Small and courtyard gardens

Even a tiny garden can be a place of beauty, interest and repose. Many local Illawarra plants will grow well in small spaces, in the ground or in pots, tubs or raised beds. Some areas such as narrow strips of garden, courtyards and terraces can be challenging environments, as the movement of the sun during the day often means that plants are exposed to a mix of full shade and full sun conditions. In summer, plants in these gardens often have to deal with heat radiation from nearby walls and paving. Careful pruning can make the most of the features of the plants you choose.
Growing plants up against a wall can help prevent a courtyard garden from overheating, while adding compact greenery. Here Climbing Guinea-flower (Hibbertia scandens) has been trained up an east-facing wall. Image by Emma Rooksby.
The options discussed here are not so much a distinctive garden style as strategies to make the most of these areas using local native species. Common elements in small gardens vary, but may include:
  • garden borders or low hedges along walls and beside paths
  • a tall shrub or small tree, often carefully pruned, as a feature plant
  • pot plants used to add greenery on paving or other hard surfaces
  • a small grassy or ground-cover area
  • climbers to decorate pergolas and grow up trellises, adding colour, height and interest in a limited space
  • terracing, using plants that cascade from one level to the next
  • small trees kept carefully pruned, or espaliered so that they grow flat against a wall or other support
  • use of many small plants with contrasting texture and colour planted in a ‘tapestry’ or ‘mosaic’
  • use of sculpture, wall hangings, craft objects, decorative pots or found objects to create points of interest.
A well-placed pot plant can create a garden feel in even a tiny courtyard. This is Branching Grass-flag (Libertia
) doing very well in a pot in part shade. Image by Elena Martinez.

Even a very narrow area alongside a path can be used to add colour and texture. Here Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum aethiopicum) and Native Violet (Viola hederacea) are growing together in a shady spot. Image by Emma Rooksby.
Some plants to consider include:

Garden border

Black Anther Flax-lily (Dianella revoluta)
Elegant strappy leaves, purple fruit; full sun or part shade
Branching Grass-flag (Libertia paniculata)
Strap-leaved plant to 40cm, white iris-like flowers; part shade
Bulbine Lily (Bulbine bulbosa)
Spring onion-like foliage and yellow flowers on long stems; full sun (moist) or part shade
Yellow Buttons (Chrysocephalum apiculatum)
Low sprawling plant with masses of yellow flowers year-round; full sun or part shade
Settlers’ Flax (Gymnostachys anceps)
Long strappy leaves, purple fruit on tall stems; very shade tolerant
Prickly Rasp Fern (Doodia aspera)
Very tough clumping fern with upright fronds and reddish new growth; part shade
Low hedges

Orange Thorn (Pittosporum multiflorum)
Small-leaved plant with orange fruit, somewhat prickly (caution required); part shade or moist full sun
White Correa (Correa alba)
Round-leaved shrub to 2m with white flowers; full or dappled sun
Feature shrub/tree

Blueberry Ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus)
Elegant small tree with attractive foliage and blue fruit; full sun or part shade
Coffee Bush (Breynia oblongifolia)
Neat shrub or small tree to 3m with oval leaves and red fruit; can be pruned; full sun or part shade
Christmas Bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum)
Classic large shrub or small tree with red floral display around Christmas; full sun
Illawarra Plum Pine (Podocarpus elatus)
Slow growing medium tree with glossy green leaves and edible fruit; full sun or part shade
Twiggy Heath-myrtle (Sannantha pluriflora)
Dense shrub or small tree with masses of creamy white flowers; full sun or part shade
Snow Wood (Pararchidendron pruinosum var. pruinosum)
Small tree with showy, fragrant pom-pom flowers that age from yellow to orange; full sun
Cheese Tree (Glochidion ferdinandi)
Small neat tree with glossy green leaves and interesting cheese-shaped fruit, crown can be shaped; full sun or part shade
Grasses and lawn-like groundcovers

Pygmy Panic (Panicum pygmaeum)
Shade tolerant running grass, soft leaves; part shade (limited availability)
Weeping Grass (Microlaena stipoides)
Low, tough clumping grass, can be mown
Saltwater Couch (Sporobolus virginicus)
Tough running grass, particularly suited to dry sandy soils in full sun
Native Storksbill (Pelargonium australe)
Low spreading perennial with attractive leaves and small pinkish-white flowers; full sun or part shade
Native Violet (Viola hederacea)
Low spreading groundcover with round leaves and pretty purple and white flowers; part shade
Kidney Weed (Dichondra repens)
Low spreading groundcover with kidney-shaped leaves; part shade
Climbers for trellises

Dusky Coral Pea (Kennedia rubicunda)
Robust climber with attractive felty leaves and red flowers; part shade
Climbing Guinea-flower (Hibbertia scandens)
Very hardy climber with glossy green leaves and yellow flowers; part shade
Wonga Vine (Pandorea pandorana)
Tough, large climber with attractive pink flowers; full sun or part shade
Cascading plants

Necklace Fern (Asplenium flabellifolium)
Small fern for shady spots where it will cascade down low terraces or rocky slopes
Showy Isotome (Isotoma axillaris)
Low plant with lacy-looking leaves and pretty purple flowers; full sun
Slender Grape (Cayratia clematidea)
Delicate-looking twiner, part shade  
Yellow Buttons (Chrysocephalum apiculatum)
Low plant with masses of yellow flowers year-round; dappled or full sun
The soft grey-green foliage and cheery year-round flowers of Yellow Buttons
(Chrysocephalum apiculatum) work well in a sunny spot in small gardens. Image by Emma Rooksby.

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