Traveling and seeing gardens always brings inspiration. I'm currently immersed in photos of the Alhambra (Grenada) and the Royal Alcazar (Seville), preparing for a talk on the gardens of Spain. I can taste the wine and olives and feel the pull of antiquity - a nice diversion in the middle of winter!
Spain's gardens and courtyards are full of glazed tile - walls, fountains, benches, floors - even doorways have intricate and fanciful designs. Tiles from the 17th-19th centuries predominately feature a rich shade of royal blue that mixes beautifully with pots of orange and lemon trees and cools the eye in hot temperatures.
Water is everywhere, bringing tranquillity and sound - small pools, trickling fountains, marble basins. This is the main element in all the outdoor spaces. The Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was my favorite place to explore. It's the most important of all the royal palace gardens and a must-see for its many rooms spread out over a large complex of palace buildings on a hillside overlooking Granada.
These are some of the oldest gardens I've visited (some dating to 11th c.). and I found myself transported through time. Are there design lessons here? Absolutely. The pleasing combination of elements can be reinterpreted easily if you're looking to create a peaceful haven on a patio or backyard.
walls (enclosure, privacy)
water (sound, light, focal point)
scented plants (sensory/tactile, mood)
To get the look of a classic Spanish courtyard, use vertical surfaces for climbing vines (roses, clematis, honeysuckle, English ivy) and add a fountain and some glazed blue containers filled with mint and scented geranium (pelargonium), lemon verbena, and colorful marigolds... Tapas anyone?