand the space a little. I would definitely advise against pinching the wall opening as tightly as shown in the drawing. It should invite one to continue to the building entrance, not make them question if they are allowed to enter, or if it is the proper place. We shouldn't be thinking of forcing people to walk in single file. Side-by-side would be better.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 10:31AM
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lazy_gardens

What direction will it face?
Where in Texas will it be built?
Is this the main entry?
What is outside the proposed "wall"?

If you plan to use it for dining, some sort of pavers or gravel would be better than grass.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 10:36AM
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Novie

I am in Houston, TX. Attached here are some more pictures for clarity. The house will be stone and stucco. Your help is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

This post was edited by Novie on Tue, Aug 12, 14 at 11:44

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 11:37AM
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Novie

Pict

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 11:38AM
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Novie

pict

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 11:39AM
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Novie

I am thinking about doing the driveway like this

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 11:41AM
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lazy_gardens

I would bring the "courtyard" feeling way out, almost all the way to the driveway (red lines) so the visitor transitions to "welcome" as soon as possible.

Make a casual paved entrance (brown stuff), widening as you approach the house so the paved area ends up wide enough at the house that you can have your small table (black splotch) to one side.

Use whatever grows in Houston that can make a short, dense evergreen hedge that doesn't take a lot of maintenance. To fill in while the evergreens are young, use annuals. Something that is naturally low and mounded - a casual hedge - along the red lines. If you want privacy while sitting out there, plant a couple of taller things between the sitting area and the street, but don't have a wall-o-green hiding the front door.

A "hedge" of things like hollyhocks and daylilies and other perennials might work - make it tall in the middle and lower inside and outside.

Add a few small trees (the green splotches) or larger shrubs for view control and prettiness.

Remember to look OUT the windows at the area and make it as attractive looking out of the house as it is looking from the street.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 2:28PM
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Novie

Wow, that is really nice. I like it very much. A big thanks to you. This is awesome.

This post was edited by Novie on Tue, Aug 12, 14 at 16:35

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 4:33PM
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lazy_gardens

Novie -
You are welcome.

Most novices tend to landscape real close to the house. It's timidness, and it turns into a sea of grass with a house plopped on it and a mini-skirt of bushes.

For best effect, start as close to where people enter the property as you can, and lead them towards the door with an obvious path that gets more interesting as they go along. Turning the corner of your garage should reveal the door ... a big TAH-DAH with it framed by the landscaping and the path widening out into the courtyard and dining area.

Pick a few easy-care, hardy plant materials - whatever grows well in your area with minimal water - and use it in quantity.

Use similar colors and materials in the path as you have in the facade, and with a formal, blocky facade, use squared blocky shapes in the path and the patio.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 9:18PM
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Novie

lazygardens,

I am going to use the plants from this link here: http://texassuperstar.com/plants/index.html

Where would be a good spot for me to incorporate a small water fountain. Thanks.

This post was edited by Novie on Tue, Aug 12, 14 at 21:43

    Bookmark   August 12, 2014 at 9:42PM
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yardvaark

I would consider enlarging the courtyard space a little -- enough so that the required elements fit comfortably and that a small bump-out of the courtyard itself adds 3-dimensionality to the facade. Again, I believe the opening to the courtyard should be widened to at least the width of the stoop opening. Otherwise, it will appear pinched and restrictive. (It hearkens to the recent thread titled something like "I Hate These Columns" ... where a gateway opening to the front door was pinched tight by a couple of stone piers.) You might consider enclosing the courtyard with a wall/fence combo (whereas the "fence" is atop the wall and between stone piers) such that there is a degree of privacy, but not complete screening. Criminals seek out easier targets and giving them an awesome place to hide is extending an invitation you could possibly regret. With the limited space, it seems that there are not too many options for where paving, table and a water feature could go. (I show the water feature in the landscape bed directly "north" (up) of the table. But it could go just as easily directly "west" (left) in the landscape bed over there. Something quiet would be a better choice than something with noise and splashing.)

For small trees in the courtyard, I'd limit them to plants that only grow to 12' ht. (What can make a small tree like that in your area?) After I drew the sketch, female weeping yaupon holly came to mind for the small trees flanking the corners at the front of the house. The other plants would be whatever works to do those size forms.

(Drawing revised.)

This post was edited by Yardvaark on Tue, Aug 19, 14 at 23:39

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 8:59AM
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Novie

The last couple pictures sure clear things up a bit and that sure look nice. I especially like the way you made the top courtyard wall (missing corner or curve, I really dont know how to describe that) as it make the entrance has the feeling of "welcome, please come in". Once again, thank you so very much for your suggestion.
Respectfully,
Novie

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 2:58PM
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violetwest

in thinking about placing a wall v. plantings and how to divide this space, think about the impact of the environment around it and other factors to help you decide.

