Harmony in the Garden Blog

A Jewel Box Courtyard that’s Wheelchair-Friendly

JudyToday I want to share with a darling jewel-box courtyard (that’s wheelchair friendly, too!)

Three years ago our local newspaper ran a story on our (then) new book, Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces.

Within 24 hours, I received a phone call from Judy, who was in desperate need of transforming her tiny, overgrown courtyard into one that appeared spacious, bright, lush, and tranquil.

Judy had always loved gardening but didn’t quite know how to tackle one that was this small (27’x 21′) with so many challenges.

And, as if the tiny dimensions weren’t daunting enough, Judy’s courtyard had a handful of other unique challenges that needed to be met, as well.


1.  Wheelchair Accessible



Judy lives in a condominium, so this small courtyard is her only private garden space.

As you can see, the original cluttered courtyard was both inconvenient and inhospitable for Mark, her longtime companion, who uses a wheelchair due to Multiple Sclerosis.


Mark needed to be able to easily access this courtyard from both the garage side door as well as from inside the home.  Therefore, the patio’s surface needed to be firm and stable, with no sand or gravel that would become lodged in the wheelchair’s tires and tracked inside the house.

The courtyard also needed to have enough space for a dining table large enough to accommodate his wheelchair, while simultaneously providing other seating options for larger group gatherings.

We decided to use full-range Connecticut Bluestone pavers for the patio, with an L-shaped, stacked stone wall.  The stone wall not only helps to break up the predictable (and boring) rectangular dimensions of the courtyard but also provides additional seating when necessary.


2.  Privacy Please



Looming 2-story condos surround this courtyard, making privacy a top concern.  Strict HOA regulations, however, prohibit adding a taller trellis-type fence, screening trees, or even an overhead arbor.  Heck, she wasn’t even allowed to paint the fence a different color!

Our solution was two-fold.  First, we planted three tall, narrow, and evergreen Carolina Cherry trees (which you can see in the above photo) that would quickly grow and provide year-round screening.GreenBar


Trellis Corner

Abutilon and CercisGreenBar

And second, since we weren’t allowed to attach anything to the existing fence, we built two free-standing trellises in an L-shaped pattern in the farthest corner.

Scrambling up one side of the trellis is a fast-growing Akebia vine and on the other side is a climbing Iceberg rose.  In the corner, where the two trellises meet, we left space for a ‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud tree to grow up gracefully through the opening.GreenBar

3.  A Place for Personal Touches



It was also important that I find a place within this garden for a few cherished antiques Judy had inherited from her family.

‘My grandmother lived in a magical brown shingle Craftsman home in Alameda, with stunning gardens.  They collected Asian antiques and purchased many in the early 1900s.  My parents then incorporated these antiques into their beautiful garden in San Jose, and they came to me on their passing. They are very important to me…speaks to who I am and those that came before me.  My great grandmother was a botanist and one of the first women graduates of Northwestern University!’ GreenBar
BuddhaAntique potGreenBar

The last item on Judy’s wish-list was to include a water feature to add a calming sound and provide a refreshing respite for the little birds who visit.GreenBarfountain view

4.  Inside-Out Views



One of the chapters in our book discusses the importance of using the windows in your home to ‘frame’ the view outside, tying it in with the rest of your home.  A concept designers call ‘inside-out design.’

This was particularly important to Judy as there is floor to ceiling windows and doors along an entire wall that directly faces the whole patio area.

Her goal was to have the inside of her condo seem much larger and brighter than it was having the courtyard act as a natural extension of her dining and living rooms.GreenBar
Inside Out design


HeliotropeSarcococca rustifolia

GreenBarAkebia shirobana

It’s always such a treat to go back and visit gardens after they’ve been installed – to see what has flourished (or what hasn’t) and to discover the homeowner’s loving touches dotted throughout.

I hope this tiny treasure of a garden gives you as much joy and creative inspiration as it’s given me!GreenBar

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  • Hello dear Rebecca,

    What a masterpiece. Great design, textures, solutions, and PRIVACY. It feels more like an estate than a tiny patio. You really created something wonderful and people and bird friendly.

    Lovely, lovely,

    Sharon (I may be able to put weight on my foot next week! Thinking of you. XXX)

    • Oh, hooray Sharon! I’m so happy that you can finally get out of that wheelchair!! I know just where you’ll be, too – in the garden from dawn til dusk, no doubt!

  • What a delight to see, read and hear your thoughts as you told us the story of your vision for this space, Rebecca. Gardens aren’t just about the amount of ground space, they are also about the human’s that have their own visions for what they need to have surrounding them. You are a thoughtful interpreter.

    • Thank you, Sheila, but honestly I’ve got to give Judy the credit. She had lived with this space for so many years and had given so much thought to her ‘wish list’ that by the time I got there she knew exactly what she wanted!

  • Rebecca, this garden looks so inviting and spacious! You are so good at listening to and executing your clients needs and wants. Just beautiful.

  • Beautiful space to relax and unwind. Very lucky person to have had such thoughtful assistance.

  • What a lovely transformation! This gives me heart that transitioning to a smaller space in the future might actually not be such a bad thing. And thanks for posting–hope you are coping.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed this garden, Jo. When I returned home from visiting it I was actually wishing my own garden was much smaller than it is – there’s something wonderful about intimate, small spaces like Judy’s.

  • A jewel indeed! Small walled gardens are so romantic and calming – beautifully done!

    • Sometimes I think the smaller the garden, the greater the opportunity. This was no exception and I love how every element of hers shines. Glad you like it, Karen. 🙂

  • It’s a beautiful space! My former garden, the backyard of a townhome, was of a similar size and I know how difficult it can be to make effective use of the space. You’ve done a great job.

    • Thanks, Kris. Judy and I had such a great time planning this garden and was thrilled to come back after a few years to see it ‘blossom’.

  • This is a beautiful space. It may be small but it looks like it makes the condo live large. Thanks for the lovely tour.


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