What is Hardscaping?

Sunday, September 15, 2013 9:00:00 PM

In this article, you'll learn

  • The definition of hardscaping and how it differs from soft landscaping.
  • Why you need to consider both semi-soft and semi-hard scapes before starting your project.
  • What needs to be determined in your hardscaping plan such as foundation work, materials you want to use, drainage issues, etc.


Just how hard is hardscaping to do?

The current gurus of exterior grounds design have divided the general ways we create landscaping into two major categories: hardscapes and softscapes. Interestingly, these terms require a bit of insight and glancing below the surface, if we want to use them correctly.


hardscapesThe term “hardscapes” refers to all the various types of inanimate means we employ to get our grounds under control and make them both practical and appealing. Some good examples would be sidewalks and pathways, patios, retaining walls, pavers, fencing, driveways and decks.


Generally, whatever’s left can be termed “softscapes.” These are the living elements of your landscaping, or the natural ones that change over time. Bushes and flower beds, trees and lawns are typical examples.

Semi-Soft & Semi-Hard Scapes

The in-between “scapes” present something of a conundrum in today’s popular landscaping parlance. Would artificial turf, which is not living, but appears to be, fall under the hardscapes or softscapes category? How about decomposed granite? Astroturf?

To get control of this labeling confusion and whip it into a semblance of order the way we tend to whip Mother Nature herself into order, landscapers have created further subcategories:

Soft hardscapes: generally refer to areas created of sand or pea gravel, materials from the ground that are not quite alive, yet totally natural. As an example, decomposed granite would fall into this category, as would a decorative path made of colored sand or fine-ground marble, lined with glass mulch or river rocks.

Mixed hardscapes: use soft landscaping materials like pea gravel in combination with hardscaping materials, such as prefabricated stepping stones. Some creative landscape designers even use objects like recycled bottle tops and the cut-off bottoms of old glass soda bottles to decorate a mixed hardscaping area.

Living hardspaces: are those that combine living plants in between blocks of non-living hardscapes materials. Planting moss between concrete stepping stones would be a good example of a living hardscape.

Hardscaping Design- An Overview

If you are planning to create the design of your hardscaping yourself, the operative word would be “planning.” The hardscapes design of any grounds will not be going anywhere any generation soon, so, unlike softscaping, your hardscaping design should be thoroughly considered in advance.

  1. Consider the ambience – Even if you’re only designing for a small area of your grounds, the look, feel, and layout of the whole exterior grounds should be taken into account. It’s best to block out the entire design all at once, if possible, so that you don’t install elements that might prevent installing others in the future. And of course, you want to come out of the experience with a cohesive, attractive appearance to the grounds. A great way to develop this is to use a theme for your landscaping design style, such as “Contemporary Southwest,” or “Classical Romanesque.”
  2. Drainage – Planning your drainage installations is every bit as important as planning your above-ground hardscapes. While you’re at it, consider putting in drainage that captures runoff in an environmentally responsible way.
  3. Respecting nature – Great landscape designers have a great respect for nature and seek to emulate its beauty in their designs. One easy way to do this is to avoid straight lines and right angles. If you’re building a deck or a patio, see to it that the edges meeting your grounds are not linear, but curved. When creating a sidewalk around a water feature, allow it to flow in a gentle arc, or meander in a long S-shape, rather than putting in straight, boring, institutional-looking walkways. The goal here is grace.
  4. The materials – Try to choose materials that go well with your building’s exteriors. Go for a variety of textures for interest, but no more than three, and preferably two, unless the area is very large.
  5. The foundation – Just like your house, your hardscapes are no better than their foundations. Make sure you don’t scrimp on them just because they aren’t visible.

Huddling up with a Hardscapes designer is always the best idea, even if it’s only to get pointed in the right direction.