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What Is Hardscape and How Is It Used?

Updated: May 31, 2021

Hardscape is any non-living element in your landscaping design. It refers to movable, inanimate materials as varied as stones, gravel, bricks, fences, posts, lights, and tiles. Softscape, on the other hand, is the living things in landscaping, like plants, grasses, and trees.

The terms are used to draw a contrast between them to accentuate features. Both components used correctly in harmony together form a balance that sets any design apart.

Any landscaping scenario with too much hardscape can look stern, or even dead; it can appear to be cold and overly functional. Too much softscape can make the yard look like a jungle, unkempt and overgrown. It can be easy to get lost in it, and it can decrease home value if it appears to not be taken care of.

Common hardscape features include:

· Patios, stone or brick

· Stone walkways

· Wooden decks or fences

· Metal, tile, or stone pergolas, arbors, and gazebos

· Retaining walls

· Driveways

· Lights and fixtures

A balance between hardscape and softscape might be a stone walkway that winds around the backyard, lined with shrubs or trees. The winding path might be designed to create an atmosphere of mood or mystery. It could lead to a garden or a secluded grassy area. The softscape features of the location might be gentle lawn and soft trees, perfect for a shaded picnic or a pleasant stroll. A golden light can illuminate the area at night, creating a glowing ambience and lovely mood. If there is fresh snow, as there often is in Nebraska, the light can make the glow into a majestic seasonal experience.

Water features can make elegant and functional hardscape elements. Ceramic or stone fountains can help channel the natural water in the back or front yard or building, creating a pleasing juxtaposition between the gentle flowing and the harder texture of the fountain. This is especially nice in spring, when pleasant rains can accent softscape features and create a nice balance with the hardscapes. There’s something inherently pleasing about soft steps on wet tiles or stones, the smell of grass intermingled with a wooden deck. If there is too much water present, such as from rain or runoff, hardscaping designs can help save the yard from becoming a muddy swamp.

Retaining walls are a much-demanded outdoor addition that are both functional and aesthetic. They’re used on hills or slopes to hold soil in place, separating soils at two different elevations for erosion control. They make a nice focal point for a design scheme and help draw attention to the natural slope of the ground and the interplay between soils and other softscape features. You’ll frequently see plants, flowers, and beds of other softscape organic materials interspersed with the hardscape retaining wall features for a pleasing and interesting contrast.

Fire pits also make excellent hardscape additions. Stone or brick paved areas with controlled fires in the backyard are amazing places for social gatherings, from parties and get-togethers to barbecues and simple relaxation and discussion. Add-ons can tie it all together and set the mood around a well-tailored fire pit.

Some popular hardscape features around fire pits include:

· Stacked stones

· Grills

· Wood burning fire bowls

· Fire rings

· Patio space

· Complementary light sources

It’s a nice contrast to put lights or other fixtures in a softscape location, accented with hardscape features. We like to design pathways (stone, tile, or brick) to wind through wooded or grassy areas and highlight the walk with lights. Here at Tailored Lights, we both provide light fixtures and design them from scratch to meet any need or vibe. We like to design lights that match the energy and mood of a location, and to ignite the environment in a way the owners love.

It’s important to consider the size of the location when setting mood and landscaping features. Not only should you consider the horizontal space, as in patios, pathways, and pits, but also the vertical space, especially for taller softscape materials like shrubs or topiaries. Vertical hardscape materials, like ornate fountains or walls, are also to be considered when adjusting and designing for space.

Hardscape can also be a practical and sustainable measure. Different kinds of stones or gravel, like pea gravel, decomposed granite, pavers, and concrete, can be used to channel and conserve water in drought-affected areas. It also looks more attractive than leaving dead grass in place, or brown exposed dirt. Municipal hardscaping is a sustainable alternative because it requires no water or fertilizer, limits runoff, assists with water filtration and sequestration, and reduces loads on sewer systems. Hardscaping, however, should always complement the natural environment and help preserve it.

There are almost countless combinations of options between hardscaping and softscaping that one can do. It simply depends on the design in mind and the mood the designer is trying to convey, weighed together with budgetary factors and sustainable considerations. Contextual design and pleasing aesthetic contrast are key in landscaping, from the smallest stone to the largest tree.

Sam Sullivan

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