Courtyard Garden: One Year Later


It’s time for an update on my courtyard garden. The thrill of saying that hasn’t dimmed after a year, and I imagine I will still be delighted about it if I am lucky enough to have a courtyard garden decades from now.

First, a quick before-and-after pairing to show the changes in the structure of the garden. I built a fence between the house and the detached garage, then replaced all the lawn with paved walking and sitting areas and planting beds. I kept the lily pond and the mature apple tree, and there are a couple of mature pines that hang over the fence.

Before it was a courtyard, this area was a lawn between two buildings, open to the street and driveway.
A year after we moved in, the courtyard garden is a private haven for writing, conversation, stargazing, and of course, gardening.

Another pairing of May and August gives a sense of the difference one summer has made in the plant growth. I’m really happy about how quickly everything has grown — well, those that have lived. Like most other gardeners, I have killed a fair number of plants. In this garden, most of the dead ones are trees and shrubs; very few of those that are familiar to me can survive on our 12 inches of annual rainfall (none of which falls in summer) and my stingy irrigation.

In May, there was a lot of open ground between the new plants, and the only blooms were a red poppy and pheasant-eye narcissus (Narcissus poeticus).
By August, a variety of foliage and flowers have grown up.

However, many plants with silvery foliage are thriving, and I find that I really love silver/gray tones in this high desert climate. It must have something to do with how they reflect light, or maybe their blue tint calms the harsh light and is more soothing to my eyes. At any rate, they feel refreshing.

I have always loved garden sage, and I’ve planted plenty around the property. Some favorite new silvery plants are blue dune grass (Leymus arenarius, which I realize is considered invasive in coastal areas), seafoam artemisia (A. versicolor), miniature pussytoes (Antennaria parvifolia), creeping roundleaf horehound (Marrubium rotundifolium), and stork’s bill (Erodium chrysanthum, a gray-leaved wild geranium relative with pale yellow flowers).

A white-flowered buckwheat (Eriogonum niveum) above mats of small-leaved pussytoes — both are native to the Rocky Mountain region.

My preferences in flower color also changed with the cross-country move. Pale pinks and purples really appealed to me during Minnesota’s humid, hazy summers. Here, though, the orange tints are my favorite, and the pinks sort of look washed out, even in early morning. I still love pale yellow though.

In this new garden, I’m craving drifts of orange-tinted sneezeweed (Helenium) and red/yellow/orange blanketflower (Gaillardia), colors that can withstand the harsh light of Boise.

So it’s goodbye to some old familiar plants and hello to some new ones. Gardens are play, after all, and I’m grateful for every gardening moment I get.


  1. I love lawn eradication. I am a little jealous of your level playing field. My yard has four properties draining into it during any rain storm (of which we have had plenty this year). It creates a river running through my back yard, washing away mulch, and sometimes plants. It also limits my plant choices to those that can withstand the clay soil sitting in water through the middle of my landscape.

    Enjoy your space!

    • Lisa, sounds like you have the makings of a great rain garden! I have seen some wet places transformed into gorgeous gardens; it’s just a matter of finding the right plants (shrubs, grasses, and wet prairie plants) and maybe establishing some structural elements to slow the flow of water, direct it, and allow for any overflow. Don’t give up hope.

  2. Delightful to see someone with similar conditions to mine – and with good results. We are in a short-grass prairie setting between two Rocky Mountain ranges. Lots of rocks, alkaline soil, Zone 4, wind, high desert. Seems impossible until I look at the native choices we have. Onward and forward with your good example.

  3. It looks great! Thanks for the update, Evelyn. Your earlier photos make more sense now that the paving is installed (I had trouble imagining what you were planning in your last update). What a nice courtyard garden to have!

    • Tamara, I have been lucky to visit a lot of gardens across this diverse continent, and creative gardeners everywhere have been able to make lovely gardens in any site you could imagine. Whatever your challenges, there are plants that can thrive in your garden… it might just take some hunting to find them.

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