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SGD Awards 2024 Winner - Andy Sturgeon FSGD

How to make the most of a courtyard garden

An enclosed space poses a unique challenge, but designer Andy Sturgeon’s three courtyard gardens provide a lesson in how to get it right

Telegraph  Sharon Smith13 February 2024 • Image - Planted power: Sturgeon’s Battersea Power Station courtyard CREDIT: Rachel Warne

Courtyard gardens, like rooftop spaces, can be tricky to get right, according to garden designer Andy Sturgeon. With the latter, you have exposure to a harsh environment to consider. With courtyards, it is the opposite challenge of dealing with an enclosed, limited space. And Sturgeon should know. He has just won the Society of Garden Designers’ top accolade, the Garden of the Year Award, for a project at London’s Battersea Power Station (BPS) which includes both rooftop and courtyard gardens. The title joins a lengthy list that includes nine Chelsea gold medals and a multitude of national and international prizes.

His three courtyard gardens at the Grade II* former power station, which is now a residential, retail and entertainment complex, provide a lesson in how to get it right. And the golden rule with any such garden, says Sturgeon, is to make it enticing: “The first thing I always think about is making an atmosphere, so that it’s a place you want to be in.”

To do that, a courtyard garden needs to meet your own wishes, but also to suit its setting by incorporating its immediate surroundings. “By their very nature, you’ve got an enormous influence from the building that defines the garden and sits around it,” says Sturgeon. “That will always influence the atmosphere of that space. Whether it’s a beautiful walled courtyard with brick or flint walls, or a more modern building, that architecture is always going to play a huge role in the outcome, because the two things are always working together. You’re never going to get away from it, it’s always in the backdrop, it’s the foil to whatever plants you put in.”

What lies beyond the walls is, he says, less important: “Although courtyard gardens are influenced by what’s around them, they’re often dislocated from other things; you probably don’t have any views because it’s an enclosed space. It’s inward-looking, which is unusual for a garden because you’re often talking about borrowed views, whereas in a courtyard you’re in your own little world.”

Sturgeon’s own courtyard garden in Brighton illustrates this point. “I’ve got nothing in my garden that reflects the sea,” he says. “A courtyard garden is in a microclimate and you often ignore what happens outside it. That’s what I’ve done; I’m not looking over the fence to see what’s outside it.”

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