A problem courtyard gets a stylish and fragrant garden plan

Greening the walls and adding a soft screen of slender trees will transform a nondescript corner into a delightful paved courtyard

A problem courtyard gets a stylish and fragrant garden plan

Dear Carol,

We have a problem area which we are keen to see turned into a stylish courtyard. The site faces east and only receives the morning sun. The soil quality is reasonable but will require additional nutrients (the house was tenanted for 15 years – the last eight by non-gardeners). We thought of having a perfumed garden area, and we like hydrangeas and star jasmine as well as the sound of trickling water.

As you can see from the attached photos, we require some privacy by the low fence, but would like to keep the garden bed as you approach from the street side (seen on the right in the photograph). We’re not worried about keeping the grass – paving and gravel are fine.

We look forward to seeing what you can come up with for us.

Joan and Jim Gooch, Tauranga


The problem

Suggested planting plan 

On screen
Disguise unattractive fence and provide privacy from neighbours with a row of screen trees with a narrow, vertical form.

Down low
Plant flowering shrubs at base of screen trees and along the opposite wall and keep trimmed to 1m in height.

Water world 
Positioning a ‘bubbling urn’ fountain by the steps will create a delightful focal point and add the sound of gently trickling water to the courtyard.


Green walls
Grow climbers on wires along the lower walls of courtyard, including behind the water feature, to soften hard surfaces.

In between
Replace grass with light-coloured pavers and plant groundcover in between the slabs to further break up the hard surfaces and create interest at ground level.

Planting options

Upright trees for screening
Fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior), Cupressus sempervirens ‘Totem’, blue totara (Podocarpus totara ‘Matapouri Blue’), Thuja ‘Pyramidalis’, dwarf umbrella tree (Schefflera arboricola).

Low shrubs
Try hydrangeas; scented camellia,eg ‘Fairy Blush’; Choisya ternata; Viburnum x burkwoodii; scented vireya rhododendron, eg ‘Silken Shimmer’ or ‘Cameo Spice’.


Climbers for wall
Try star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), creeping fig (Ficus pumila) or native clematis (Clematis paniculata).

Groundcover in between pavers
Try dwarf mondo grass, Ajuga reptans, blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) or pratia (Lobelia angulata).



Some climbers, such as creeping fig, need to be kept trimmed close to the wall. Otherwise they will change into thick-stemmed, large-leaved plants that are very robust and hard to keep compact.

Need help?

Does an area of your garden need a revamp? Garden editor and landscape designer Carol Bucknell will come up with a plan for some lucky readers. All we need are photographs of your problem area, details of where you live, a site description (where north is, the soil type, whether your garden is exposed to wind or heat) and the style of garden you would like.

Case Study, Your Home and Garden, Bauer Media, Private Bag 92512, Wellesley Street, Auckland 1010, or email We can’t feature everyone’s garden in the magazine, but if you’d like some personal design advice, you can contact Carol at

Words and plan by: Carol Bucknell. Illustration by: Imogen Temm.

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