Living in a rental property with a pocket handkerchief sized courtyard is no excuse for not having a garden. It simply means that you have to be a bit smarter in the way you tackle the problem. The answer is in being single-minded and disciplined.
The first thing is to acknowledge that space is limited so you only have the chance to do one style in the courtyard. That may be Mediterranean or cottage or contemporary, however you can only choose one and that’s the hard part.
Once you have selected the style, define the elements that typify that style. Your list should include colours, materials, shapes, decoration, plants, even emotions. Think about how you want people to feel when enjoying the space.
Try to keep it simple. In a confined space, less is certainly better. This principle should be applied to every aspect of the courtyard garden design. Select just one or two materials for most elements. This could be concrete, metal or timber. Then use the selected material in hardscaping, walls, structures and furniture.
Color should also be limited to one or two. You can choose a key colour for all the major elements, and one highlight colour for feature walls, flowers and soft furnishings. If you want to add texture, choose materials that will be in keeping with the overall look and feel of the garden style you have selected. For example, if you are using timber decking, wooden fences and timber furniture, then you could use a woodchip mulch on the garden beds instead of a black mulch.
Every single element in the courtyard should contribute to achieving the desired style of the design. The garden will demonstrate the impact of having one central idea and carrying that central theme through everything.