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Garden Tour: A Small Courtyard with a Serene Water Feature

This striking paved space features lush plants in living walls, innovative lighting and intersecting channels of water

Houzz Contributor. I’ve been writing for interiors magazines for over 10 years and… More

Most garden design involves rethinking a space that doesn’t work. But when landscape architect Stefano Marinaz was asked to come up with ideas for a small walled plot behind a new-build home in Chelsea, his starting point was an uninspring drawing. “There was already a design for the project, but it was pretty basic and I thought we could do better,” he says. Central to Marinaz’s updated design are living walls and a bronze water feature that’s both minimalist and all-encompassing, uniting every feature of this secluded courtyard.

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Garden at a Glance
Who lives here A couple (with grown-up children) and their dog
Location London
Garden size 8m x 6m
Property A new-build with five bedrooms
Designer Stefano Marinaz

Photos by Rosangela Photography

The new-build nature of this garden isn’t the only thing that made it an unusual project. It also has a subterranean swimming pool, which made paving slabs an obvious solution underfoot. “It’s a small space and there are lots of fairly tall walls at different levels,” says Marinaz. “I wanted to connect the walls with the paving, and that was the inspiration behind the idea of the water coming down from one of the green living walls.”

Linking the horizontal with the vertical, a subtle-yet-sculptural water feature adds a real sense of vitality to this minimalist paved garden. It begins as a vertical structure that cuts into one of the living walls (seen to the left of the picture above), and travels into channels in the paving slabs.

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An open-plan kitchen/dining/living space opens out onto the courtyard garden, which is at the same level. “The owners do a lot of entertaining and often sit outside to eat because the courtyard is right next to the kitchen,” says Marinaz.

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Marinaz was asked to include a glass panel somewhere in the paving to allow natural light to shine down on the swimming pool located below the garden. “I put it about a third away from one of the green walls. I like putting things off-centre. It creates a dynamic feel and it means the panel is not the main focus.” The water feature spout can be seen here in the green wall at the back of the picture.

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In this square bed, two channels of water meet and a multi-stem amelanchier tree provides a focal point that also stops the eye looking right to the back of the garden. “I didn’t want the green spaces to be tucked away, so I designed the planting to bite into the paving. They merge together, but there’s still enough space for seating.”

See more ideas for trees that work well in small gardens

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Marinaz’s original sketch for the garden shows his intersecting water feature design. “The owners always had a water feature in mind, but originally it was just a trough sitting in the corner.”

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The living walls create an almost cosseted atmosphere in the courtyard and the lush foliage provides a striking contrast to the smooth paving. The water feature cuts through the surfaces like a beam of light.

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“I’m really keen on lighting in general,” says Marinaz, who designed the 6cm-wide lighting strips that stretch approximately 4m round the garden walls. The strips are made from a product called Rimex. “It looks like the bronze the channels of the water feature are finished with.”

More ways to light your garden

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One of the walls where the lighting strips have been installed is planted with the evergreen jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides.

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The water channels are made from stainless steel that’s been coated with bronze for a more interesting finish. The stone is a granite from Italy. “The entire paved floor sits on pedestals on a concrete base with a waterproof membrane. If there’s a leak you can just lift the stone without breaking anything.”

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There are five different plants in this living wall: Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium), Vinca minor f. alba, deer fern (Blechnum spicant), ivy (Hedera helix) and tiarella. “They were grown in the nursery on 70cm x 50cm panels for six weeks then installed by screwing each panel in place,” says Marinaz.

An automatic irrigation and feeding system keeps everything healthy.

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Marinaz also designed the front garden, where oversized pots and clipped holly oak add to the smart exterior of the new-build home.

What experience do you have of water features?
Share your tips and photos in the Comments below.

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