Gardens - Small Gardens

Big ideas for a small courtyard garden

Michael K. Lascelle
Photography by
Janis Nicolay

This Vancouver courtyard garden emphasizes form over flowers

When Karin and Stan Smith first moved into their 75-year-old Point Grey home back in 2002, what they got was a house with character in need of renovation and a tired garden sloping from the sidewalk down to the front steps. Still, the Smiths were grateful to find any property in Vancouver's fashionable Westside—even with Karin's connections as a realtor—and once the home renovations had been completed, they focused their attention on creating a front garden to complement their revitalized residence.

Karin knew from the outset what she wanted, as she herself wished "more homeowners would forget the front lawn and do something far more architecturally interesting with their gardens." Taking her own advice, she planned for an intimate courtyard, year-round interest and, above all, a selection of plants emphasizing architectural form over flowers. However, one of the first challenges she faced was dealing with the extreme slope and resulting below-grade bleak view of the tires of passing vehicles and the legs of passersby. As well, sunlight is filtered through the dense canopy of the mature elms that line the street, creating various degrees of shade.

Acting as her own general contractor, Karin first hired local landscape architect Donna Chomichuk—herself an avid gardener—to provide the structure and technical expertise necessary to deal with the hardscaping and grade changes.

Donna's initial design proposal addressed the issue of the slope while being mindful of Karin's budget. It featured a central concrete wall faced in basalt stone, with the balance of the structure composed of less expensive concrete block, which would eventually be covered in plants. After some fine tuning, Karin brought in the subcontractors to begin building her garden.

The hardscaping proper comprises a garden wall, a pathway of tumbled Roman pavers, a gravel courtyard, and various architectural pieces, including a sundial and the plinth that supports it.

Once the bones of the garden were in place, Karin selected plants to complement the hardscaping in consultation with Donna and Kirstin Orr of Artemisia Garden Design. The resulting garden, although small, is incredibly diverse, mostly attributable to Karin's exposure to European gardens; she noticed that "with smaller homes and lots, people make the most of what they have."

Image: This sundial and the plinth it sits on are just two of several architectural pieces in the garden.

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