Hardscaping: Bringing Functionality and Longevity to Your Landscape

Hardscaping You’ve thought about your home’s landscaping, but have you thought about its hardscaping?  What’s that you ask?  It just might be the best way to take your property from bland to beautiful with a little creativity and design help.

What is Hardscaping?

While softscaping includes lawn, floral and plant design on your property, hardscaping refers to any non-garden design elements around the exterior of your home. Paved walkways, fences, patios, water fountains and rocks are just a few items that are included under the umbrella of hardscaping.  These elements can provide fluidity from your home’s interior to your yard and the surrounding environment.  While the vegetation around your property may change with the seasons, hardscape accents provide a permanent design to your landscape.

Functions of Hardscaping

Hardscaping not only adds luxury and convenience to the outdoor look of your home, it also adds re-sale value by creating a pleasing environment for potential home buyers. Here are a few examples of how hardscaping can make life a little easier:

  • Create Privacy:  While fences offer safety for children and pets, they also provide privacy, define your property line and can help you section off areas you want to designate for a floral or vegetable garden.
  • Level Sloping Land:  If you have a relatively steep slope on your property, you may need a retaining wall, which holds back soil so you can separate your yard into segments that are more level.  Several types are available but they use different processes for holding back soil, so make sure that there’s adequate drainage, since water can accumulate and push against the wall.
  • Reduce Lawn Maintenance: Not a fan of spending so much time with your lawnmower?  Paved walkways, decks and patios can drastically reduce the amount of grass you have to maintain, giving you hours of your life back each week!
  • Entertainment: Building a gazebo or covered patio has a dual purpose.  Not only can you provide outdoor shelter to your family and guests, you can also provide a charming and welcoming feature to your backyard, making gatherings even more enjoyable.

Hardscaping Design

Outdoor pools, fireplaces and waterfalls are just a few exciting options that are possible with hardscaping.  But before you jump into that new project, it’s important to make sure that the contractors you are working with are familiar with hardscape design.  Look for a company that offers those who are certified by the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute or the National Concrete and Masonry Association.

These professionals can help you decide on a focal point or central feature of your yard and how to best incorporate other elements in your existing softscape.

Popular design features include:

  • Patios or Decks
  • Gazebos
  • Porticos
  • Courtyards
  • Walkways
  • Columns
  • Fountains and statues
  • Ponds
  • Barbeques or Firepits
  • Outdoor lighting to highlight architecture

Professionals will also tell you that there’s no perfect ratio of hardscape and softscape – it depends on your needs and the shape and size of your yard. If you have a small yard, you’ll likely have more hardscape than soft, but if you have a large amount of land, your softscape will dominate so you can sprinkle paved walkways, a fountain or an outdoor statue to give it character.

The design you choose should create an effortless line from the inside to the outside of your home.  Professionals might incorporate your home’s interior colors into the exterior design to achieve fluidity.  Or if you have a great outdoor view beyond your property, they might suggest elements that create an illusion of your land flowing into the broader landscape – similar to the effect of an infinity pool.

Keep in mind that not all hardscaping has to be a large project.  You may find that a simple birdbath, garden statue or path of rocks may be all you need to enhance your softscape and add dimension to your property.

Hardscaping Materials

Using the right materials, whether it’s concrete, stone or brick pavers adds strength and durability to your design.  Contractors will consider how certain materials endure your particular climate, their durability lifespan and the cost to achieve your vision.

Here are a handful of common materials that are popular among homeowners:

  •  Concrete: It’s durable and can take on any shape – textured or smooth. It can be used for outdoor flooring, walkways, retaining walls and more.
  • Brick: While more costly than concrete, brick adds color and creates a timeless look around your home.
  • Stone: Another alternative is to use long lasting stones such as slate, limestone, and flagstone, which can be added in multiple areas to create a harmonious look.

Hardscaping Tips

  • Safety First:  Make sure to prepare the site with the proper base material or you could risk having an unstable retaining wall, a patio settle or materials crack or break up after a few years.  You can talk to an inspector at your local building authority or contact the American Landscape and Nursery Association for assistance. 
  • Think Long-Term:  Consider the entire area before you design an element, even if you’re tackling hardscaping one area at a time.  This allows you to avoid later disappointment should you build a patio and discover later that it prohibits you from installing a pond or barbeque. If you plan on having a large barbecue, determine how much countertop and eating space you need as well. Buy more material than you need – it’s easier to add the extras as stepping-stones or design accents than it is to be short material for your dominant project. 
  • Remember Mother Nature:  While it’s easy to get caught up in the design of hardscaping, it’s critical that you incorporate nature’s unpredictable elements when determining the layout and function of your yard.
    • Sun: Notice the orientation of the sun in your yard. This will help you determine seating direction and the placement of hardscaping objects.
    • Rain: Hard flooring prevents the ground from soaking up water, so it hangs out on surface areas and picks up pollutants along the way. Include permeable hardscape that allows water to seep down to the ground.  If you have a patio, incorporate a slight slope so your patio doesn’t become a pond when it rains.  If your area experiences frequent rain, you might need to install a drainage system, complete with underground pipes and aboveground drains with protective grating.
    • Plants: Designate space for plants or a corner of the patio for floral accents and know whether they need to be facing light or watered frequently to survive.

Hardscaping can add beauty, functionality and aesthetically pleasing permanence to your yard and home.  With a design idea, budget parameters and professional assistance, you can maximize your property’s value and enjoy your investment for years to come.

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2 Responses to Hardscaping: Bringing Functionality and Longevity to Your Landscape

  1. Jan October 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    I can’t wait to buy a house so I can do some of these great landscaping ideas.

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