The Elegance of a Mexican Courtyard Garden

The courtyard garden of the Hacienda Yaxcopoil. Yucatan, Mexico.

A Mexican courtyard garden provides a signature style reflective of desert, coast and lush tropical forests. There are many ways to replicate the allure of Mexico in your own courtyard or small garden. Framing your courtyard garden around a thematic backdrop like Mexico blends earth elements with the beauty inherent in both native and colonial design.

Garden Design

Mexico is a multifaceted country comprised of lush forests and barren terrain, rustic native decoration and highly stylized colonial influences. From plants to props, a Mexican courtyard garden is for people, and people are at the heart of the design. As you incorporate features into your plan, always consider how it may suit family and friends; a lagoon in the middle of your floor plan may be a wonderful feature, but not if it leaves no room for your guests to mingle.

A courtyard garden may reflect a favorite area of Mexico--the native appeal of northern deserts, the relaxed oasis of coastal climes, the rich diversity of mountainous regions--or a hybrid style incorporating features from throughout the country. Be sure to include relics of the past - Mexico's heritage is ancient and much of its decor is flavored by this historic influence. Finally, consider the cultures that have impacted Mexico--Spanish colonial design can be felt in the most prestigious areas of the country. Furnishing your own elegant garden with features from this colonial decor will charm all who enter your courtyard.

When designing your courtyard garden, include an area for entertaining. Ideally, include a section for outdoor cooking as well as for dining and relaxing. Besides this patio area, consider a water feature or other dramatic focal point for your garden.

Plants for the Mexican Garden

Opt for native Mexican plants. Even if you live in a cool climate, there are many tropical and subtropical plants that boast a surprising hardiness. Mexico is home to up to 30,000 vascular plants--undoubtedly, there will be something that will thrive in your setting, even if growing it in containers is necessary.

When it comes to plant life, Mexico has a diverse expanse. For a courtyard garden, some species may not be ideal--like coconut palms, or other very tall varieties, unless your space can accommodate a large species. Consider a smaller tree in a corner like a tree dahlia. There are even some hardy banana trees that will grow as far north as Massachusetts. Choose broad leaf plants that hint at Mexico's inherent lushness. Also, choose plants that embody exotic shapes like bromeliads. Or, consider plants known for their textures like cacti and other succulents. In any case, consider using any of the following plants: flowering agave, aloe vera, fuchsia, acacia, orchid, ferns, hosta, hibiscus, golden trumpet, caladium, rex-begonia vine or any other that may reflect a Mexican garden.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber adds, "Including space for a kitchen garden in your design will provide you with fresh vegetable and herbs . Fruit trees can also be incorporated into your courtyard design to add fresh fruit and structure to the garden."

How you landscape your courtyard is largely dependant on taste. You don't want your growth to inhibit the flow of your living space, nor do you want a tropical jungle--elegance means everything in its place. Using containers will help maintain a manicured look. Training your climbers to bloom atop a pergola or across a garden wall will certainly be a focal point. Aim for well kept flowerbeds and large arrangements of hanging baskets. Also, use plant arrangements to ornament your special garden features like a pool or a fountain.

Patio, Accents and Props

Designing the patio section of your courtyard garden requires a floor--consider terracotta tiles or stone. If you opt for a Spanish colonial influence, you may want to include the hallmark blue and white tiles or even hand painted Talavera tiles. Decorative floors may incorporate Aztec design patterns or employ a border of mosaic tiles in earthy shades of muted desert colors or tranquil colors of the forest and sea. Consider a bricked grill for cooking under an arbor or off the home. If you do a lot of entertaining, a bar will be the perfect accent for your patio section. Be sure you have plenty of seating to accommodate guests--a long rustic table and benches as well as decorative seats made from wrought iron are just the thing.

TIP: Karen advises, "Courtyards are usually enclosed by buildings on each side, or by a wall. Earth toned stucco walls are commonly used and reflect Spanish influence. Other materials that can be used include; stone, wood or brick. Walls that enclose the courtyard can be short and allow you to easily see the neighboring garden, or they can be very tall to provide privacy. When planing how to enclose your courtyard take into consideration placing windows in the wall. A well placed window will frame an exterior view, like a specimen planting in the next garden or a distant mountain range."

If your patio contains an overhang, install Mexican lanterns made from stamp metal and iron sconces for the walls. Atop your table, a simple dish of ornamental gourds next to an iron candelabra will suggest all the elegance you require. Additionally, you may opt for tablecloths and cushions that use Mexican patterns or designs. Whether you opt for the sparse colors of some Aztec design or the rich palette of color employed by the paintings of Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera is simply a matter of personal taste.

Water Features

Water plays a major role in most Mexican gardens. In the desert where it is so prized, bricked wells where people meet to collect water are at the heart of many native cultures. Depending on the size of your courtyard consider water features like replicated wells, pools, ponds, fountains and perhaps even cascades. Stone is ideal for these features, but you may enhance them with decorative tile. If a pool or pond is too elaborate for your space, simple freestanding fountains or wall fountains with colonial Spanish fretwork or the carved motifs of native culture will work wonderfully too.


Finally, create a thematic decor, ranging from a decorative wrought iron gateway to a bright wall fresco. Your particular stamp of Mexico may be the festive gala days or the somber romance of quiet evenings, and your decor will convey any style you want to reflect. Consider a terracotta pot to house your datura or glazed earthenware bowls to sport tabletop waterlilies. Pottery and ceramic in muted colors or painted with traditional designs should be considered.

When it comes to materials, think wrought iron, stone, and blown glass. You may want to employ a sun motif as a wall decoration or for items like candles, dishes, tiles, or other accents. Whatever you choose in the of props, the combination of your features and plants will allow you to create a courtyard garden reminiscent of Mexico's timeless appeal.