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We throw around a lot of more technical words on this blog. Sometimes, we might forget that some of our readers need to get back to basics for a second. After all, having a good foundational knowledge regarding landscape and landscape design is incredibly important to making good decisions about your own outdoor space. One word we use often is “hardscaping”. But what is hardscaping? And what is the difference between hardscaping, softscaping, and landscaping?

It can all seem a little overwhelming, but don’t worry. We promise you it’s actually easier than you think. And once you understand the basics, you’ll be able to look at your own backyard with a more critical eye.

What is a hardscape?

So, what exactly are we talking about what we talk about hardscaping? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hardscaping is simply, ” the man-made features used in landscape architecture e.g. paths or walls, as contrasted with vegetation”.

This definition gives you a basic understanding, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.Hardscaping is manmade, yes. And it does contrast with vegetation in landscape architecture. But what materials are considered hardscaping materials? Exactly what elements in your backyard are hardscape elements?

Truth is, the term “hardscape” is a broad word used to classify all of the constructed, non-living elements in your outdoor landscape. Think patios, driveways, pergolas, etc. Hardscaping can refer to decorative or practical structures. In direct contrast is the softscape, which refers to nearly everything else in the space. Your garden beds or flower beds, lawn, trees, etc–those are all softscaping elements in your outdoor space.

Common Hardscaping Elements

If you redo your outdoor living space, almost immediately you will run into people referring to different elements of your future design as hardscaping. Because this term casts such a wide net, it can be hard to wrap your head around what is and is not considered hardscaping.

Here are a few of the most common categories we talk about what we talk about hardscaping features.

Patios

Patios are one of the most common pieces of hardscape found in countless backyards. They are constructed from a wide variety of different materials, and are generally identified as a paved area situated directly on the ground.

Patios are made with many materials. Most people tend to gravitate towards natural stone or cement materials like flagstone patios, concrete patios, or even brick patios. All of these materials, once manipulated by man to form a design element around your home’s exterior. They are all considered pieces of the hardscape.

Walkways

Another common piece of hardscape in most yards are walkways or paths. These navigational elements draw the eyes around the space and create and facilitate movement. Walkways are one of the most functional parts of hardscaping design.

Whether you install rustic gravel paths or stone walkways, this piece of hardscape helps to connect your landscaping. Paths and walkways lead visitors and homeowners alike, break up the space, and elevate its overall functionality.

Retaining Walls

Another common hardscape feature is the retaining wall. Designers use retaining walls to help landscaping take shape in sloped or hilly yards. They are often constructed from materials like natural stone, concrete, or even pavers. A well constructed stone wall prevents erosion and water runoff on slopes, allowing homeowners to utilize the space more practically.

Water Features

You may think of water features as soft or natural, but the water inside your pool and fountain is there because of the structure that holds it! Water features like recirculating fountains and even birdbaths are all part of your landscaping and your hardscaping. A great water feature is just one way that landscape designers seamlessly integrate hardscape into your yard without adding too many uninterrupted straight lines.

Arbors, Pergolas, and Decks

Until now, every hardscaping feature we’ve talked about has been made from some kind of stone or concrete. But that is only half of what is most commonly used in landscaping. Beyond stone and cement are elements such as wooden arbors, wooden decks, and pergolas.

These structures anchor outdoor areas and add visual appeal as well as practicality. Many homeowners choose to construct a pergola for the purpose of providing shade. Wooden decks serve the same purpose as cement or brick patios. But unlike patios, decks are typically raised on platforms to contend with a sloping yard.

Hardscaping is a broad category. Other commonly added hardscape projects may include:

  • Fire pits or fire places
  • Wood or stone steps
  • Outdoor kitchen
  • Natural stone outdoor flooring
  • ADU’s, Sheds, or Other Buildings

Mixing Hardscaping and Softscaping

The best landscaping offers balance. This means, mixing soft and hardscape to create a design that is beautiful, functional, and tailored to you. If you like a harder, more modern landscaping style, consider minimizing natural areas or planting areas. Harsher landscaping may benefit from the introduction of more greenery–create planting areas to break up an auxiliary patio or a harsh property line.

Make an organic feeling element like a water feature even softer by cultivating a water garden. Or improve drainage while adding more hardscape to your space with a pea gravel patio.

Hardscaping is Critical To Landscape Design

Hardscape features are a broad category when talking landscape design. There are so many hardscape projects that it can be hard to imagine which elements fall into this category and which do not. Truth is, if it is constructed from non living elements and placed into your outdoor living space, it is considered hardscape.

Whether you’re looking at a concrete patio slab, or a piece of coated steel, or a long and winding gravel path, your yard’s hardscape is what brings the outdoor area together, adds functionality, style, and practicality.


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