Gardens Illustrated
Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

A tiny courtyard garden with a living wall in Utrecht

Published: March 30, 2022 at 11:33 am

Dutch designer Erik Funneman has used a living wall and green, year-round planting to enclose the tiny courtyard of an urban townhouse. Words Kate Jacobs, photographs Sietske de Vries

This courtyard garden, in the historic centre of Utrecht, did not have the most promising of starts. Previously a dusty little parking area for an imposing 19th-century townhouse, garden designer Erik Funneman says that the owner asked him for “a green painting that he could enjoy day and night, all year round”, while also retaining a spot to park his car. Erik, a passionate gardener since childhood, typically favours using lots of perennials and grasses, and strives to create layers in his gardens, from tree canopy down to groundcover. “Hard landscaping is important but, for me, it’s all about the plants themselves and creating really green gardens that embrace nature and the seasons,” he says. Read more about the garden below.

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In brief

What Residential courtyard garden. Where Utrecht, the Netherlands. Size Around 40 square metres. Soil Light, poor clay soil, full of sand and broken bricks, improved with a compost-topsoil mix where needed; largely a container garden. Climate Temperate but shaded by surrounding buildings. West facing. Hardiness zone USDA 8. 

Green wall in Utrecht, designed by Erik Funneman. © Sietske de Vries
© Sietske de Vries

What was once an unloved car-parking area outside a Utrecht townhouse has been transformed into a lush courtyard garden, enclosed by a living green wall with a luxurious mix that includes Geranium macrorrhizum, Carex elata ‘Aurea’, Soleirolia soleirolii and numerous ferns. The tall Sampei Outdoor lamp by Davide Groppi allows the owner to use this green space to read in the evenings. Learn more on how to make a living green wall here.

Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

Black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra, underplanted with Molinia caerulea ‘Moorhexe’ and Muehlenbeckia complexa, is planted against the boundary wall of the dining area. Erik stripped the leaves away from the lower 1.2m of the bamboo
to highlight the dark stems and create a link to the garden’s black walls.

Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

For the ‘hanging garden’ at the back of the courtyard, Erik has used a densely planted mix of textures and colours, including the dramatic leaves of Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ and delicate silver foliage of Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’.

© Jason Ingram
Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

At either end of the balcony, Erik has built planters using Douglas fir timber, which was charred using the Japanese shou-sugi-ban conservation technique. Here the clump-forming bamboo Fargesia rufa creates an evergreen privacy screen, which serves as a backdrop the dramatic foliage of Tetrapanax papyrifer ‘Rex’.

Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

The courtyard garden still provides a parking space for the owner’s car. A pair of multi-stemmed Nothofagus antarctica help to screen it from view. Erik has used reclaimed Dutch ‘waaltje’ bricks, laid in a herringbone pattern for visual interest, to create a strong surface for parking and to differentiate the parking area from the dining area, where Belgian blue hardstone tiles echo those used inside the house.

Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

Designer Erik Funneman on the balcony of this clever city garden he created in Utrecht. Behind him the shaggy sedge Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ provides tactile texture and some privacy for this relaxed seating area.

Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

Dark paint for the balcony’s balustrade unites Erik’s shou-sugi-ban planters and lends vibrancy to the green foliage in the planters. Here a tall Japanese angelica tree (Aralia elata) adds height and creates privacy, while the star jasmine Trachelospermum jasminoides twines through the balusters.

Utrecht garden designed by Erik Funneman
© Sietske de vries

A raised square of Douglas fir decking creates an outside sitting area by the house. The owner had wanted to use the same hardstone tiles that feature in the house throughout the garden too, but Erik persuaded his client to expand the materials palette. “The different materials zone the garden and make it feel bigger,” he explains.

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For more information on Erik’s work, visit erikfunneman.nl

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