What Is Hardscaping Landscaping? Here’s Your Ultimate Hardscaping Design Guide

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated February 22, 2022
A wooden gazebo in the backyard of a house
Photo: laughingmango / E+ / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Hardscaping refers to the nonliving elements in an outdoor space.

  • Patios, walkways, driveways, and water features are all part of hardscaping design.

  • Hardscaping materials include stone, wood, gravel, and metal.

  • The best landscape design mixes hardscaping and softscaping.

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Your property’s landscape design encompasses a lot more than just your lawn or garden. It also includes elements like your driveway, patio, or retaining walls—and there’s an art to making those things look great. Enter: hardscaping. 

Hardscaping can create a beautiful, multidimensional, multi-use outdoor space, and it can even benefit your lawn. If you’re a homeowner, odds are you’ve already used the idea without noticing. Your backyard gazebo? That’s hardscaping. The walkway through your garden? That’s hardscaping, too. Even your driveway or front gate is considered hardscaping. What do you need to know? Let’s get into it.

What Is Hardscaping Landscaping?

There is a difference between hardscaping and landscaping. Landscaping is a catch-all term for designing and maintaining an outdoor space. Hardscaping is a subcategory that refers to the nonliving elements in an outdoor space. For example, the paver patio in your backyard or the gravel path leading through your garden. 

Overall, landscaping has two major categories: hardscaping and softscaping. Hardscaping encompasses the so-called “hard” landscaping elements, things made of stone, brick, concrete, gravel, asphalt, cinder blocks, and wood. Softscaping encompasses the so-called “soft” stuff, like your trees, flowers, grass, and living parts of your garden. Together, these elements create your landscape design. 

Types of Hardscaping Projects

A hardscape includes nearly every element in your landscape that isn’t living. Even certain larger garden accents (think stones, fountains, and ponds) fall under the hardscape umbrella. There are several types of hardscaping features, and each uses different materials. Some projects are extensive and best left to a professional. Others are simple to DIY. Common hardscaping features include:

  • Walkways

  • Driveways

  • Freestanding structures like pergolas and gazebos

  • Decks and patios, covered or uncovered

  • Fountains, ponds, waterfalls, and other water features

  • Retaining walls

  • Fences

  • Fire pits

  • Stone or gravel accents

Common Hardscaping Materials

Hardscaping a backyard with a waterfall and a fire pit
Photo: TimAbramowitz / E+ / Getty Images

There's hardscaping material for every budget. High end materials that require complicated processes (think: laying down cobblestone or building a masonry wall) are a splurge. Other materials like concrete pavers, gravel, and asphalt are more budget-friendly. Popular materials include:

  • Coated steel or iron (for fences and gates)

  • Asphalt (a budget-friendly option for driveways)

  • Wood (for fences, decks, arbors, and other structures)

  • Natural stones (for steps, patios, walkways, walls, and water features)

  • Concrete (whether it’s poured or comes in pavers or slabs)

  • Brick (for walls, walkways, or high-end patios)

  • Gravel (for seating areas, driveways, and walkways)

  • Ceramic (for fountains)

  • Plastic or rubber (these materials often line water features)

Cost of Hardscaping 

The cost of hardscaping has a huge range, and a top-rated local landscaper can help you determine a realistic budget. You may pay as little as $300 for a plug-and-play water feature or firepit. If you’re looking to do a larger project like building a porch or pond, costs could fall anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000. It’s not unheard of to spend as much as $100,000 on a high-end outdoor kitchen. Basically, the project will dictate the price.

Tips for Planning Your Hardscaping Project

Whether you’re looking for imaginative, inexpensive hardscaping ideas or want to completely redesign your outdoor space, there are a few things you should consider when planning a hardscape.

1. Work With What You’ve Got

Hardscaping is both aesthetic and useful. You can use it to create a relaxing environment, but you can also use it to create walkways and outdoor entertainment areas. Whether you’re planning a water feature or deck, consider:

  • Your current landscape

  • The style of your home

  • Your future goals

Your hardscape materials should complement your home. You also don’t want to put in a pond that will block an important walkway down the line.

2. Create a Focal Point

Good landscape design builds around a main focal point. Pick a couple focal points and use hardscape and softscape elements to compliment them.

3. Look Out for Drainage Issues

Hardscaping has a tendency to create drainage issues. Plan potential runoff so it doesn’t accidentally flood your foundation. Some hardscaping ideas like river rock can direct rainwater away from your home. Others, like asphalt driveways, can cause water to pool.

4. Mix Softscaping and Hardscaping

The best landscape design mixes softscape and hardscape elements. Make sure to work some greens into your hardscape—whether that includes planting flower beds around a gazebo or planting some ornamental trees along a walkway.

5. Keep It Natural

If you’re using naturally occurring elements in your hardscape design, think about how they’d fit into nature. Sizing and placement is key. You don’t want your rock garden to look like it was just thrown from a pickup truck. It should blend into the environment.

6. Call a Professional

Installing hardscaping can be extremely difficult, and safety is a concern. Especially when you’re installing decking or creating a water feature around existing electricity. If you’re planning a larger project, hire a local top-rated hardscaper. You can also hire a contractor who specializes in your specific project, like a local mason or local driveway contractor.

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