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When you think about hardscape, you might think about using brick or stone to build walls or pathways. But the world of hardscaping is much more varied and exciting than building paths or filling beds with gravel.
The term hardscaping doesn’t refer explicitly to wall or bench but instead to any permanent structure or component of your yard or landscape. It’s almost anything that isn’t softscape (i.e. plants and soil).
Hardscaping structures are often more expensive than plants, soil, or mulch because many materials are priced per square foot. These structures also require some maintenance. However, because they are durable, they both cost less and require less maintenance over the long run.
There’s virtually no limit to the features that may be included in hardscape. From walls and fences to patios and decks to simple flowerbeds or firepits, you can create an area that both complements your soft landscaping while also adding utility and interest to existing structures.
Types of Hardscape
What kinds of hardscaping can you use in your yard? There’s almost no limit. As long as it is a permanent structure and isn’t made of soil, most hard components count as hardscaping.
Here are just a few potential hardscape ideas:
Walls and Fences
Walls and fences provide both security and privacy for your yard, making it a more personal space.
There are many options to choose from when building a wall or fence. Much of the choice depends on how much privacy you’re interested in as well as your home design.
A wall or fence doesn’t need to simply be a wall or fence. Don’t be afraid to turn them into a work of art or even blend them with your softscaping for a cohesive look.
You may think of your driveway merely as a utilitarian feature of your yard, but it is considered hardscaping and there’s no reason not to design it intentionally to match your home or yard’s aesthetic.
Driveways can be made of concrete (stained or unstained), concrete pavers, or even cobblestone to add beauty to your front yard.
Patios and Kitchens
Patios bring your indoor space to meet your outdoor space, creating value for both spaces at the same time.
Patios can be formal or natural with straight lines or a meandering wall that nestles it carefully into the yard.
Some homeowners find that adding a small kitchen to their outdoor space makes their patio more useful and adds square footage to their home. An outdoor kitchen is cooler in the summer and allows you to both entertain and cook at the same time during barbecues and garden parties.
Patios and kitchens can be constructed out of concrete, tile, brick, or most commonly, pavers. These spaces also present a good opportunity to find unique hardscape lighting to further bring the two spaces together.
A firepit can be added anywhere in your garden; though, it should always be away from low hanging branches, property lines and any gas lines buried in the yard.
A firepit can be both aesthetic and functional by providing a safe place for bonfires but by also adding to the look you’re trying to achieve in your garden.
Many people choose to build their own firepits out of stone or brick – a project easily completed in a day or two. But if you don’t have the perfect space for a firepit, you can also buy a natural gas or gel firepit, allowing you both aesthetic appeal and some of the function of a traditional fire pit.
Firepits can be built near or on patios or further out in the garden as long as the fire hazard is minimized.
Want a firepit but can’t manage even a small one? Try a tabletop fire pit. Although it doesn’t technically qualify as hardscaping, it’s a unique addition to an outdoor living space.
Rocks are popular among homeowners because they add both interest and function to gardens.
Stones provide not only a natural look, but they also provide shade to critters and plants, which makes them an ideal choice for gardens. Although there’s a lot of talk about a natural aesthetic, stones can be used in both natural and formal landscaping.
Pavers are most commonly used for building paths and other large spaces such as around pool decks or on driveways, but they can also be used to create small areas such as around a firepit or another structure in the garden.
Some of the most common stones used in landscaping include:
Stone pavers tend to be the most natural looking pavers and many models are processed to look as though they’ve just been quarried. However, they are also the most expensive pavers and aren’t well suited to some projects
Paths & Walkways
Paths are most commonly found in large gardens and serve as the main arteries of your garden and help you create balance and draw the garden together.
Stone hardscapes are popular when building paths because they add a natural look that’s both easy to shape and maintain over time. In most cases, gravel or pavers are used to fill the design, but bricks or concrete are also possible.
Don’t just choose any material. Allow it to match your softscaping by complementing your flowers with the color of your path. In many cases, warmer colors work best.
What You Need to Know Hardscape Design
There are three main components of hardscape design that will help you get started in planning your garden:
Professional landscapers will typically follow one of two approaches when employing hardscape in an overall landscape: formal or natural.
A formal landscape utilizes symmetry and straight lines to create a finished and intentional design. You’ll see examples of formal hardscape among the carefully manicured gardens found in castles and estate houses where paths are formed straight or create mazes while structures like statues or fountains draw the eye to the center of the garden.
Natural landscapes will feature components built into the landscape similarly to the way they would exist in the natural world. A path might meander through trees or flower beds or a rock may be placed off-center or under a tree, as it might exist in nature.
Once you’ve decided whether you’re going for a formal or natural structure, you’ll begin to piece together a plan for the garden.
Use an accurate property map to serve as a template for your design. If you have an existing garden that you intend to work hardscaping into, add your garden features where they currently lie. This will help you better understand whether the formal or natural approach you’ve chosen will work in your space.
Do your best to add the various elements as close to their current location as possible to better account for hardscaping measurements. Failing to do so might send you back to the drawing board several times when you realize a component won’t fit in the space you hope to put it in.
One way to bring the design together is to start with your path layout.
Play around with potential paths to create the arteries of the garden. The paths will segment your garden into different zones, which will help you find balance throughout the garden and avoid creating a top or bottom-heavy garden.
Additionally, paths are more permanent than many other features like rocks or benches. So it’s best to create a foundation with the paths rather than weaving them through other structures.
Some of your materials will be set in stone, but others will require a series of choices, and these choices make up the third step of hardscaping design.
For example, if you want to build a firepit near your patio, you’ll have several choices regarding design and materials. You can build a formal brick firepit, a rustic stone firepit, or even a more formal stone firepit.
Each of these provides a different aesthetic that should complement the overall style you’re looking for in your garden.
The way the plans you’ve made will come to life will be through the materials you choose to build the features with.
A good rule of thumb is to use both your personal taste and your current home design to create a design that is consistent throughout the garden.
Complement Your Garden with Hardscapes
Hardscapes do more than add low-maintenance pieces to your garden. It can be used to tie your entire yard together to create a cohesive, beautiful look that adds emotional value to your garden and real value to your home and property.
Whether you choose simple hardscapes like a firepit or pathways or you extend your living space from your home into your garden, hardscapes will help you bring your vision for your garden together.
Do you have any tips for hardscaping? Share your stories and gardens in the comments below.