Landscape Design: Beautiful Yards Blend Hardscape and Softscape

Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute/flickr

Are you designing – or redesigning – your yard? It's important for you to know there are two basic components to landscape design: hardscape and softscape. Blended thoughtfully, they lay the groundwork for a harmonious whole … a yard that looks lovely and is practical and comfortable for your family to enjoy. Find out more about the role of hardscape and softscape in your exterior design.

What is Hardscape?

Hardscape is exactly what its name suggests – the hard, permanent aspect of your landscaping. It is human-made and utilizes durable materials like wood, stone, brick, tile, or concrete. Hardscape plays a vital role in your landscape architecture; it levels the soil, limits erosion, and defines various spaces for all your outdoor activities. Here are the most popular hardscape features:

Fence – A fence works to define boundaries. For instance, it might keep small children or animals out of a vegetable garden, or safeguard your privacy outdoors. If your hardscape design includes a swimming pool, safety fencing is required by law.

Path – A garden path, walkway, or sidewalk protects the lawn around it and allows access to garden beds without the danger of trampling them.

Patio – A patio is a comfortable space for lounging and entertaining, especially when it offers a choice of sun or shade. It also provides a safe, fireproof surface for your grill, fire pit, or outdoor kitchen.

Planters – Choose the right planters for easier, more productive gardening. Plant pots can be moved to catch the brightest sunrays, vertical containers make the most of your planting space, and raised beds minimize wear and tear on your knees.

Retaining wall – The primary purpose of a retaining wall is to keep soil from eroding on steep hills; this will allow you to reconfigure your land – for example, by terracing a slope. Your retaining wall may also do double duty as attractive rustic seating.  

Shelter – An outdoor shelter could be called a “mini-building.” A pergola, gazebo, or arbor blends its dainty appearance with a down-and-dirty practical side, sheltering from sun and supporting climbing plants.   

Water feature – Water features like ponds or waterfalls add a Zen-like soothing element to your backyard. (So your relaxation won’t be interrupted by pesky mosquitoes, install a circulating pump in your water feature – or add mosquito-eating fish.)

What is Softscape?

Softscape refers to the softer side of your backyard landscaping. Changing and vital, it includes the soil and all sorts of plants ... from tiny blades of grass to tall trees:

Trees – Trees cool your yard, not only with their shade, but also via the water vapor that evaporates from their leaves. When they host a swing or a tree fort, they truly make a house a home. What’s more, trees welcome birds and bees to your yard.

Hedge – A hedge is perhaps the classiest form of privacy fence, certainly less "in your face" than chain link. As well, by acting as a screen against summer sun and winter winds, a hedge can reduce your heating and cooling costs.

Shrubs – Individual shrubs are ideal for accenting handsome architecture, such as stately columns in front of your home.

Flower garden – Flowers please two senses, both sight and smell. Put in colorful flowerbeds to beautify your home and add instant curb appeal. Consider a scent garden if you use your deck for evening entertaining, when blooms are less visible.

Vegetable garden – Nothing tastes better than fresh organic greens, just picked from your own vegetable patch. Veggie gardening is a great activity for kids -- fun and educational!

Grass or other groundcover – Although many homeowners are concerned mainly with the look of their lawn, grass or other groundcover has the essential job of reducing soil erosion. Besides, it feels so nice underfoot!

Soil – Soil is the basis of all your softscape. Having your soil tested (and remediated if necessary) will help you keep it in great shape for growing.

For expert landscape design that will make the most of your outdoor space, consult a professional local landscaper..

Laura Firszt writes for

Updated December 20, 2018.

Get Free Quotes

Looking for a Pro? Call us at (866) 441-6648

Get Free Quotes
  • Service Needed
  • Zip Code
Get quotes from qualified local contractors