We would all like to spend more time in the natural world, yet modern life leaves us with precious few hours for leisure. So what’s the solution? With internal courtyards providing a constant backdrop of nature inside the home, it is easy to see why they’re rising in popularity.

Internal courtyards have a very contemporary appeal. But the idea of them is not new (outside of Australia, that is). In Mexico, haciendas are built with colourful courtyards for gathering and preparing food. While in Japan, the addition of nature into a living space creates the feeling of tranquility synonymous with Japanese culture.

So why are we only now embracing this concept in Australia? Where the quarter-acre block once gave us an abundance of outdoor space, the reality of contemporary living has changed drastically. Not only is an internal courtyard a practical alternative to the quintessential Aussie backyard, it also offers a number of practical advantages in terms of your home’s energy consumption and liveability.

It’s for all of these reasons that we’ve been championing internal courtyards for some years now. And now as the internal courtyards we are working on start to take shape (we can’t wait to share them when they’re complete), we wanted to share the lessons we have learned along the way.

Here are the key considerations to bear in mind when planning and designing an internal courtyard.

1. Decide how you want to use the space

It’s often the case that the spaces in the centre of the home are also the darkest. As a result, they’re not as enjoyable to spend time in, and that’s one of the big drawcards of internal courtyards – they bring light, fresh air and plant life into the heart of the home.

Depending on how much space you have, you may design a small courtyard simply for this purpose. This natural focal point is a calming antidote to the outside world – a simple luxury that now eludes many city-dwellers. The number of benefits associated with this style of design (known as biophilic design) is growing as more research is conducted on the connection between people and the natural world.

In larger homes, a central courtyard becomes an extension of the living space – a place for entertaining, relaxing and secure play for children. Decide early on how you want to use the space, and plan accordingly (more on that below).

2. Create spaces of discovery

Whether your internal courtyard is a functional living area or a small-scale garden such as these, think of it as a space for discovery.

The planting schemes in these gardens not only work in their respective environments, they also engage the senses. Contrasting height, colour and texture among the plants, stones and interior holds attention, creating scenes ready for visual exploration.

Visual discovery can take many forms. In the case of the Japanese-style garden pictured at the top of this article, for example, the addition of water exerts a calming presence and draws the eye further in to the space.

3. Planning halves doing

This piece of wisdom is vital when it comes to internal courtyards. These spaces breathe life into the home, and proper planning will mean you gain the full benefits of natural light and ventilation, while also having adequate screening from these things too.

Additional considerations that need to be made with internal courtyards include:

  • Growing conditions

  • Installation of plants and built structures

  • Drainage and watering systems

  • Shade, where necessary

  • Plant selection

When these spaces and factors are considered at an early stage of a build or renovation, we can integrate them naturally into the home with your contractors. This makes their installation a far smoother and more cost-effective process, and your plants will be happier for the planning you put into their environment!

In terms of selecting the right plants, ensure they will not outgrow the space and that there’s enough light, soil and drainage for them to thrive.

Keep reading: A guide to courtyard design


Do you ever stare at your outdoor space and see potential? Maybe a pool area or a lush place to lounge? When we meet with clients, we completely understand what that feels like – because we have been there too. 

For the last few years we have had big plans for our garden, and for our home too. We looked outside and saw so much potential. Few spaces are as versatile as an outdoor area, and we know from our work with clients that few spaces enrich your lifestyle as much as a well-designed garden does. So you can imagine how excited we were to finally bring our backyard-in-waiting to life. 

Over the last 12 months, we made it all happen in a year of design and transformation (with a few moments of chaos). Transforming our Queenslander cottage and backyard at the same time was a big project to undertake with a family and a business. If you have noticed we have been a bit quiet on the blog, that’s why! 

Standing at the finish line, we can guarantee it was all worth it. The late nights saving inspiration on Pinterest, the hours spent searching for paint colours, tiles and fixtures, and the time living away from our home. It has all come together better than we imagined. 

You can plan every detail of how a home will look and function, but there are no words to describe how it felt when we moved back into a space that was created just for us. Now as spring rolls in to Brisbane, we can see our garden really starting to grow in and we are spending more time outdoors in our new backyard. 

As the garden takes shape over the coming months, we will share more of the project, but here is your first look at some of our favourite details – and the tips we want to pass on. 

The key focal point is this set of Indian doors. We have spent a lot of time in India, so this feature really resonates with us and brings back many happy memories. 


DESIGN TIP: When looking for ways to inject your personality into your space, think of places that are meaningful to you, and incorporate elements of them into the design. This could be a cottage garden you played in as a child, or a tropical resort where the bar staff have your cocktail order committed to memory. 


