Starting a courtyard from scratch


This Gold Coast garden started as a lawn enclosed by three walls of a U shaped house, set back around 10 metres from the road at the front of the property.

The first major work involved digging a hole and building a swimming pool, with a raised spa emptying over a waterfall into the pool. With this central feature in place, the next step was to build a brick wall to enclose the area. This was carried out in Spring of 1998.

The garden was then formed into three distinct terraces, the bottom level surrounding the main pool, the middle level around the smaller spa pool, and the top level providing a large area that could be developed to produce flowers, fruits and vegetables.

A mediterranean effect was enhanced through the use of colours and materials (eg. terracotta, brick stone, tiles, cobble paving); and a partly symmetrical design (ie. The left and right side are mostly identical, as is often found in old southern European gardens; but with modern use of those gardens, things have occasionally been introduced that breaks that rigid symmetry).

A major axis has been developed leading from the door of the house in the bottom courtyard, to the seat against the wall in the top courtyard. Despite being a confined area, a sense that the garden is still sizeable is enhanced by maintaining the one long vista. The eye is drawn along that vista, and as you walk along, features are revealed to either side. As plants grow and obscure sections this sense of unfolding surprises will only increase.

The Bottom Level


Being around the pool meant that this area needed to be paved; but solid paving would be too stark, and too hot.

The paving has been broken up by creating patterned pockets and planting them with dwarf mondo grass. Mondo is a very hardy plant, that resists the effect of salt from the pool water, and withstands the excessive heat that it can be exposed to in the Queensland climate.

The Middle Level


The spa can be turned into a fountain with the simple flick of a switch. A separate pump and water line have been installed with an outlet from a solid PVC pipe rising to just below the water’s surface in the spa. This pipe is fitted with an inexpensive PVC cap drilled with holes to create a fountain.

A small patch of lawn provides both a cool spot to sit and a visual relief to the stark hard paved surfaces elsewhere. A framework has been built with bush timbers to cover the back pathway on this level. Passionfruit and Grape vines have been planted on this structure, which will provide shade, fruit, and a visual relief as they establish.

Climbing roses have been planted in narrow garden beds against brick walls, either side of the courtyard. In the humidity of Queensland, this position has proven excellent for roses. They are well ventilated and against a brick wall, are kept as dry as is feasible.

The Top Level


A row of Lemon Scented Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora) has been planted along the retainer wall. As it grows it will be trimmed into a hedge to partly obscure the top level, and in doing so create a degree of mystery for people as they walk from the lower areas. That mystery is also enhanced by the 'L' shape of the top section (ie. as you move up the path and climb the last two steps, a hidden section of the garden is revealed).

The garden beds here were created using a type of no-dig method. A 10-15cm thick layer of aged sugar cane mulch was first laid over the clay soil. This was then covered with a 3-4cm layer of loam and a sprinkling of cow manure, and topped with another layer of mulch. Finally more loam was placed on the top as and where seedlings or seed were planted. As the mulch manure and soil ages, a compost heap like action occurs, releasing nutrients and feeding the plants. Weeds are few and far between, because the mulch and loam were totally weed free to begin with.

Where: Australian Correspondence Schools, Gold Coast, Australia

Designed by John & Leonie Mason