What Is Hardscape Landscaping?

Landscaping is the interior design for your yard, or rather, exterior design. It includes building retaining walls, adding foundations, and planting trees. Anything that you do to improve your yard is considered landscaping. 

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Since the term landscaping is so broad, many contractors have decided to specialize in just one type of landscaping. More often than not, they choose one of the categories. Either hardscaping or softscaping. 

Although there are more specific types of landscaping to specialize in, most contractors choose one of the two for their category with a list of sub-categories below it. But it all starts with hardscaping or softscaping. 

What Is Hardscaping? 

According to Oxford Languages, the hardscape definition is, “the man-made features used in landscape architecture, e.g. paths or walls, as contrasted with vegetation.” So it refers to the part of the landscape that isn’t natural.

You may think that hardscaping is lesser than other types of landscaping because it isn’t natural, but that isn’t true. While adding vegetation to a yard is wonderful, a few man-made structures can be beneficial for everyone. 

For example, raised garden beds or keyhole gardens are considered hardscaping. But they are much better for the environment because you can create an automatic composter that will fertilize the plants. 

Hardscape Vs. Softscape 

image from itamar landscape design

The difference between hardscaping and softscaping is easy to see. The biggest difference is that the hardscape is not living and the softscape is living. But to help you better understand, let’s break this down. 

Hardscaping

Hardscaping is a broad term that covers a lot of different features. So broad that people often forget what all it includes. Here are the most common hardscaping features that are added to private homes. 

Easy Hardscaping 

These are a few projects that are easy to get started. You cn buy them all online or in a store which is a great place to start. Or you can be bold and customize your own features which will be all your own. 

  • Bridges – bridges and walkways are both considered hardscaping. You can build your own bridges or buy them. Buty walkways are built by contractors or by homeowners out of a variety of materials. 
  • Fire Pit – fire pits are one of the simplest yet most effective hardscaping features. They are great alternatives to fireplaces or BBQ grills when you want something either cheaper or more natural. 
  • Set Stones – stones are actually considered hardscaping, which confuses a lot of people. That’s because stones may be natural but they aren’t living. If moss grows on the stone, the moss is softscaping. 
  • Arches – arches over walkways are key hardscaping features. You can add them to gardens or fences. They are a simple and versatile type of architecture that can be considered hardscaping even when vines grow on them. 

Advanced Hardscaping 

Image from Gardens by Gabriel, Inc.

These hardscaping ideas will take an expert hand. If you are just starting out then you may want to start elsewhere because you need a bit of experience before doing these projects on your own.

  • Retaining Wall – a retaining wall is a wonderful feature that can transform any yard. There are so many benefits to them and if you repurpose materials like railroad ties for your retaining wall, then you’re doing good too. 
  • Fountain – a fountain can be built yourself or it can be put into a yard pre-built. There are thousands of fountains out there that are pre-made that can be bought online, in-store, or from a contractor. 
  • Patio – patios are concrete areas that you can place furniture on to gather with your friends and families. They are wonderful additions to any home or landscape if you have the room to build one. 
  • Decks – decks are similar to patios but are made of wood. They are large porches that extend from the home. Decks are very common over above-ground pools and offer an easy way to enter the pool
  • Swimming Pool – yes, swimming pools are considered landscaping. You wouldn’t think so but since they are hardscaping they are also landscaping. They are one of the most expensive types of landscaping. 

Softscaping 

Softscaping is much less broad than hardscaping. Because anything living is considered in the softscaping category. This includes any type of plant but lets us split that up into the three main categories. 

  • Trees – trees of any kind are considered softscaping. Of course, trees are living so they are softscaping. But even trees that you plant yourself in the ground or in planters are softscaping, but just those grown naturally. 
  • Plants – all plants and flowers are considered softscaping and not hardscaping. Even if they grow on walls or other types of hardscaping features, the plants themselves are still softscaping features. 
  • Hedges – hedges are softscaping because they are living. You can even build a retaining wall out of hedges alone and it would be softscaping whereas any other type of retaining wall is hardscaping. 
  • Bermsberms are actually mounds of dirt that can be considered hardscaping but they are used to plant plants so after they are finished, they are considered hardscaping. So this is a hybrid of landscaping types. 

Hardscape Landscaping 

Image from Landsmith Landscape Design, Construction & Mainten

If you want to learn how to be your own hardscaper then you can try out one of these projects which can help you achieve a gorgeous yard. These projects take time to master but they can make a huge change in your landscape. 

Most of them have a simple version and a more advanced version. You just need to find out how complicated you want your project to be and how much of the project you want to be pre-made. 

Fire Pit

A fire pit is an easy addition that needs little more than a circle of stone to operate. But there are many different types of fire pits you can create. You can build them out of brick, stone, concrete, or something else.

The cheapest type of fire pit that isn’t bought at a store involves digging down just enough for firewood to be placed. Then, a ring of stone or brick is buried slightly and raised above the ground to create the ring.

Fountain 

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Fountains are much easier to buy than to build on your own. But you won’t get that unique fountain that merges with the landscape if you don’t build your own. So this is a fun project to take on if you can do it.

An easy type of DIY fountain involves buying a fountain base and building around it. You can bury it where you can reach to repair it then decorate the outside with garden figures, pitchers, and stone. 

Retaining Wall

There are many different types of retaining walls you can build. These are something you can’t buy outright. Most retaining walls are a little shorter than a half-wall but the size can vary greatly as long as it isn’t a full wall.

You can easily build a retaining wall out of stone, brick, concrete, CMU blocks, and more. You can even use wood or almost any durable repurposed material. That’s what makes building them so much fun.

Gazebo

Gazebos are tiny shelters that you can sit under to enjoy everything about the outside world. They are usually octagonal but you can still build a rectangular gazebo. However, it then chances becoming a pergola or pavilion. 

But a traditional octagon gazebo isn’t easy to build. A good way to learn how to build one is to not give it a foundation and instead bury the pillars in concrete and leave off the roof. This gives you the frame without the shade. 

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Patio

A patio is a concrete pad that is usually covered and shaded from the sun. Patios are very popular because they can be poured in one day and are relatively cheap compared to more complicated options. 

You can build your own patio by pouring concrete or by building one with gravel. Just be sure you order the right amount of gravel for your project so you don’t waste money. Gravel can be highly affordable otherwise. 

Driveway

A driveway can be built with concrete or with gravel, much like a patio. Either way works fine and can make visiting your home much more pleasant than it would be otherwise. For you and for guests. 

Gravel is more forgiving than concrete and much easier to repair. So if you are doing it alone or with an amateur team then it’s best to start with gravel. If you hire a contractor, then decide together which is best. 

Hardscaping With Your Vision

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Image from Earthtones Hardscape LLC

While it is usually easy to visualize your dream landscape, it is more difficult to execute it. Your best bet is to hire a contractor or company, to either help you plan out your landscape or build it with you. 

But if you believe you have what it takes to take it on, then you can build your own landscape. While softscaping is easy to get started, and difficult to keep maintained, the opposite can be said for hardscaping.

After you finish the project for your hardscaping feature, you can all but leave it be. It may need to be cleaned but other than that minimal repairs are neceary. So you can build and enjoy of decades to come!