Our new house features light, light and more light which was a prerequisite for us to move just a few miles away. The prior owners (also architects) achieved this bright interior by designing the house in a “U” shape around an interior courtyard. Its helpful that the house gets unobstructed SW exposure and is on the water, a highly coveted position in this northern climate.
Five rooms in the house look out to the courtyard, with two opening up via French doors. It acts as a link between the “old” cottage wing (now completely remodeled) and the modern open floor plan of the newer wing that faces the water. Despite this, the courtyard was neglected or perhaps just unfinished. We knew it was important to make the space work as another room in the house not only as a focal point, but also to create better flow between the two wings.
Here’s what we started with:
run owen run
Reclaimed chunks of concrete formed a very tight patio space that stopped just at the edge of the patio doors, with a similar path out to the side garden. The planting was a bit wild, though there were nice selections such as Ribes sanguineum ‘Brocklebankii’ and an Acer palmatum dissectum, possibly ‘Crimson Queen’ – both getting too much sun in their current positions. A mature Clerodendrum trichotomum dating back to the original cottage garden was an essential cornerstone to build the new planting around.
Given that we had just bought a new house and waterfront property to boot, we needed to be budget minded in our choices so constructing the new patio space from stone was ruled out. We also wanted a permeable surface to avoid getting into drainage enhancements. We had some elevation discrepancies to deal with and were not wanting more wood to care for, so decking was also eliminated. 24″ prefab concrete architectural pavers were considered, however I was keen to reuse the existing concrete and wanted an organic & rustic feel for the space in step with the interior & rest of the garden which definitely has a casual beach cottage vibe. I also wanted a warmer tone than gray. The design solution was to use the largest concrete slabs (also the most difficult to remove) as edging and inlays in a crushed rock patio. The concrete slabs were also used as a stepping stone path leading out of the courtyard. The extra concrete was repurposed in another part of the garden. An earthy & warm colored gravel was selected for the floor to echo the Moabi interior wood and seagrass area rugs. We knew we wanted more patio space. With the elevation differences and Clerodendrum root system to work around, we ended up with a curved design.
First up, plants were cleared and reused in other areas. 90% of the plants were salvaged, most ending up along the fence opposite the courtyard. Next, the soil was amended. The design was spray painted on the ground and the slabs reorganized – weeds clinging to the slab edges carefully removed. Weedcloth was laid out and gravel backfilled. A few extra Nassella sat in as understudies for planning purposes. A rounded rock border provided a clean finish under the eaves where plants typically do not want to grow (too dry). The border also prevents backsplash from gutter overflow & the fascia dripline on our light colored siding. From my pottery collection, pots in a copper red glaze were grouped (with a few additions, of course) echoing the colors in the entryway that looks out to this space. Although we have sun just about everywhere in the garden, the Clerodendrum and structure cast shade in the new planting area (amplified by the fence screen, see below) so plants were selected accordingly with Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, Helleborus ‘Pink Frost’ and Dryopteris wallichiana in the shadier areas and Anemanthele lessoniana in the part sun positions. Though this grass does best in full sun, I wanted an evergreen grass that had soft movement. Anemanthele tolerates part shade though will green out without enough sun. A mixture of Elfin thyme (sunnier spots) and Corsican mint (shadier spots) nestle the stepping stones.
The next step was critical – completing the enclosure. We were stumped why this was not done during the original construction. Instead, deciduous plants provided screening, only to leave the space wide open in winter. We love our neighbors and their main living space does not face the courtyard, but we needed an emotional division. Galvanized siding had been used on the house & the interior, so this was an obvious choice for the fence screening panels. The metal panels were held slightly higher than the property line fence for more enclosure. Trimmed in cedar with a driftwood gray-brown stain, the fence echoes the aged color of shingles used on the upper portion of the the house. Adam took on the fence project and created a beautiful work of art that shines in simplicity and workmanship. Small details like countersunk exposed bolts and trim drop shadows add just the right amount of interest.
As a bonus, Adam also built a succulent planter using similar design details and the same stain to draw the driftwood color into the courtyard. The long trough planter sits under the eave and is bottomless – permeable cloth holds the soil in but allows water to drain quickly which the succulents need. With the protected enclosure, proximity to the house and southern exposure, the courtyard will be a place to experiment with non-hardy succulents such as Echeveria, Sedum, Dudleya & Aeonium. All will require protection during the coldest days, and I am already designing portable hoop houses for Adam to build out of PVC & Reemay for a quick drop on when we have a cold snap. We shall see…probably will just become “expensive annuals.” No worries, I have already been harvesting cuttings for interior arrangements and holiday gifts. Just love that chocolate colored Echeveria ‘Black Prince’ with its coral flowers.
The final detail – furnishings. Originally, I had envisioned a long, rectangular rustic teak dining table paired with metal chairs running down the center axis of the space. However, we decided that the space should be multipurpose and include some lounge chairs for lazy summer afternoon napping away from the neighborhood hubbub. To make this all work, we needed to go with a smaller round table. All weather wicker loungers in a driftwood color pull color not only from the fence trim & planter, but the sky blue Sunbrella cushions (“Spa”) echo glass tiles in the adjacent kitchen and the surrounding pots of succulents. A small spot was perfect for our pint sized BBQ, conveniently just steps from the kitchen. On the hottest days, the courtyard really bakes, so we experimented with a sun sail shade this year to help cool the house, though a cantilevered umbrella probably would provide the best flexibility. The Clerodendrum needs a haircut in the below pictures, but I couldn’t bear to do it until after the bloom. I do prefer it with its skirts lifted a bit, makes the space feel larger.
Best of all is the new view from my office.
A before & after recap: