Whether a small courtyard invites or repels depends on how creatively it's designed. How you decorate your courtyard depends on how you plan to use it and, to some degree, on how much sun it gets. Careful planning makes a small courtyard into both a peaceful retreat for solitary contemplation, and a private outdoor party room for entertaining guests.
Courtyard Vegetable Garden
A small, sunny courtyard, with its walls providing protection from the elements, can offer space for a vegetable garden. By building raised beds, you can plant vegetables in grids, making a practical, nutritious, and attractive alternative to flower beds. Divide raised beds into grids and alternate the planting of flowers and vegetables in adjacent grids, if you'd like both flowers and vegetables. Use deep raised beds to grow long vegetables such as carrots or if health problems prevent you accessing ground-level beds.
Dress Up the Walls
Bare brick or stone walls look stark and can make a small courtyard seem claustrophobic and uninviting. Wooden trellises against the walls not only break up the expanse of brick or stone, but also give climbing plants a foothold. An alternative way to brighten up a bare wall is with hanging baskets, which look good when planted with either fruits, such as strawberries, or trailing, flowering plants.
Extend the use of a small courtyard by fitting lights to the walls. Use small solar-powered garden lights, or run well-insulated electrical cable behind trellises if you'd like light to have a more permanent appearance. Another idea is to hang candle lanterns at intervals along the walls. Using insect-repelling candles would have a practical as well as attractive effect.
Courtyard ornaments include statues, sundials, mirrors or even water features. Outdoor mirrors make the small courtyard look bigger by fooling the eye into seeing greater depth. Large ornaments such as statues or plant containers provide a focal point in the courtyard and link the outside space with any adjoining indoor rooms when style and colour compliment each other. Wall fountains have the advantage of being low-volume water features--ideal in a situation where surrounding walls may amplify sounds. Wall fountains are self-contained units that recycle their water, so there is no need for spacious ponds or pools.