Most gardeners are happy to talk about annuals and perennials until the sun sets, but they’re less comfortable talking about other features of their yards, like fencing and structures.

For some reason, hardscape is misunderstood and overwhelming for those with green thumbs. But it doesn’t need to be.

The following guide provides a hardscape definition and shows you how to use it to benefit your yard even if you’re the most committed flower lover.

Hardscape vs. Softscape

hardscape vs landscape

What is hardscape?

Where softscape refers to the animate parts of your landscaping like flowers, grass, and other plants, hardscape refers to the inanimate objects and hard materials like concrete, stone, brick, metal, and wood.

Home accessories like pots or lawn ornaments do not fall into this group. While they are inanimate, they aren’t used for building structures of any kind.

Hardscape is often the kind of project that you’d pay a landscaper to do for you because it requires more engineering prowess than does digging flower beds or planting trees. It also often requires special tools or equipment that may be better available to contractors and professionals.

This isn’t to say that all hardscaping projects are completed by landscapers and contractors because there are plenty of DIY projects within this sector of landscaping. However, these are projects are more likely to require professional assistance or even a permit at some point in the process.

Kinds of Hardscape Projects

Kinds of hardscapes

Hardscape projects are landscaping projects involving any inanimate materials. Some examples may include:

  • Patios
  • Retaining walls
  • Walkways
  • Fences
  • Decks
  • Arbors
  • Pathways
  • Gazebos
  • Pergolas
  • Fountains
  • Ponds (stone walls and sides)

As you can see, the theme of the hardscape definition runs through all these projects. They are all made of hard, inanimate parts of the landscape that don’t grow or change with the seasons. They can be made of natural materials like stone or wood or man-made materials like concrete.

Finding a Balance in Hardscaping and Softscaping

The key to using hardscapes effectively in your yard is to create a balance between the hard and soft elements included in the design.

Too much focus on hardscape landscaping can leave the yard feeling harsh and unnatural but too much softscape can create a look of chaos. While this may be less important in your backyard, failing to create a balance in your front yard compromises both curb appeal and your home’s value.

Professional landscapers say the best way to strike a balance between the two sides of landscaping is to think about your yard like it’s a home. Break it down into rooms, including pathways or hallways, and consider how you can create a design that flows between the two in a way that makes sense.

Doing this requires considering the size of your yard, its structure, and issues like sunshine and shade. Each of these plays an important role not only in flow but in where you can place elements of hardscaping and softscaping.

How to Blend Hardscaping and Softscaping

Looking at your yard as though you’re designing a home is a useful method for finding an overall balance between your hardscape features and existing or future softscaping. However, it’s also helpful to use other tools to narrow your focus and find a more precise place for things.

Here are a few design principles to use in creating balance and blending the two parts of your yard:

  1. Proportion

In an ideal scenario, you’ll have equal parts softscape for the surface area of your hardscapes.

Although there’s no set ratio, it’s generally a good idea to avoid straying beyond a 70/30 proportion. For example, if you have a huge patio space and no greenery, the area will look very off balance. Yet, if you build a small patio in a huge yard, the patio can get lost within the landscape.

  1. Blur the Lines

One way to soften the fault lines between hardscape and softscape is to add greenery to the hard areas. Using raised plant beds against retaining walls or patio edges is a common way to do this because it negates the hard line of the concrete or stone. Alternatively, you can use climbing plants or vines on pergolas or fences change the line of sight while incorporating the structure into the wider landscape.

  1. Add Accents to the Softscape

Not all blending needs to focus on drawing your hardscapes into the yard. You can also add accessories and accents into your softscape to prepare it to meet the hardscape.

Adding rock features or water features, which are technically hardscape features, to flower beds or other areas of the yard is a useful way to do this. You can also add a fire pit to an otherwise soft area to extend your living space while also blurring the lines between the two areas.

Using Hardscape in Areas Affected by Drought

Drought has changed the way people think about landscaping because they’ve learned to conserve water for things they really need it for – like cooking, drinking, and hygiene – rather than watering their lawn. Moreover, droughts don’t provide enough water to care for softscapes adequately, which results in creating a depressed look of brown grass and wilting shrubs.

Hardscape has become more popular in areas affected by weather events like drought because it provides a way to add interest to a yard without requiring resources.

For example, you can replace your lawn (the whole lawn or large swaths of it) with pavers, gravel, or concrete to get rid of the dead grass and add a more aesthetically-appealing alternative.

Additionally, you can replace flowers and plants that require regular watering with drought-tolerant plants that can survive with less water to both save water and keep your yard and garden vibrant.

How Will You Use Hardscapes?

There’s no reason to be afraid of hardscapes and other structures in your yard because hardscape can help you create balance and boost your curb appeal.

The key is to blur the lines between the hardscapes and softscapes to extend your living area while bringing your yard closer to your home.

Do you have creative ways of adding hardscapes to your home? Let us know in the comments below.

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