When you think of landscaping you probably have a pretty solid picture in your mind of what that means. You probably envision colorful flower beds, some well-tended lawn, your favorite shrubs and perhaps even a pond or waterfall.
But there’s a component of a landscape that is beautiful and serves important functions, too. It’s called a hardscape, and it refers to essentially everything that is inanimate – paving stones, retaining walls, walkways, steps, patios and more.
In fact, the term landscaping refers to both hardscapes (the inanimate, man-made structures) and softscapes (the plants, trees and shrubs you’ve already envisioned). Together, these two components combine to create beautiful outdoor living spaces that suit your lifestyle and become an extension of your home.
And here’s some bonus trivia: when it coms to landscape design, the hardscapes should almost always be put in place first, with the softscapes and living materials around them. It makes a whole lot more sense to lay a patio and then plant around it than to plant a garden and wedge in some paving stones later!
If you’re wondering about the benefits of hardscapes and how to incorporate them into your overall landscape, here are some ideas to get you started.
Depending on the type of hardscape, it can serve different functions in your landscape. A patio, for example, is a central element of a living space where you can cook, entertain, and gather for conversation with family and friends.
Large boulders or natural stone gardens can replace plants in those spots where nothing seems to grow. Or if you simply love natural stone, they can be strictly aesthetic.
Some hardscapes, like retaining walls or gravel can help prevent soil erosion and improve drainage. Others help direct the flow of traffic through your space – think driveways for cars, pathways for people, and fencing for stop points and privacy.
Hardscapes can help conserve water since they can replace grass (one of the most water-hungry landscape components you can have!) as well as other plants, reducing irrigation needs. And they require the least maintenance of just about any feature.
It would be hard to imagine a complete landscape – especially one that is a true living space – that does not have at least one hardscape element. A hardscape expands your usable space, boosts curb appeal, improves functionality, and of course adds beauty and visual appeal. Without one, your space can end up looking like an overgrown jungle of plants and trees with nothing to break it up or draw the eye through.
Pathways, Patios And Decks As Hardscapes
Pavers and natural stone such brick, fieldstone, and bluestone are probably the most common forms of hardscaping. Every landscape is bound to have at least one walkway or patio make of stone, however large or small.
Depending on your design preferences and lifestyle needs, pathways can be anything from a few stepping stones to a meandering garden path. Many stones come in a variety of color variations, sizes, and shapes so you can be as creative as you want with your design, whether you enjoy the regular herringbone style of brick laying, or something more organic like “broken” stone in its myriad irregular forms.
The same is true for your patio or deck – choose the colors, styles and shapes that work for you, including wood or a composite material for decking. Remember, your patio or deck can be like an additional room in your home, extending your living space and giving you a place to relax, entertain, dine, engage in a favorite hobby, and enjoy the outdoors. So plan your hardscapes wisely, then landscape around them to add beauty, privacy and four-season appeal no matter how you use the space.
Fireplaces And Fire Pits As Hardscapes
Hardscaping extends beyond just pathways and patios and includes any manmade structure that is part of your landscape. That includes features like fire pits and fireplaces, two great additions for turning your yard into an outdoor living space.
A built-in fireplace made of natural stone or brick is a permanent structure that adds both beauty and function to your landscape. During warm months, it can be used to add a festive glow and relaxing ambiance to the evening hours, and even serve as a casual cooking spot with additional features like a built-in pizza oven.
During cooler months, it can generate warmth and create a gathering spot where you can continue to enjoy your outdoor space even as the temperature dips.
Fire pits can be either permanent structures made of natural stone, or portable versions that you can move around as you choose. They’re also excellent focal points for either summer or winter gatherings – summer for relaxing conversation and toasting s’mores, winter for cuddling under some blankets with a hot cocoa and enjoying its warmth.
Both of these hardscape elements increase the usefulness of your space throughout all four seasons, offering light and warmth, and can be an integral part of your overall landscape design.
Gazebos And Pergolas As Hardscapes
Even though most people think of patios and ground-level elements as hardscapes, they can be vertical structures, too! Whether they are freestanding structures like a garden gazebo, or a pergola attached to the exterior of your home, these features will also increase the usable space in your yard and give you an opportunity to create outdoor rooms to enjoy all year.
They come in myriad sizes, shapes, and styles and are unique in that they can be intertwined with softscapes – think climbing vines and blooms wound throughout the sides and roof of the structure.
These elements can also enhance privacy, provide shade, and offer shelter, in addition to being a visually appealing addition to your landscape.
Retaining Walls As Hardscapes
A retaining wall is another vertical structure that can be a beautiful part of your landscape but also serve an important function. It can be used to control a sloping yard and create more flat, usable space. It can be used to control rainwater runoff and soil erosion.
Retaining walls can also double as seating areas, serving as built-in benches and delineating the boundaries of a patio or gathering spot. And they can contain and border softscapes like flower gardens.
Retaining walls can be made of wood, poured concrete or natural stone depending on your needs and preferences. And if you simply love the look, you can build walls for purely aesthetic reasons, whether to enclose a garden, border a driveway, or add curb appeal to your home.
These are just a few examples of hardscapes and how they can be used, but there are plenty more options to design creatively.
From rock gardens to a single large boulder, as an outdoor kitchen or a mulch play area, hardscapes offer both visual beauty and functionality to your space.
If you’d like to explore how hardscapes can extend your living space and become part of your overall landscape design, book a consultation with us. We’ll listen to your ideas, evaluate your property, and design the perfect outdoor living space including both hardscapes and softscapes to suit your desires and lifestyle.