What Is Hardscape?

From Paths to Patios

Brown gazebo
David Beaulieu

Hardscaping can include almost any type of decorative or practical structure in a landscape, from driveways to fences to benches. Hardscape is a critical part of landscape design, providing definition and a sense of organization to the natural areas and features.

What Is Hardscape in Landscaping?

The term "hardscape" refers to all of the non-living elements in landscaping, such as a brick patio, a stone wall, or a wooden arbor. It is one of the two major subcategories of landscaping, the other being softscape. Softscape is all of the living and organic elements in a garden or on a lawn, such as trees, flowers, and grass.

Hardscape elements can also define the use of a space, such as with a driveway, or it can lead visitors through different zones of softscaping, as with a gravel path that winds through a grassy area and into a secluded garden. There are so many ways to use hardscape elements to enhance your property:

  • Stone retaining walls create planting areas or convert a slope to flat yard space.
  • Concrete patios are the classic low-maintenance and versatile patio option.
  • Brick patios offer a more upscale and natural look than concrete.
  • Flagstone patios are the low-cost option for natural stone outdoor flooring.
  • Tile patios are a great way to dress up a concrete patio slab.
  • Stone walkways are ideal for garden paths.
  • Gravel paths have a "softer" alternative to brick, concrete, or solid stone.
  • Stone landscape steps have heavy stone slabs that make beautiful outdoor steps.
  • Metal fences include coated steel, which is the modern standard, but iron is still an option.
  • Wooden fences use the most versatile fence (and hardscaping) material—wood.
  • Wooden decks are hardscaping, too, just like patios.
  • Wooden arbors or gazebos enhance a landscape while providing shade.
  • Pergolas are arbor-like structures attached to the house or other building.

Water Features as Hardscape

It may be somewhat counterintuitive, but even water features used in your yard count as hardscape. These structures assume a variety of forms, both with and without fountains:

With small water features containing a pool, the pool portion is often made with a preformed rigid plastic liner. With larger features, a nice alternative is a flexible rubber liner that allows you to make pools or ponds of almost any size or shape.

Fun Fact

Growing plants in and around a water feature is a great way to integrate hardscape and softscape within the same design.

Working on Hardscape Projects

Installing hardscaping can be very hard work. Even under the best climate conditions, these projects can be downright grueling. That is why most homeowners choose to get these jobs done during favorable weather—in spring or fall, or during moderate times of summer.

Some hardscape projects are too physically demanding to complete with manual labor alone, and some require heavy equipment. Before you give up on a project because you can't afford the heavy equipment required, look into the option of rentals. Rental stores can be lifesavers for do-it-yourselfers.

Using a rental rather than owning your own heavy equipment is often a prudent option for the homeowner. If you're going to use a $1,000 piece of equipment only a couple of times, why own it? Heavy equipment is not only expensive, it also consumes a lot of storage space.