Hardscape vs. Landscape Design: What’s the Difference?

If you have a yard or garden you may have heard the terms ‘hardscape’ and ‘landscape’ design. A lot of people have trouble differentiating between the two terms.

Hardscape is anything that doesn’t typically grow, like concrete or stone. Hardscapes are meant to last a long time and are usually used to create pathways, borders, or seating areas.

Hardscape design focuses on features like walls, steps, paving stones, and other man-made elements.

Landscape is anything that typically grows, like grass or bushes. Landscape design is focused on creating a living space with the end result being something you can enjoy for many years.

This can include adding plants, flowers, trees, and other greenery. Landscape design can also involve things like ponds or water features.

A good example of the difference between hardscape design versus landscape design is a pool.

The concrete that holds up the pool or the stone used to make a path leading up to it would be considered hardscape design. The plants surrounding the area, like bushes and flowers, would be considered landscape design.

Hardscape designs are used for more permanent elements in the yard like concrete walkways and stone patios. Landscape designs are used for more seasonal things like flowers and bushes.

Home backyard hardscape and lush plants landscaping with garden

Hardscape and landscape design go hand in hand complementing one another. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, they just serve different purposes to create a beautiful outdoor space.

You can have a gorgeous landscape design but if you don’t have the right hardscape elements to tie things together it won’t be as effective.

Similarly, you can have a beautiful hardscape but if you don’t have plants, trees, and other elements your landscape design will just be a bunch of rocks and concrete.

Hardscape DesignLandscape Design
Uses non-living elements such as concrete, stone, and wood to create features like walls, steps, and seating areasUses living elements such as grass, plants, flowers, and trees to create a beautiful and functional outdoor space
Meant to last a long time and considered permanent featuresCan be more seasonal and changed more frequently
Focuses on creating man-made elements like patios, pathways, and bordersFocuses on creating a living space with plants and greenery
Includes features like concrete walkways and stone patiosIncludes features like ponds and water features
Complements landscape design by providing structure and tying together different elementsComplements hardscape design by providing softness and natural beauty
Without proper hardscaping, a landscape may lack structure and cohesivenessWithout proper landscaping, a hardscape may lack natural beauty and visual interest

Are landscape and softscape the same thing?

Yes, ‘softscape’ is another word for ‘landscape’ used to describe the same thing. Both terms are used interchangeably to describe the soft elements in a yard such as plants, flowers, and trees.

Should you plan for hardscape design first for your yard?

No, you should definitely not plan for hardscape design before your landscape. The landscape is the most important part of the yard and should be planned for first.

Because landscape includes everything that grows, it usually includes plants, trees, and flowers which are the part native to your area.

For example, if you have oak trees in your yard, then you should plan for a landscape design that includes oak trees. If you try to hardscape first you may need to remove the oak trees to make room for your hardscape designs.

Landscape architect design backyard plan for villa

This is not only a bad idea because you are destroying the natural environment, but it may not be allowed by your city or town depending on where you live.

Another thing, altering local plant life for a hardscape design can be very expensive.

You may need to pay to have the trees removed from your yard and pay for special permits when bringing in new hardscape materials.

In general, it’s usually best to plan a landscape design first before adding any permanent structures like patios or walkways. It will save you time and money in the long run if you work with what already exists naturally in your yard.

What are the best practices for hardscape design?

When designing a hardscape, it’s important to think about the use of the space. For example, if you are using concrete for a pathway you will want to make sure it is wide enough for people to walk on.

If you are using paving stones for a patio, make sure they are even so people won’t trip.

Always think about how the space will be used when designing a hardscape design.

If you are using stone to make patios or walls, consider what plants could grow around it so you don’t have empty spaces in your yard all year round.

Do I need to hire someone for hardscape design?

While it is always a good idea to have someone help you with designing your hardscape, if you are an experienced DIY-er there are some things that may be within your ability.

For example, building stone walls or planting trees and plants would require little experience in the area. However, creating complicated designs like waterfalls or fountains may require hiring a professional.

Therefore, it is always a good idea to hire a professional for hardscape design. They will have the experience and knowledge to help you create the perfect space for your needs.

Not only will they be able to give you expert advice, but they will also be able to help with permits and other red tape that come with changing your yard.

What materials can be used for hardscape design?

Materials for hardscape design are only limited by your imagination. Because hardscape design includes almost anything that is permanent.

From brick walkways to stone walls to concrete patios, the possibilities are endless.

While you can get creative with hardscape design, it is a good idea to stick with natural and local materials that will be durable in your area.

Using recycled or reclaimed materials is a great way to save money on your hardscape design and also be environmentally friendly.

There are many companies that specialize in reclaimed materials, so do some research online before deciding on what to use for your project.

How to reduce environmental impact when creating a hardscape?

When creating a hardscape, it is important to think about the environmental impact. Using materials that are not harmful to the environment and minimizing waste are two great ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

If you are using concrete for your hardscape design, make sure it is made with recycled materials.

There are many companies that make green concrete that uses less water and emits fewer greenhouse gases than typical concrete.

If you are using plants in your hardscape design, make sure to use only native plants that can survive naturally in your area.

Using local materials will save money since they don’t need to be shipped long distances, while also helping the environment by reducing emissions from delivery trucks.

Reuse materials whenever possible to reduce waste. If you are tearing down an old deck, for example, use the lumber to build a new fence or garden wall.

There are many creative ways to reuse materials in your hardscape design, so think outside the box!

Use hardscaping products that have MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) and EPD (Environmental Product Declaration) to ensure that the products you are using have a low environmental impact.

Specifically, pay attention to the values provided for terms like global warming potential, depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, acidification of land and water sources, and depletion of nonrenewable energy resources. Then compare products to find the most environmentally friendly option.

Use Energy Star appliances and LED lighting to reduce your energy consumption. Installing a rain barrel to collect rainwater for watering plants is another great way to conserve water when creating a hardscape.

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