--Do you need protection from winds, and if so, which direction are the prevailing winds coming from?

--Which direction is the sun coming from and do you need protection from the sun and glare.

--What will be your view from inside the house? From a table sitting in the courtyard?

--Do you want to define the "ceiling" either with plants, an arbor, etc.

--Is this courtyard intended for privacy or security? To make a statement? To express yourself?

Since I'm also planning and thinking about walls v. planting, in response to my environment, I just thought I'd give you more things to think about (evil grin).

For myself, such a courtyard would be a treasure. I'd add shade, a water feature, some furniture and art that expressed my personality and extended welcome, and lush plantings to make it into a mini-oasis. I have always wanted a tropical oasis entry!

Sadly, I have a 5 x 5 portico instead of an courtyard. So be happy with your courtyard and make it special. Don't cheap out on it now; I think you'd regret it later.

This post was edited by Violet.West on Wed, Aug 13, 14 at 20:02

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 8:01PM
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lazy_gardens

OH wow ... what Yardvaark did!!!! Awesome.

The "Texas Superstars" are short on the "old standards" and native plants - they are promoting what they grow, which might not be best for your situation.

Take your time with this part. DO NOT SHOP YET!

Check with your water department about "xeriscape plant lists" and look at the Texas Native Plant Society page. Go to the Botanic gardens if you have them, Take pictures of plants you like in older areas

Draw up lists of plants by their purpose ... view blocker, flowering low shrub ... don't lock yourself into a list, write up your NEEDS and find a plant to fill them.

Draw lots of plans and move plants around on paper

    Bookmark   August 13, 2014 at 8:18PM
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seydoux

I spent 20 years in Houston. What they say about the texas superstars is very important. Not all plants grow well there, and there are several types of soil. What part of Houston are you located in?
If you are in the city limits, the cost of water will be astronomical. Houston is harder to grow plants in than Austin because of the humidity in the summer which causes all sorts of diseases.Also get trees in ASAP not just the patio but your electric bill will thank you. Although I love the idea of the table area, the reality for us in Houston was that the exterior landscape was much more important as a view from the interior.
As usual yarvaarks' plans are fantastic. I agree larger not smaller. also forget things like hollyhocks, I know someone will tell you they can grow them, but I never could.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 10:04AM
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Novie

Using Yardvaark's idea, I am planning to put a water fountain on the side. How do you think we should do landscaping outside the courtyard area in the front.

This post was edited by Novie on Tue, Aug 19, 14 at 14:12

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 2:04PM
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yardvaark

Of course, you'll do as you please. But some of what you're proposing is a serious downgrade from what I suggested. Depending on what the water feature is, there's a good chance that the guest near the fountain will walk away from the table with a wet behind. Even the smallest fountain can splash to quite a distance. You should be selecting a water feature based entirely on the space available, not on a preconceived vision that doesn't fit. Then, the bed lines ... the wavy lines will look contrived ... and "dated" as soon as the "shine" wears off. Also, I don't think it makes sense to have one planter in a planting bed and the other planter with unusable paved space behind it. The set-up seems like it doesn't quite fit. But probably the largest offense will be that the gateway has narrowed too much. You should study the recent thread, something like: "I hate these columns." It can't be more than one page back.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 6:47PM
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Novie

Yardvaak,

Thank you for your insight and I am glad you caught my mistake before I proceed with my proposal. I will have my courtyard done your way. For clarification, do i simply plant two small trees (only grow to 12ft tall - one on each side) without any flower beds surround them? Do I do pavers or flower beds inside the three lines (I marked them 1, 2, 3) that you draw?

How do I make the entry wall portion with the shape as you described (cut off 45 degree angle at the top- do you have a sample image in real life so i can show to the builder. Thanks

This post was edited by Novie on Tue, Aug 19, 14 at 23:44

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 7:57PM
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yardvaark

"For clarification, do i simply plant two small trees (only grow to 12ft tall - one on each side) without any flower beds surround them?" I revised the drawing with some color in order to explain it better. (Scroll up to see.) The patio area is tan. All space that is not the patio is landscape planting space. There happen to be trees in two of the beds. These would be surrounded with lower height plants ... whatever the designer decides. You would make a 12' tree out of what is usually called a "shrub." You may need to consult with someone knowledgeable about plants in your area in order to find out what would make a suitable tree of that height. If the shrub naturally grew taller than that you would need to trim it in order to maintain the size. (I didn't see any lines that you marked 1,2 & 3, so not sure what you're talking about with that.)

