Inner City Courtyard Makeover

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Don received a letter from Sandra Price, asking for help. Sandra’s flat faces the street, and as the garden is below street level there is no privacy from passers-by. She explained that she loves Parisian-style gardens filled with citrus, colour and fragrance.

Don found the area depressing and dark, but he decided to take up the challenge. He created a French-style garden using colourful plants, limestone edging and citrus trees in glazed ‘Versailles’ pots.


Garden fork
Cement trowel
Spirit level
Garden trowel
Hole punch
Multi-grip pliers



All existing plant material was removed, except for two murrayas that provided some privacy. These were pruned to let some light in and to encourage some growth lower down.
2. New garden soil and compost were turned in to improve the soil and build up the height of the bed.
3. Don laid a new garden edge using large limestone blocks to retain the soil and provide some casual seating. The blocks were laid on a mortar bed over the concrete slab to provide stability.
4. Don marked where the pots were to be placed in the garden, and placed three cement slabs on mortar beds in these spots. The slabs were checked for level and adjusted accordingly. This was done so that the pots, when in place, wouldn’t sink into the soil and would also drain freely when watered.
5. Don put the glazed ‘Versailles’ pots in place and re-checked their levels. He then potted up a variety of citrus using quality potting mix and dressed them with a slow release fertiliser. (Note: citrus are gross feeders and require regular fertilising.)
6. Don planted out the rest of the garden bed with an assortment of perfumed and old fashioned flowering plants (see list below).
7. After mulching the garden bed, Don installed a simple drip irrigation system to help the new plantings establish. (Tip: some hand watering is still required for a newly established garden.) Before installing any irrigation system, check regulations with your water authority or local council.


Meyer lemon (Citrus limon ‘Meyer’)

Believed to be an orange/lemon hybrid, the Meyer lemon has rounded, thin-skinned yellow/orange fruit, with sweeter juice than most other varieties of lemon. The tree itself is compact, thornless and bears bumper crops from an early age. It is well suited to small gardens and tub culture, and is more tolerant of cold and frost than other lemon varieties. Cost: about $165 for a 35 litre bag.

Imperial mandarin (Citrus reticulata ‘Imperial’)

Also known as Early Imperial, this early season variety originated around 1890 from a chance seedling at Emu Plains, Sydney. It has small to medium, yellow-orange fruit, with soft, thin skin which makes it easy to peel. Cost: about $165 for a 35 litre bag.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica)

An aromatic, biennial herb to around 2m (6′) tall, with bright green, divided leaves and clusters of greenish-white flowers in late summer. Angelica has long been used as a medicinal plant. The roots and seeds are used as a flavouring, the fruit is used for herbal tea and the stems are candied and used in cakes. Angelica oil is used in soaps, shampoos and perfumes. Cost: about $10 for 140mm (6″) pots.

Lenten or Christmas rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Despite the common name, these plants are not roses. In Australia they flower in winter not at Christmas. The name Lenten or Christmas Rose refers to their winter flowering in the northern hemisphere. Hellebores are excellent ground cover plants for shaded areas and their winter flowers brighten up the garden when many plants are looking bleak and miserable. They grow best in the cooler parts of Australia. Cost: around $25 for 200mm (8″) pots.

Violet (Viola odorata)

Spreading perennial with kidney-shaped leaves and fragrant, violet, white or rose flowers. Good ground cover for cool, moist areas. Cost: about $10 for 140mm (6″) pots

Polygala (Polygala chamaebuxus)

A dwarf polygala to 20cm (8″) tall. It has tiny, dark green leaves and yellow and white flowers in spring and summer. Don used the variety ‘Fairy Lights, which has pea flowers with a yellow keel and mauve flower wings. (Note: this plant is weedy in some areas.) Expect to pay about $11 for 140mm (6″) pots.

Gardenia augusta ‘Florida’

This is one of the best gardenias available. It produces masses of perfumed flowers on a hardy plant. ‘Florida’ grows to about 1m x 1m (3’x3′). Other varieties of G. augusta with larger flowers include ‘Magnifica’ (2m or 6′), and ‘Professor Pucci’ (1.5m or 5′). Cost: $14 for 200mm (8″) pots.

Further information

SomerStone ‘Moore River’ limestone blocks (500x350x300mm) cost about $30 each. Phone 1300 139 833 for your closest stockist, or visit the website:
‘Versailles’ antique white urns cost about $330 each from Decorator Terracotta. Phone (02) 9450 1944 and fax: (02) 9450 1988 for stockists in your state.
Cement pavers 400x 400 cost about $8.50 each from hardware and landscape suppliers.