The Importance of Hardscaping

Hardscaping is one of the most vital aspects of the landscape design process.   It comes before the planting plan.  How exterior hardscaping interacts with the dwelling should be well thought out.  In   new construction, or major remodeling, it should be considered an important element in the total design package.  In many of today’s house plans, it is not uncommon to find some of the same elements used in the exterior brought into the interior in the form of stone floors, counters, and the like.    Hardscaping unifies the dwelling with the surrounding environment.  It provides a cohesive “backbone,” for the gardens and exterior landscape. Without the integrity of good hardscaping design, the gardens lack structure. I define hardscaping as, “Anything not living in the garden.” That would include, but is not limited to: concrete, asphalt, clay, rubber, wood, metal, fabric, glass, lighting, pottery, and rock.

My favorite hardscaping element is rock. I love to mix rock with other hard-surface materials, such as metal, wood, brick, concrete and other rock. Incorporating rock solidifies design concepts. The strength of rock also complements the softness of the snow which blankets our earth so much of the year. We are blessed with an abundance of different types of rock here in Wisconsin. There are quarries of red granite as well as soft sandstones. Thanks to the great glaciers, there are literally fields of granite boulders of all sizes. In addition, many other types of fractured rock are blasted out of the hills, making way for roads and buildings.  Thanks to our global market, it is now affordable to get rock from as far away as China.

In the landscape, other types of hardscaping can act as an “adhesive” by connecting the outdoor gardens with the dwelling in the form of walkways, paths, and patios. Hardscaping elements also act as an integrating agent by repeating, coordinating, or contrasting the building materials already used on the site. Integration of materials brings harmony to the surroundings. Native rock working in harmony with other hardscaping materials, as well as plant materials, is the cohesive element in many of our landscape designs.

Hardscaping design should have longevity and offer a sense of permanence. It should be designed, placed and constructed with this in mind. Hardscaping elements are visible during all seasons. They must hold the garden together with interest even when the plants are resting or covered with snow. If plant materials are the “yin” in the garden, hardscaping is the “yang.” Hardscape allows the plant materials to sing with softness, color, texture and fragrance. Like any good relationship there must be balance between the two elements to achieve the highest possible end result.

Hardscaping is many things, but most of all, functional. It holds, retains, paves, encloses, protects, transitions, accents, and beautifies. Hardscaping a garden properly can add safety features such as railings or lighting. Hardscaping adds places of rest in the form of furnishings.  Hardscaping also adds a sense or inner reflection by incorporating water features.   A garden can add areas of play and activity with properly designed sports courts, pools and play grounds.

Like any good piece of music, the gardens have to sing, building with “fortes” and softening with “pianos.” Hardscaping can help achieve this by bringing “cause for pause” in the form of a small bench area set inside the garden. Hardscaping also helps add impact by using compression and release. An example of this might be a gateway at the end or beginning of a path, marking the opening to a large grassy lawn. In these ways it intervenes and helps control the participant’s attention, subtly adding a sense of safety, rest, harmony, and direction. Hardscaping may also give direction and visual movement in the form of destinations and focal points, drawing the participant out into the environment, and helping to entice the senses.

In the future when planning a new home, landscape or garden setting, I hope you will give more thought to hardscaping and the importance of using it properly. Its dependability is very attractive in this ever changing world.

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