Low maintenance, usability and a touch of fantasy: that was the design challenge for creating this inner city suburban courtyard, in Moonee Ponds, a suburb of Melbourne, A narrow area between the house and side fence would also be used to create an attractive entrance way to the courtyard.

Before the new design was implemented the garden was flat, consisting of simple, jarrah-edged beds of natives, and surrounded by unpainted, grey-coloured paling fences. It was very boring to look at, the washing line took up valuable space and the area wasn't suitable for young children to play. Now, it's an interesting and inviting extension to the house viewed through glass windows in the family room and dining area.

From the house, a single door opens out onto the terracotta patio with steps leading down into the courtyard, giving the feel of a private sunken garden. The sunken garden effect is enhanced by the raised garden beds constructed to the same height as the flooring inside the house. The cubby houses form the backdrop to the courtyard, one of which is actually a garden shed in disguise!

The raised garden beds are constructed out of interlocking Piza wall blocks with black plastic used to line the sides to stop soil and moisture from escaping. The Boral-style stone pavers provide a smooth low-maintenance surface. Light coloured pavers were chosen to give a feeling of spaciousness and to blend with the soft yellow painted fence and cubby houses. The washing line was painted the same colour as the fence and relocated nearer to the house, which helped to open up the garden.

The new plantings consist of a simple combination of evergreen species and a couple of deciduous trees for spring and autumn interest.

English Box (Buxus sempervirens) and Dutch Box (Buxus suffruticosa) hedging gives the garden structure and frames the plantings of Orange Jessamine (Murraya paniculata), tall Turf Lilys (Liriopi muscari) and lavenders. The Murraya will create a sweet orange blossom scented screen in spring.

One bed containing a Kumquat (Fortunella japonica) with aromatic foliage, fruits and flowers, and flanked on either side by a Daphne (Daphne odora) will provide further fragrance throughout the year.

The Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku') has bright coral-red stems that stand out against the painted fence, giving a sculptural effect in winter. It also has brilliant yellow autumn foliage, tinged with apricot and orange. In summer the tree is covered in light green foliage.

The Crapapple (Malus ioensis 'Plena') in the corner gives dappled shade in summer and a delicate display of apple blossom in spring.

Narrow spaces are inherently difficult to landscape, especially those spaces between a fence and a house which are often little more than passageways. In this garden, a miniature fantasy woodland was created to overcome this problem, giving the children a fun place to play and enhancing the view from the kitchen.

Walking through the black iron gate at the side of the house takes the visitor into a small fantasy garden. The blue paling fence is adorned with groups of colourful fish, sea horses, starfish, fairies and baskets of ferns. The plantings beside the fence consist of Dietes grandiflora, miniature mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) and pansies (Viola x hybrida). Further along, the brick wall was rendered and painted the same soft yellow colour as the cubby houses. Several colourful butterflies are featured on the wall in between the two pots of Coral Bark Maples.

The maples will eventually form a canopy, with more Dietes, Coral Bells (Heuchera sp), miniature mondo grass and pansies forming the underplanting. Small animals have been placed amongst the plants including a rabbit, a butterfly resting on a pebble and a frog hiding amongst the Dietes.

A blue painted wave on the brick wall extends into the courtyard, linking the parts of the garden together. As the garden matures the courtyard will create a sense of enclosure for relaxing, watching the children play or entertaining friends. Apart from some trimming and planting annuals the maintenance will be minimal.
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