The other key addition is a pool! Given that we’ve got young children, this space will be an important place for our family to come together and unwind on hot summer days. Even in winter we have found the presence of water to be a calming backdrop to our daily lives. 

Around the pool, we have planted hardy succulents and cactus that will be easy for us to look after. We may have green thumbs, but we’re also short on time! Especially now that we have the upkeep of a pool, it was important for us to create a garden that was low maintenance. 


DESIGN TIP: When planning a new outdoor area, be realistic about how much time to have to commit to its upkeep. There is a massive selection of low maintenance plants that you can use to create a green oasis. 

The entertaining area brings it all together. Adding a pool to the garden did take up a large portion of the yard, but by using in-built bench seating we were able to maximise our entertaining space.  

So what’s next?

As promised, we will be showing you more from our renovation over the coming months. 

We will also be sharing monthly design and landscaping tips that you can use in your space, plus shots from the outdoor spaces we have been revamping. (Sign up for these updates below or download your free ebook Small Spaces, Big Ideas to ensure you don’t miss out!). 

But first, these are the design trends we have been working with. 

Outdoor design trends

There is so much happening in the design world right now – and a lot of the emerging ideas and styles are so well suited to Brisbane’s outdoor style of living. 

In particular, we are seeing natural materials making a big comeback in both architecture and design. Think jute rugs, natural stone, earthy mustard/terracotta/olive colour palettes and unstructured bohemian styling. That means there has never been a more exciting time to create a home where the interiors and the outdoors are all integrated. 



When you think of areas such as balconies and courtyards as outdoor rooms, it becomes so apparent how your outdoor space can become an extension of your internal living areas. By choosing to work with natural materials throughout your home, the connection between your indoor and outdoor living spaces happens intuitively. 

We are also seeing a lot more small garden areas within homes; ranging from internal courtyards to small features like this Japanese garden we loved bringing to life. 

Five things we’re loving:

  • Experimenting with jewel colour palettes 
  • The return of rattan and wicker furniture
  • Integrating terrazzo tiles into outdoor spaces
  • Collaborating on exciting design projects, including internal courtyards (we’ll be sharing these spaces as they’re completed)
  • Embracing slow living, now that we’ve settled back into our hom


The top ten indoor plants

Seven gardens that showcase why landscaping shouldn’t be afterthought

PS – Don’t forget about your free ebook, Small Spaces, Big Ideas. It’s got 45 pages of outdoor design ideas to get your inspired. 




“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” They’re the words of travel writer Paul Theroux, but any gardener will be able to relate to them. Now is the ideal time to take stock of your garden, prepare for spring and enjoy working outdoors while there’s still a refreshing chill in the air.

  Image via  Style Estate .

Image via Style Estate.

Even if your plants have become dormant this winter, there’s plenty you can be doing to make your outdoor area a more pleasant space to spend time in both the cooler and warmer months. When it comes to winter gardening, there are three ways to ensure you aren’t neglecting your outdoor space:

  1. Cosy up outdoor areas
  2. Give your space some TLC
  3. Prepare for spring and summer

Be inspired to get outside, even when it’s cold, with this guide.

Cosy up outdoor areas

  Use cushions, lighting and blankets to make an outdoor space more comfortable in winter. Image via  Blackbird .

Use cushions, lighting and blankets to make an outdoor space more comfortable in winter. Image via Blackbird.

If you haven’t spent a lot of time outdoors this winter, the top priority on your winter gardening list should be making your outdoor area cosier. There are a number of simple ways to warm up your outdoor space:

  • Add outdoor cushions and blankets to your furnishings
  • Move your seating to an area with more sunlight
  • Create warmth with the addition of a fire-pit, free-standing electric heater or built-in fireplace
  • Use extra lighting to create ambience and a feeling of warmth – consider string lights, lanterns and candles
  • Install shelter structures that will protect your space from wind (vergolas are a great solution, as they allow sun in during winter and provide shade in summer)

When creating an outdoor space, many people do most of the planning with just summer in mind. However, we recommend thinking about ways to season-proof your garden so you can enjoy it year-round.

Ways to do this include using retractable structures and deciduous shade covers that will keep you cool in summer and let sunlight through in winter, and putting heavy planters on wheels so you can easily move them as the seasons change.

Give your space some TLC

  When planning a built-in fireplace, think about where you will store your firewood too. Image via  Gardenista .

When planning a built-in fireplace, think about where you will store your firewood too. Image via Gardenista.

Nothing is more satisfying than spending a day getting outdoor jobs done – and winter is the perfect season for this, as it’s far more pleasant to get on top of those physically taxing jobs when the weather is cooler.

