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

Given the Smiths' demanding work schedules (Stan is a business consultant in the travel and leisure industry), it's no coincidence that their garden was designed for low maintenance. Karin occasionally finds the time to rearrange plantings or do some light pruning—including cutting back the roses and hydrangeas in spring—while Stan, who is happy to help out when asked, really prefers to just sit back and enjoy the view. A twice-yearly major cleanup is done with the assistance of hired help, which is more than sufficient, says Karin, despite the opinions of many novice gardeners who have the misconception that "gardens with many plants are very time-consuming."

But that doesn't mean their landscape remains unchanged. Says Karin: "Living in Vancouver is a constant inspiration." And judging by the frequent glances of neighbours and passersby, it appears the Smiths' intricate courtyard provides some inspiration of its own.

Garden facts

Size: 14 x 19 m (front garden)
Orientation: south
Conditions: dappled to full shade
Growing season: year-round
Garden focus: structured hardscaping, white blooms, architectural plant forms
Zone 8

While the garden wall is Karin's favourite garden feature for its seasonal beauty ("I love to look out at it from the house. In winter, I can see the stone and inserts from my old planter, and in summer, it's a mass of clematis"), it also accomplishes three purposes: it accommodates a major grade change, provides some degree of privacy and creates an inner courtyard. Running approximately two-thirds of the property's width, the central portion is built slightly higher and is ornately faced with basalt stone and shards from a broken decorative pot.

The wall is adorned with a number of vines, including the spring-blooming white-flowered chocolate vine and Himalayan clematis, complemented by a pair of Japanese hydrangea vines (Schizophragma hydrangeoides) on the east side.

Edged in pavers, the inner courtyard area is inset with large pieces of bluestone slate; the remaining surface is filled with "root beer" pebble.

Strategically placed specimen trees include the 'Koto-no-ito' Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Koto-no-ito', shown left, among white Siberian irises), an 'Eddie's White Wonder' dogwood just inside the garden wall, a Japanese stewartia on the eastern flank and three fragrant snowbells that anchor the west side of the courtyard. A selection of yews—upright ('Hicksii' and 'Hillii') and spreading ('Repandens')—are used to screen portions of the garden or provide an evergreen backdrop, as do several broadleaf evergreen shrubs, including 'Lolita' Portuguese laurel and waxleaf privet (Ligustrum japonicum 'Texanum').

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