"How do I make the entry wall portion with the shape as you described...?" I'm merely giving you an idea that is in need of refinement. The corner could be cut off at a 45* angle ... it could be a quarter circle notch ... it could be a square notch as if the wall stepped down to a lower level. It could be incorporated with a pier-like structure at each side of the gateway. There is an array of possibilities that the designer would pick through to come up with what he thought was best for the situation and to meet your approval. You could design it yourself (if you are up to the task) or you would hire someone to do it. Whoever designs it would make all the detail decisions about it.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 11:36PM
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Novie

It is much more clear now. I can't thank you enough Yardvaark. Will present this along with your advises to the landscaper/builder for them to do. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 11:52PM
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Novie

before I give this to the the builder, i need your final approval :>)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 10:51PM
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yardvaark

If you mean me, I could not give approval for the drawing. If the builder built exactly what you've shown, you would not be happy with the end result. As one example, look at the left edge of the patio. The curved edge of the paving meets the wall in an awkward way. The "S" curve is far superior. If the builder is going to be the designer and work out all the details, you might see what he proposes, based on your basic suggestions.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 11:53PM
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Novie

Back to the drawing board. The builder simply just tell the landscaper to do what i want done. These landscapers are not quite the same as designer hence I seeking help here.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 11:14PM
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yardvaark

Design is thinking of every detail that must occur in the construction process and then accurately communicating it in written form (drawing, notes, specifications) so that the project is built as envisioned. If you're going to take on the role of the designer, you must do these things sufficiently to get the job done. If you draw a walkway, it stands a good chance of being built as shown, so the drawing must reflect what is desired. Be honest with yourself about your ability to do the work. If you can't produce accurate drawings, consider hiring a local designer.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2014 at 4:43AM
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emmarene

What do you mean back to the drawing board? You were given a very good design that you seemed to like. Everyone else thought it was perfect.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 3:34PM
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Novie

I thought Yardvaark said "If you mean me, I could not give approval for the drawing. If the builder built exactly what you've shown, you would not be happy with the end result." and I really value his opinion.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 8:25PM
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yardvaark

The drawing I gave you was a concept where the general scheme was workable within the parameters you provided. Then you reworked it and twisted quite a few things rather far out of shape (Wed, Aug 20, 14 at 22:51). I think Emmarene was wondering, as was I, why you (or whoever would do it for you) didn't just take the layout I gave you and perfect it into a working drawing, making any well thought out changes if you thought they were necessary. But you can't change it into a crude and rough (I'm being kind actually) drawing and expect it to well received. It would be in your own self-interest to find a local landscape designer who could produce a drawing for you.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 12:27AM
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Novie

I get it now. So I can just give the builder this image and let them deal with it (or design so it can come out right.) That sure make things much easier and less stressful on my part. Thanks.

This post was edited by Novie on Tue, Aug 26, 14 at 22:31

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 10:27PM
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yardvaark

You are free to use it as the general idea. Someone must work out exact dimensions, materials, patterns, plants ... what the water feature looks like and where it goes, etc.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2014 at 12:24AM
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Novie

We are finally done with the design/plan for our home/courtyard. Just want to post a follow up to show what it would look like. A big Thank you to Yardvaark and several others here whom helped.

Now I just need suggestion for planting trees on the front yard. The HOA required 3 oak trees, we can plant pretty much whatever shrubs, small plants of our choice. Your input is greatly appreciated.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2015 at 1:53PM
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Novie

Elevation

    Bookmark   January 14, 2015 at 1:55PM
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emmarene

I like the wall. When does it begin?

    Bookmark   January 18, 2015 at 8:10AM
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yardvaark

I would keep the 3 oaks arrangement simple and use them as street trees in a line. Just off the shoulder of the ditch into the front yard would let them ultimately frame front views of the house.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2015 at 4:01PM
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Novie

Something like this? I like trees and may add a few small crape myrtles as well.

They would probably start around this time next month - the nice wall design is from Yardvaark :)

This post was edited by Novie on Mon, Jan 19, 15 at 13:41

    Bookmark   January 19, 2015 at 1:35PM
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yardvaark

I would use the oaks as street trees, keeping them in a line along the street and farther from the house. Nearer the house you could use flowering trees or some with special character attributes. I think you're creating a problem by having the walk be so close to the garage. The resulting bed is going to be pinched in that area. IMO it would be better if it's layout were simplified and of greater width at the approach to the courtyard (rather than flaring right at the end.)

    Bookmark   January 20, 2015 at 8:59AM
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Novie

Your layout sure looks great, I will have it done as such. Once again, you came to the rescue. As always, I appreciate your help much Yardvaark. Thank you

    Bookmark   January 20, 2015 at 2:57PM
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yardvaark

No prob. Y

    Bookmark   January 22, 2015 at 3:44AM
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