Courtyards are typically smaller spaces characterised by having more hard surfaces such as stones, walkways and walls than soft elements such as a lush garden. When considering which plants to bring into a courtyard, it's important to take into account how much sun or shade the area receives, and at what time of day. A sunny courtyard benefits from a few medium-sized, shade-providing trees, while a small, shady courtyard is best suited for compact, shade-loving perennials or shrubs.
Hostas are ornamental perennials (returning annually) that do well in all but the hottest grow zones. A hosta is characterised by large leaves that mushroom into a full, low mound from the plant's centre. They're useful in small, mostly shady courtyards, although they also do well in sun-dappled spaces and thrive beneath small trees as groundcover. Hostas are easy to divide when they become very full, and the cutting can be replanted in another area. Hostas are available in every colour green on the spectrum, from silver-grey-green to two-tone variegations. They flower in the spring with long slender stalks lined with lavender or white flowers, and they don't require special attention to flourish.
Hydrangeas come in a variety of forms including trees, shrubs and vines. Shrubs, such as the bigleaf or oakleaf hydrangeas, work well in small spaces, growing between 4 and 7 feet tall. In northern climates, most hydrangea shrubs prefer full sun, but in warm southern climates, afternoon shade is best. The variety Blue Billow does well in partial shade no matter what climate it is grown in. Hydrangeas flower profusely, putting out large flower balls composed of many single flowers. Flowers are white, pink, green, blue or lavender depending on the variety; some plants' blooms actually change colour during their life cycle. Gardeners who deadhead, or remove dead blooms, will see a higher flower yield during the grow season, which is summer into autumn.
Japanese maples are known for their hardiness and longevity, despite a delicate, elegant appearance. They remain as short as 4 feet but have a 16 foot high growth potential, depending on the space they're planted in. Within a small courtyard, the tree remains scaled to its surroundings, making it an ideal choice. Partial shade, protection from strong winds and moist, well-drained soil are a Japanese maple's ideal growing conditions. The variety Red pygmy is popular due to its stunning shape and foliage. Its leaves are reddish-purple from spring through summer and turn electric red in the autumn. The branches form an umbrella off the main trunk; trees with divided or branching trunks have more than one umbrella of leaves.