Things to get done in winter include:

  • Repot container plants
  • Transplant established plants and shrubs while they are dormant
  • Mulch your plants (this helps them retain warmth in winter)
  • Prune roses, frangipani, summer-flowering shrubs and tropical plants
  • Tackle larger landscaping jobs like paving, painting, general repairs, decking maintenance, installing outdoor art, fireplaces and water features, etc.

When it comes to planting, the warm climate in South-east Queensland means there is still a lot you can grow during the cool months. Edibles including silverbeet, cabbage, kale, carrots, lettuce, radish, peas and most herbs will continue to grow.

You can also get ready for the warmer months by planting spring vegetable seeds in pots and placing them in a warm protected area. Tomato, eggplant and capsicums are good plants to get started now.

If you want colour in your outdoor area, try camellias and azaleas for flowering at the start of winter. Gardenia, bottlebrush, may bush and jasmine will begin to flower in late winter and throughout spring.

Prepare for spring and summer

  Dreaming of summer already? Get ready for the warm months by designing your summer oasis in winter. Image via  HGTV .

Dreaming of summer already? Get ready for the warm months by designing your summer oasis in winter. Image via HGTV.

Spring/summer is prime time for relaxing outside, so it makes sense to do larger landscaping projects before the weather starts to warm up.

When planning design and landscaping for your space, we recommend starting with Pinterest as a source of inspiration. You should also consult with your local nursery on plants that will grow well in your area. If you require professional assistance with your landscaping, now is also the time to book this in before the spring/summer rush begins.

For design ideas, see these seven gardens that showcase why landscaping shouldn’t be an afterthought.

Winter reading: Small Spaces, Big Ideas – our complete guide to garden design. Download your free ebook now!


Rooftop gardens are the ultimate way to transform an urban area into a relaxing green space. If you have been thinking about utilising your rooftop, chances are these questions have crossed your mind.

 Image via  Inside Out .  Design:  William Dangar  Photography: Chris Warner 

Image via Inside Out.  Design: William Dangar Photography: Chris Warner 

1. How can I use my rooftop as a liveable space?

While rooftops present certain challenges, they also give you the opportunity to create an outdoor area for relaxing, entertaining and gardening. To turn a rooftop into a liveable space, the biggest issue you need to address is a lack of protection from the sun and wind, as too much exposure to the elements will really undermine your enjoyment of a space.

The most effective way to overcome these issues is to create protected nocks within the large area. You can do this using built shade structures, small trees or hardy hedge varieties. This layer of protection will ensure that both you and your plants will be comfortable year round.

2. Can I have a grassed area on my rooftop?

Lawn is a wonderful addition to a rooftop garden, especially if you have children or pets. Given that rooftops are hot and windy spaces, artificial lawn is the most practical solution for this type of garden. It doesn’t require any maintenance and there are some fantastic options now available.

Artificial lawn can get hot in the sun, so have some kind of shade available such as a portable outdoor umbrella that you can pull out on hot days.

With an open grassed space, glass balustrades and low-set planting scheme, this rooftop garden in Sydney designed by Secret Gardens allows occupants to relax and appreciate the view. 

 Image via  Secret Gardens

Image via Secret Gardens

3. How can I introduce shade into a rooftop garden?

Fixed structures are the most realistic shade option for a rooftop garden. This is due to the sheer amount of wind that rooftops are exposed to. Ensure your shade structure is strong and fixed to the wall and floor.

Options for shade include pergolas or open structures that can be used for growing climbers. Only use an umbrella or a retractable awning if you have the discipline to put them away before heading indoors. Supplementary sources of shade include small trees and green walls.

In the planning phase, study the direction of the sun so you can position your shade structure and plants in a place where they will be most effective. If you’ve ever sat underneath a pergola that’s casting shade away from the sitting area, you will understand the importance of getting this right.

4. What plants can I grow on a rooftop?

Plants provide you with an escape from the surrounding urban environment, but you will need to choose hardy varieties. Plants suited to the sunny, windy conditions include:

  • Cypress varieties

  •  Indian hawthorn 'snow maiden’ and ‘oriental pearl'

  • Crassula varieties

  • Kalanchoe varieties

  • Westringias

  • Dragon trees

  • Aloe trees

  • Succulents

Cypress are ideal for using as a hedge to offer protection from the wind, while the remaining plants are suited to large pots, planters or a garden bed.

In this rooftop, raised garden beds have been planted with hardy plants and trees that are used for privacy and a supplementary source of shade. 

 Image via  Dezeen . Photography  Ross Honeysett

Image via Dezeen. Photography Ross Honeysett

5. Am I able to have a garden bed?

Yes, it is possible to grow your own garden in the sky! If you want grow your plants in a raised garden bed rather than pots, you will need to ensure that you have the right drainage in place and choose well-draining soil.

