Create a Courtyard

It's lush, colorful, and private--the perfect at-home retreat.
Charlie Thigpen

Charleston, South Carolina, native Donna Florio loves her hometown--especially the beautiful courtyards tucked away behind its garden gates. As a Senior Writer for Southern Living, Donna asked her friends in the Gardens department if we could craft an outdoor retreat that would bring her Alabama home just a touch of coastal South Carolina.

Fortunately, she already had the perfect site, an area off to the side of her backyard patio, where a low, ivy-wrapped wall provided lush green boundaries. All we had to do was define the space a little more and then add some color and style.

Putting Down Pavers
To create a floor for Donna's new outdoor room, we added a 12-foot-wide circular terrace made of salvaged brick and 6-inch-square concrete pavers (priced at less than $4 a square foot) from a local garden center.

We needed only one pallet of pavers to complete the terrace, which encircles a diamond-shaped pattern of brick in the center. Then we edged the circle with brick. This helps keep the pavers in place.

Plants Add Punch
We left a 3 1/2-foot border around the terrace and planted it with 'Indigo Moon' torenias, 'Saturn' coleus, and 'Black Magic' elephant's ears. The elephant's ears and coleus both provide showy foliage from late spring till fall, while torenias continuously produce a spreading carpet of small blue flowers.

For privacy, we planted several evergreens around the terrace. A couple of windmill palms, with their large fanlike foliage, add a hint of the coast. Southern Indica Hybrid azaleas, hollies, and fragrant tea olives (Osmanthus fragrans), which we planted around the perimeter, form a loose hedge that helps enclose the terrace and surrounding courtyard.

The end result is a special space that reminds Donna of Charleston--and gives her a great place to relax until her next trip home.

Laying Pavers
In need of an outdoor project? Here's everything you need to know.

Step 1
First, remove all vegetation from the area. Then, add a 2- to 3-inch layer of finely crushed gravel. Pack the gravel until firm. We rented a motorized tamper, but you can use a hand tamper for small areas. Cover the gravel with a couple of inches of sand. Use a long board to level it. 


Step 2
Lay pavers, leveling them as you go. The center of the patio should be slightly higher so water will flow to the outside. Use a level for this. Set out the pavers in the pattern you desire. This allows you to see which ones need to be cut to fit. Rent a masonry saw. By doing all of your cutting at once, you can return the saw quickly and save money in rental fees.


Step 3
Most landscapers use metal edging around pavers, but we decided on salvaged bricks gathered from the backyard. Set flush with the terrace and buried into the soil, the bricks make a sturdy border and add to the Charleston style.


Step 4
Once the pavers and edging are in place, sweep sand into the cracks. Leave excess sand on the bricks for a few weeks, and sweep it occasionally across the pavers as they settle and move. The sand will gradually work down into the seams and make the paving more stable.

 

"Create a Courtyard" is from the August 2007 issue of Southern Living.