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Whether you’re decorating a new home or updating an older one, there’s one important area homeowners frequently overlook: the outdoor space. A home’s front and back yards can become exciting, attractive spaces when hardscaping creates extended living areas. The good news is hardscaping doesn’t need to be expensive to make a big impact, and it can often elevate unused outdoor areas into much-loved parts of a home. Read on to learn what is hardscape and whether it’s worth considering for your home.
Hardscape definition: What is it?
Hardscaping is the nonliving part of a landscape. The components are sometimes moveable and frequently man-made, such as pathways, patios, pools, decks and outdoor furniture, but often include the use of natural materials like stone, mulch or wood in the design. Hardscaping is popular with many homeowners because it reduces the amount of water needed for landscapes and can increase the value of a home by expanding usable outdoor space.
Hardscaping is what defines how well you can use your yard spaces. If you’re trying to get the best use out of your space, hardscaping will give you that.
What’s the difference between hardscape and softscape?
While hardscaping involves the nonliving parts of a landscape, softscaping is the exact opposite: It’s the growing, living outdoor elements that typically don’t move, such as soils, plants, trees, grass and shrubs. Combining the two can result in spectacular outdoor spaces that make both front and back yards appealing and highly livable, enjoyable areas of a home.
The beauty of hardscaping, is there are no rules.
Ask yourself what you primarily see yourself using the outdoor space for. A master chef, for example, will need an outdoor kitchen, while a family with lots of small children might want a play structure surrounded by lots of green space with an outdoor patio area for adults to comfortably supervise from. People who like to entertain might prefer a pergola and a long dining room table. Define those zones by your specific needs and interests and think about where you want to sit, eat, play and entertain. That will help you determine how much space is needed for hardscaping; you can fill the rest with softscaping materials, such as grass, trees and flower beds.
Popular backyard hardscaping ideas include:
Uniquely shaped patios, preferably built with flagstone or concrete pavers instead of concrete slabs to provide organic shapes and expandable areas.
Outdoor kitchens, which can be as simple or elaborate as your needs dictate. These are frequently built as stone or brick structures with a natural counter material like granite and can include an outdoor grill, smoker or cooktop. Custom fireplaces or portable firepits, which can be purchased from home improvement stores or built on site to suit any style or budget.
Pergolas to provide shade on hot summer days.
*Meandering pathways built with chipped bluestone or flagstone to provide a natural, organic look and feel.
*Outdoor furniture, which can be anything from lounge chairs to dining room tables or strategically placed benches made from wood or stone to provide quiet areas of reflection.
*Decks built from wood or composite decking boards.
*Pools of any shape or size. Using stone pavers for the pool deck or brightly colored tiles inside the pool can create unique statements.
*Stonework, such as natural stone boulders strategically placed to add drama and intrigue, small natural stone bridges or a mix of stacked stone walls with surrounding pebble beds.
*Play structures built with wood or composite materials. These can include climbing walls, for example, to provide visual interest and fun for the kids.
*Real or artificial greenery that complements stone or wood elements.
*Ponds and waterfalls that use natural boulders or stone pavers in unique designs.
*The hardscaping possibilities are almost endless in backyard spaces and, because hardscaping is often designed with moveable pieces, you can change it up in a few years with a little sweat equity at low cost.
Front yard hardscaping ideas
*Front yards are a bit more difficult to work with but are just as important as backyards when it comes to landscaping. Given that the front yard is the first thing visitors or potential buyers see when they arrive, a good mix of hard and soft landscaping can make your home welcoming and friendly.
*It’s all about curb appeal out front  You don’t want things to seem cold and sterile. Your hardscaping should be clean, beautiful and supported by lots of softscaping. Stay away from poured concrete whenever you can and think instead about materials you can replace concrete walkways and driveways with.
*The style of your home should guide your front yard hardscaping , with the goal of keeping the overall look natural, inviting and appealing to visitors.
Some popular ideas include:
*Covered decks or porches softened with hanging fern, flower pots or climbing vines. Include rustic wooden columns, blue flagstone and other materials to increase interest. Add in outdoor seating to extend your living space.
*Driveways with moss or astroturf placed in between expansion gap lines. Existing driveways, for example, can be modified by jackhammering to create four-to-six-inch gaps every few feet that can be filled with other materials. Better yet, if your budget allows, yank out all that concrete and rebuild the driveway with brick pavers .
*Wooden walkways that age over time. These can be anything from wooden planks separated by stone beds to ready-made natural cedar plank walkways you can buy from a home improvement center.
*Stepping pads. If you must use poured concrete, avoid slabs and focus instead on more unique ideas like stepping pads placed in a unique design for a front pathway.
*Tiered garden beds made with stone retaining walls filled with plants can break up large front yard spaces and add visual interest.
*Pathways to the front door made from chipped bluestone or pavers surrounded by smooth pebbles add a casual, unique entrance to your home.
*Sculptures made from any material, such as bronze statues, chainsaw art or stacked rock.
*Pottery collections filled with plants. Create different zones using pot clusters to guide visitors to the entrance, for example, or direct delivery drivers to a safe drop-off spot for packages.
*Water fountains can add elegance to any home. You can always build your own but garden and home stores should have many prebuilt options to choose from.
*Benches or other seating placed in a small front patio area encourages neighbors to visit and gives you the chance to be part of neighborhood activities without leaving your home.
*Unusual, unexpected hardscape elements can make a fun statement. Consider taking a vintage bike, for instance, and hanging flower pots off the handlebars or adding a large wagon wheel to highlight a focal point.
*Perimeter fencing can help you keep pets in and strangers out. Modernize the look of a standard picket fence by setting the wooden slats horizontally or even incorporating metal, bamboo or another material.


...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:

...Stone fountains

...Ceramic fountains

...Clay pot fountains

...Large Rocks

...Large Boulders

Hardscaping Costs

*Because you can do anything you want with hardscaping, the cost will vary depending on your outdoor space and needs.

*The quality of materials can greatly impact the cost. A front pathway lined with brick or concrete pavers, which are man-made, tend to cost less than natural stone pavers like bluestone, which must be quarried. Similarly, a do-it-yourself aluminum pergola for some backyard shade.

*Think about your own capabilities, as you consider hiring help versus doing things yourself.

*For example, a driveway remodel to include pebbles in expansion joints can be done partially by you and partially by a contractor, who can jackhammer out the spaces you need. Building a pool, however, is much more complicated and will likely require a full team of contractors to get the job done, although you might want to tackle laying pavers for the pool deck yourself.

*When you talk to landscapers and get bids, ask them to break down the labor and material costs separately so you can best determine how much physical labor is involved in the project you’re considering. That can help you decide if you even have the time to manage the labor required or need to split a large project into smaller parts to accommodate your budget.


If you’re considering hardscaping your front or back yard spaces, you’ll find there are many options available within any budget. A few simple changes can add to your home’s curb appeal, provide your family with a fun, comfortable living area to enjoy many months of the year and even potentially increase your home’s value. Whether you go big or small, hardscaping is a great way to update your home.