Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1

Courtyard 2

Courtyard 2

These two courtyards are in my neighborhood in Seattle and present dramatically different landscapes. One is in the center of a U-shaped, tall building and faces north while the other is a short building with an L-shaped courtyard and opens NW. The first one has minimal trees, only small ones in the courtyard and entrance while the second has large trees that cast heavy shadows over much of the courtyard. The first is full of flowers, some native plants and some minimal structural plants of hedge-type plantings. It’s a really lovely space that most people may miss because it’s elevated from the street level. The second courtyard is also elevated, with a locked gate, but it’s not at all lovely. It seems very barren, with only a few varieties of plants, nothing of color and most the plants are heavily trimmed.

From a design perspective there’s no competition, the first courtyard is far more inviting, comfortable, colorful and nicer to walk into. The second courtyard is far from inviting, hard, and seems cold. From a habitat perspective, the results are much the same. The first courtyard has a lot of pollinating flowers with color, which invites in many bees and butterflies. The bright space also is welcoming to insects who need to warm themselves in the sun to become active. The amount of plantings, and lack of bare space provides cover for bees, butterflies or birds while at the same time providing a lot of space for insects (prey) as well. The second courtyard offers almost nothing for wildlife with the exception of the trees.

It would be a lot of fun to replant the second courtyard with better plants including flowers and native shrubs and groundcovers. Despite the shady areas of the courtyard, there’s enough sun to plant flowers and other sun-loving plants in select areas. There are also a number of shade tolerant plants native to the Pacific Northwest that provide different aspects of habitat from food to shelter. The hardscaping of the courtyard lend itself to a formal design, but a space can be formal and welcoming to wildlife as well, as the first courtyard demonstrates. With some more variety of plants, added color and a greater amount of plantings, the second courtyard could be quite welcoming for the buildings inhabitants as well as wildlife.

Wildlife-friendly Courtyard

Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1

Courtyard 1

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Kelly Brenner

Kelly Brenner is a naturalist, writer and photographer based in Seattle. She is the author of a book about urban nature, coming Spring 2020 from Mountaineers Books. She writes freelance articles about natural history and has bylines in Crosscut, ParentMap, National Wildlife Magazine and others. On the side she writes fiction.

Kelly holds a bachelors degree in landscape architecture from the University of Oregon and a certificate in non-fiction writing from the University of Washington.

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  1. Will you post about your thesis project or have you already done so?

  2. This is a great post and the obvious take away is that providing habitat to urban wildlife can and usually does improve the experience for humans as well. It does not have to be one or the other.

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