Hardscape materials and softscape elements (plants) work together in an outdoor living space to create a harmonious atmosphere.
What Is Hardscape?
Hardscape refers to the non-living part of a garden or landscape. The terms hardscaping vs. landscaping tend to be used interchangeably, but there's a difference. Hardscaping is one element in an overall property landscaping plan.
Hardscaping helps a garden and landscape by adding balance and focus to the softscaping. It serves as a focal point, delineates sections, adds dimensionality, and helps to decorate a landscape. A garden or landscape without any hardscaping tends to look like a never-ending forest of wild, growing things. A landscape with too much hardscape and too little softscape can feel stark or cold.
Discover what types of hardscape materials are the easiest to use and most popular.
Types of Hardscape Materials
Hardscape materials include brick, concrete, loose materials (like stones and pea gravel), pavers, stone, tiles, and wood (including composite materials) that create surfaces and structures in the landscape. Landscaping elements that are considered hardscaping include the following:
- Pool surrounds
- Paths, walkways, and steps
- Garden structures, like arbors, pergolas, and gazebos
- Walls and fences
- Water features (ponds, waterfalls)
- Landscape edging
Brick has been around for centuries as a material for buildings, roads, pathways, walls, and all types of structures. Bricks have specific patterns, which can make a surface appear more formal or informal. Used brick is currently a popular, environmentally sensitive, and recyclable type of material for outdoor projects.
Decking that isn't made of real wood or aluminum is considered composite or synthetic decking. It's made to last, won't splinter, is insect repellent, resists mold and rotting, provides excellent traction (meaning you are not likely to slip), and doesn't need to be sanded and resealed. The material sounds perfect, except that it can be costly. Composite decking is also an eco-conscious hardscaping material since most brands are made from wood fibers and recycled plastics.
Concrete doesn't have to be a plain, cold slab. The material is often stained, stamped, texturized, or embedded with other materials, like pebbles and sea glass. Texturized or decorative concrete is less slippery than a smooth, plain finish. Pouring a concrete patio can be a good advanced DIY job.
Pea gravel, Mexican river rock, small stones, gravel, recycled rubber mulch, and recycled glass are all loose hardscaping materials.
Pavers can be made of a variety of materials—the most popular pavers are concrete, brick, and flagstone. Placing pavers can be a fairly simple project for advanced DIYers because it entails constructing a permanent border to avoid shifting and sliding. Pavers are usually installed over pea gravel and bedding sand but can be placed on DE (diatomaceous earth), dirt, or grass.
Natural stone or flagstone is a popular and attractive choice for outdoor patios, courtyards, and other areas that require hardscaping. If using natural stone, you will be dealing with bumps, ridges, varying heights, and varying weights. Irregular flagstone pieces have a more rustic look, while cut, geometric shapes are more formal. Stone or flagstone can be placed over a sand or pea gravel base or mortared into a concrete slab.
Like brick, tile has been around for a long time and isn't just for indoor applications. When choosing ceramic or any type of tile for an outdoor patio or courtyard, keep in mind that glazed tile can become slippery when wet. Outdoor tile is rated for various climates, so be sure to choose one that complies with your zone, especially if you are ordering online. Ceramic tile should be set in a bed of mortar on top of a concrete slab. Tiles made of recycled materials are an environmental choice.
Wood is often the material of choice for outdoor decks. Availability varies by location—local woods will be less expensive than imported hardwoods. While maintenance can be extensive—many people prefer the warm, rich look, and natural feel of wood.