When it comes to transforming your outdoor space, the terms “hardscaping” and “softscaping” are often used interchangeably. However, these two elements play distinct roles in creating a harmonious outdoor environment.
Hardscaping refers to the non-living, structural elements of an outdoor space. This includes features such as patios, walkways, retaining walls, decks, and any other man-made structures that contribute to the overall design. The primary purpose of hardscaping is to define and organize the space, providing a framework for the softer, living elements of softscaping.
Hardscaping elements offer durability, structure, and functionality to an outdoor area. Materials like stone, concrete, wood, and metal are commonly used to create these features. They provide a foundation for the softscaping elements to thrive and add practical elements such as seating areas, pathways, and water features.
On the other hand, softscaping involves the living, breathing elements of your outdoor space. This includes plants, trees, flowers, shrubs, and any other natural elements that contribute to the aesthetics and functionality of the area.
Softscaping enhances the overall design, softening the rigid lines of hardscaping and creating a dynamic and visually appealing environment.
Landscape design involves blending art and science to create beautiful, functional outdoor spaces.
— Architectural Digest
As a professional landscape designer, one of the first things I need to understand from a new client is whether they are looking for a landscape design and/or a hardscape design. Now I know that they need both but, in my experience, most people treat the plant aspects of their design and the “hard” elements of their property separately.
However, designing these elements simultaneously yields superior results compared to the common approach of tackling hardscaping first and then bringing in a landscape designer.
Clients often call me after they have done their hardscaping: the installation of walkways, patios, garden walls, etc. And while I am happy to create garden designs or planting plans for these clients, the greatest challenge for both me and the client is that it can be difficult to create a customized garden scape with the restrictions that now exist. And when I explain the limitations, the clients always respond that they wished they had called me first and started with a complete plan.
Let me give you a few examples.
A pool and surrounding patio had been installed and a 2-foot-deep garden bed (filled with only soil) was left between the fence and new patio.
- The clients, with their backyard neighbour’s large second storey deck in plain sight, ask me for large mature trees to give them some privacy and screening from the neighbours.
- I explain that even if we could get around the access issues, mature trees have a root ball at least 3-feet wide and there is no way we can fit large trees in the garden.
This has happened countless times over the years. I attribute this mistake to many things, but ultimately, the client separated their hardscape needs from there garden/privacy/functional needs.
Location of patio, garden space and a water feature.
When in the backyard, the new install looks fabulous:
- But is everything in the best location for privacy?
- Can you enjoy the garden and water feature from inside the house, where we still spend a lot of our time?
- Does the space left for a new garden have adequate growing conditions like light and no root competition from neighboring trees?
- When you peer out of the kitchen window, are you looking at the shed instead of the garden?
These are just a few examples that illustrate the importance of a functional space and why it is important to start with a landscape design that considers all aspects of your space right from the beginning.
The Role of Harmony in Outdoor Design
The magic of a well-designed outdoor space lies in the harmony between hardscaping and softscaping. Each element complements the other, creating a balanced and cohesive environment. Hardscaping provides structure and order, while softscaping introduces colour, texture, and life.
Now, let’s explore the advantages of designing hardscaping and softscaping at the same time, instead of the more inefficient approach of completing the hardscaping first and then bringing in a landscape designer.
- Seamless Integration
When hardscaping and softscaping are designed together, there is a seamless integration of the various elements. This ensures that the living and non-living components work in harmony from the outset, preventing the need for extensive modifications later on. For example, pathways can be designed to accommodate specific plantings, and seating areas can be strategically placed to take advantage of natural focal points in the landscape.
- Efficient Use of Space
Simultaneous design allows for a more efficient use of space. Hardscaping features, such as patios or decks, can be designed with consideration for existing outdoor furniture and for future softscaping needs. This holistic approach prevents the creation of awkward or unused spaces that may result from adding softscaping elements to an already established hardscape.
- Cohesive Aesthetics
Coordinated design ensures a cohesive aesthetic throughout the outdoor space. Colours, materials, and textures can be chosen in unison, creating a unified and visually appealing environment. This comprehensive approach results in a landscape that feels intentional and well-thought-out rather than a collection of disparate elements.
- Budget Optimization
Designing hardscaping and softscaping together can also be more cost-effective. By planning the entire outdoor space at once, you can make informed decisions about where to allocate your budget, preventing unnecessary expenses caused by modifications or additions after the fact. A well-thought-out plan allows for better resource allocation, ensuring that both hardscaping and softscaping receive the attention they deserve.
- Easier Implementation
Implementing a cohesive design is inherently easier when both hardscaping and softscaping are considered simultaneously. Construction and planting schedules can be synchronized, preventing delays and streamlining the entire process. This approach minimizes disruptions to your outdoor space and allows you to enjoy the finished product sooner.
Working with Down2Earth Landscape Design
During my initial consultation, we will discuss all of these things and more while walking your property together. Then, I will create aconcept plan that lays everything out to scale so you can see the functional aspects and all your wants and needs. I will then schedule a Zoom call to review your Landscape Design concept.
We will further refine the concept on the computer design together to make sure the space is exactly what you want. Once finalized, the design package is delivered containing your landscape design, coloured design, and plant catalogue.