Where you place your garden is also important. If it isn’t sheltered in some way from the elements, choose hardy plants varieties.

6. How can I grow my own herbs and vegetables?

There are a number of ways you can turn your rooftop into a kitchen garden. You can build a raised garden or grow produce in pots or planters. Edibles require protection from the elements, so you will need to position them near some form of shelter. If you are using planters to grow your produce, a good idea is to put them on wheels so you can move them around.

This structure acts as a windbreak and source of shelter for the plants. Image via Pinterest.

7. How can I improve the aesthetic of a tiled or waterproof membrane floor?

The reality of creating a rooftop garden is that you will need to use industrial materials for waterproofing, but that doesn’t mean you need to live with this look. Use an outdoor rug as a simple way add personality or place floating deck platforms over the tiles.

8. I don’t want to carry cushions and other items back and forth between my home and the rooftop. What’s a solution for this?

To ensure you get maximum use from your rooftop garden, it’s a good idea to eliminate any barriers that will prevent you from heading outdoors, such as the issue of where to keep your outdoor items. The simplest soΩlution for this is to build bench seating into your space with storage underneath. That way you can keep items like cushions, barbecue tools and insect spray in one spot.

Bench seating is a great solution for a rooftop, as it’s durable and doesn’t take up as much space as individual chairs or an outdoor lounge.

9. What safety considerations do I need to make?

The primary safety consideration for a rooftop garden is its balustrades. If you want to make the most of your view, use glass balustrades to ensure the space still feels open. High balustrades also have a secondary benefit of protecting your plants from the wind. Check with your local council for guidelines on the legal height of balustrades in your state.

Discover more small-space garden design ideas by downloading your copy of Small Spaces, Big Ideas.


Urban greening is taking hold around the world, infusing cities with lush pockets of greenery. From sky gardens to vertical urban farms, designers are becoming increasingly creative as they seek to restore the balance of city living.

Globally, we are seeing a number of exciting responses to the challenge of integrating nature into the built environment. The innovative green spaces appearing in some of the world’s largest cities show us what’s possible for creating a future where urban hubs are not only more sustainable, but also designed to improve the wellbeing of residents.

Here are five urban greening trends emerging around the world.

1. Sky gardens

 Seoul Skygarden – image via  designboom , photography by Ossip van Duivenbode.

Seoul Skygarden – image via designboom, photography by Ossip van Duivenbode.

New York’s High Line may be the most famous example of a sky garden, but around the world there are a number of instances where urban spaces have been transformed into green public spaces. In Osaka, the Namba Parks shopping complex has an eight-level rooftop garden complete with waterfalls, ponds and a vegetable garden. And most recently, Seoul has opened its own Skygarden on an abandoned overpass, introducing 24,000 new plants to the cityscape.

2. Underground gardening

 Image via  ArchDaily

Image via ArchDaily

From sky gardens to those hidden underground, New York is destined to have the world’s first underground park when the Lowline opens in 2020. The underground garden looks at how we can use technology to make cities more liveable and will use a specially designed remote skylight to allow plants to grow underground. Similar to the High Line project, it will rejuvenate an unused space – this time, it’s a historic trolley terminal. If you are planning to visit New York, you can get a taste of what’s in store at the Lowline Lab, which is set up in an old warehouse.

3. Vertical farming

 Image via  Sasaki

Image via Sasaki

In countries like China, the availability of productive agricultural land is decreasing, leaving only way to go – up. The Sunqiao Shanghai precinct will be a 250-acre agricultural district with hydroponic vertical farms for growing produce. Small-scale agriculture is China’s primary farming method and this new development explores how this model can be replicated in an urban context. The precinct will also include walking trails, public plazas, a science museum and a digital amphitheatre.

4. Biophilic design

 Image via  Dezeen

Image via Dezeen

While biophilic design isn’t a new idea, it’s now becoming more ingrained in the way architects are designing homes. Houses wrapped around internal courtyards – like this one in Singapore – are a primary example of the ways that homes are being integrated with nature. These types of solutions are a smart response to the challenge of urban density, where large backyards are not always possible. At this family home, Chang Architects have integrated a rooftop garden and an impressive internal courtyard into its design.

5. Large-scale vertical gardening  

 Image via  Via Verde

Image via Via Verde

Where China is embracing vertical gardening for food production, Mexico is using it to fight pollution. In Mexico City, large vertical gardens have been installed on hundreds of motorway pillars to help clean the air. The gardens have also been found to reduce the stress levels of motorists and absorb traffic noise, and they’re also beautifying the city. They are part of a citizen-led intiative called Via Verde Project, which was established to address the city’s rising pollution levels.

Get inspired to green your own urban space with our free ebook, Small Spaces, Big Ideas.