New Orleans is often called Crescent City, The Big Easy and The City Care Forgot, but to me, it's The Land of A Thousand Magical Courtyards. Whether they're tucked behind tiny restaurants or hidden down the cobblestone paths of huge antebellum homes, courtyards can be found from the Garden District to the French Quarter and in outlying areas where tourists rarely roam. No two are alike, but they're all lush, leafy, full of fountains, found objects and somehow beautifully manicured and messy at the same time.
My heart lives in New Orleans, but the rest of my body lives in Southern California. Since I can be (or bead) with the ones I love this Mardi Gras, I chatted about courtyards with Beverly Katz, a landscape designer and owner of Exterior Design, Inc. Turns out, replicating a New Orleans courtyard is like making a great gumbo: one part texture, two parts flavor and heaping helpings of history.
According to Katz, the New Orleans courtyard we know and love today is the result of fires that nearly destroyed the city in the late 18th century. “As citizens planned to rebuild, they had to consider the new and higher taxes on land, so they built taller on a smaller parcel,” she says. “Homes were closer together and without sprawling green space, so homeowners walled off their small outdoor spaces to provide both privacy and fire protection—and added ornamental foliage, fountains and décor for a charming effect.”
Ready to jazz up your outdoor space like they do in the other LA? Here’s how:
Rock On! – Katz says courtyards are traditionally based in flagstone, “which creates a beautiful, old-world foundation.”
Wall Street – “Courtyards in New Orleans have many unique features, but the most important and perhaps the most charming are the lovely stone or brick walls that serve as their backdrop,” Katz says.
Dollars and Scents – Color and fragrance are essential elements of New Orleans courtyards and native plants include camellias, azaleas, sweet olive, sasanquas, cleyeras, winter green boxwoods, gardenias, hydrangeas and various tropicals, including palm trees. “The use of gingers, banana plants and other textures are also important,” Katz adds.
Lost and Found – Found objects up the charm quotient considerably, and the more rustic and random, the better. “Shop flea markets and antique stores when traveling,” Katz says. “Acquiring these objects over time, when one discovers just the right piece, creates priceless memories that will become an integral part of your space.”
Watt’s Up – “One aspect many forget to include in their plans is lighting,” Katz says. “Historically, courtyards in New Orleans were lit by gas lamps on posts, and this is still done in newly constructed ones. There are also many other alternatives, such as garden lights, wall sconces and path lighting.”