Savannah. Charleston. New Orleans. San Antonio. These colonial-era cities inspire the courtyard garden ideal: green and lush, with beautiful plants, pools and fountains, paved with stone, tiles or bricks, & protected by sheltering walls with gates that reveal a table and chairs for cocktails or an al fresco meal...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Barbed Quatrefoil

If you've taken my humble courtyard tour, you noticed the area on the east side of the garden, in the shade created by the live oak and the house. It was once a small patch of St. Augustine, but it was requiring too much work to keep it alive in the shade. I converted the area to a pea gravel "patio," and no, I did not first lay down "weed-blocking fabric." (But more about that later.)

I knew the expanse of gravel would require something on it or in it to "break it up," and make it more interesting. A bench, or a table and chairs would have been nice, but I had those elsewhere. I decided on a small planting bed, placed along the axis I had already created between the end of the pavement patio and the large blue Mexican urn. But what should the shape be? Round would be nice, but I decided it needed a little more pizazz. Besides, my garden is made up of both curved and square shapes.

In the Southwest, and in San Antonio in particular, you see a certain ornamental quatrefoil shape everywhere. I saw these in Dallas, at Highland Park Village:

In San Antonio they are everywhere. They are common in Moorish and Spanish art, and when used in heraldry, they are called barbed quatrefoils. A quatrefoil is any shape made up of four leaves or petals, and they are often found along with trefoils and cinquefoils in gothic tracery. The triangles in between the four circular elements could have originally been sepals peeking out between four-petaled flowers' petals.

The shape has always been very popular in Spanish Colonial and Mission Revival architecture. When used for this purpose, the "barbs" usually form the corners of a square, making the shape a quatrefoil superimposed on a square. I find it everywhere in San Antonio, which of course was originally a Spanish city of missions. It is found on churches:


Highway overpasses (?) :

And, come to think of it, one side of the shape even forms the top of the well-recognized pediment of our most famous mission, the Alamo:

Which is probably the reason that the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau chose this shape as their logo for the city:

All of which is a long way to explain why I chose the barbed quatrefoil as the shape for my bed for shade loving plants. It had to have a high edge, to keep the gravel from being kicked up into it, so I chose old D'Hanis bricks in a rose color for contrast. First, I played with the shape in the garage:

I eventually made the "barbs" more prominent. I lined the shape up with the view to the Mexican urn and after much measurement and fiddling, placed the bricks on end,  "bad sides down" in the garden. I tamped them in with a rubber mallet, leveling their tops. Here is the finished work:

I placed a cast-stone birdbath in the center for height, and surrounded it with miniature hostas (blue lollipop,) trailing cinquefoil (the plant,) and a little variegated needlepoint ivy in the middle (Silver King.) What do you think? I think it adds a little San Antonio flair to the courtyard!

Here is a long shot, showing in the distance how the birdbath inside the quatrefoil is aligned with the large turquoise urn.


  1. Dear Fougeres, I have been most interested to read some history of the quatrefoil shape and feel that your execution of the quatrefoil border, edged in brick looks most professional. As you have invited comment, although difficult to see what is exactly happening from the pictures you show, my feelings would be:
    -the choice of brick complements the gravel well

    -the bird bath I should wish to be raised higher and positioned centrally

    -the planting would in my view be better simplified with just a single species such as lavender

    Whatever, you have clearly added interest to your garden from which I am sure you and your visitors derive much pleasure.

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  3. Thanks, Edith, you are kind to comment. The Birdbath is about 18-24" off the ground, I'm not sure the photo shows it well, from the angles at which I shot. It is in the very center of the small bed, but the small bed is indeed off center in the gravel bed. I lined it up with a view i had created which I will attempt to add to this post when I return from SW Florida. I think I agree with you about the plantings. The ivy may eventually be transplanted elsewhere, then I'd be down to two. Thanks again!

  4. I like your idea very much, check out my blog when you can, as I have many pictures from Charleston, SC gardens on there that you may enjoy. Click to the left on labels for Charleston, or type it in the search box. Your blog is very nice, Gina

  5. Really enjoyed this post, thanks.


Thank you so much for your comments. They are always appreciated!