Courtyard gardens present special challenges due to sunlight limitations caused by the surrounding building. This doesn't mean your courtyard can't be a thriving garden retreat. Choose plants for hardiness and ease of care as well as looks to make the most of your courtyard garden all year round, not just in the warm seasons.
Plan your courtyard garden to be enjoyable from the indoors as well as outdoors. This means setting up plants so you get a great view whether you're in the centre of the courtyard or curled up on the couch looking at the garden through a window. If you can view the courtyard from all sides indoors, plant the tallest plants toward the centre or place them in a raised bed, then layer other plants outward in descending size order. Place benches near the edges of the garden where they won't obstruct the window view, yet will still allow you full enjoyment of the garden while outdoors.
Make sure your courtyard garden isn't so crowded with plants that you don't have room to enjoy it. Lay down narrow, winding pathways with garden pavers, stepping stones or crushed rock, and place large, decorative stones in places they can enhance the garden's look. Concrete or metal sculptures can also enhance your courtyard garden, as will a small water feature, even if it's a simple birdbath or tabletop-style fountain. For rockery placement, look to the natural landscapes in your area for cues on how to lay out plants and stones so they work well together. For example, stones often provide a transition between planted areas and water features, and green plants often thrive nearer to bare rock than brightly coloured flowers, although this varies by region.
Choose at least a few evergreen plants to keep your courtyard garden attractive in winter no matter what your climate is like. For flowering plants, observe the way the sun hits your courtyard and choose plants native to your area that suit the sun conditions. Choosing native plants means you'll spend less time watering and feeding because they are conditioned to grow with the existing sun and soil nutrients, although the courtyard setting means they may need a bit of extra help.