Designing a landscape requires a thorough understanding of the features that will be added to the outdoor living spaces. Generally, these components are categorized into two: hardscape and softscape. They are the complete opposites of each other, but they are essential to the aesthetic appeal and functionality of any landscape. Here is an in-depth look at the differences between the two, including the elements and the unique benefits of each.
What Is a Hardscape?
A hardscape comprises all of the inanimate elements within a landscape, including pavers, bricks, and concrete. Apart from providing a sense of organization to the outdoor’s natural features, it can also define the use of a certain space. For instance, patios and gravel pathways establish spaces for gathering or leading people through different areas of the outdoor space.
Integrating hardscapes is a long-term decision that requires comprehensive planning on the part of the landscape designers and the homeowners. If you intend to install a driveway in front of your home or a patio in your backyard, you’d want the combination of elements to be something you’ll be comfortable living with for a few years. Unlike softscapes, the accompanying costs and labor of building hardscapes prevent you from switching them out frequently.
Hardscape design takes two main approaches into account—formal and naturalistic. The formal design puts the spotlight on the linear and symmetrical aspects of the landscaping, while the naturalistic design utilizes a collection of asymmetrical components to create an overall design that highlights balance and order.
Meanwhile, the style of the hardscape considers the ambiance the integrated elements create when merged into the entire landscaping. The unique tastes of the homeowner, as well as the consistent use of material choices throughout the design, come into play here.
Common Hardscape Structures
Below are some of the most common hardscape structures you can incorporate in your overall landscape design:
Located adjacent to the back or side of your home, the patio is considered an extension of the main property. On larger properties, it can be far from the house as a place for relaxing or hosting outdoor cookouts or dinner cookouts. To increase its utility, certain features can be incorporated like an outdoor fireplace or a fountain or any related water feature.
- Retaining Walls
These are relatively rigid walls that retain or hold back any material—usually earth—and prevent it from sliding or eroding. It is a way to stabilize slopes and establish flat spaces for gardens, driveways, patios, and other hardscape structures. While they are functional, they should also be designed with aesthetics in mind.
- Outdoor Structures
Elements such as the gazebo, trellis, arbor, or pergola can be great additions for your hardscape design. Pergolas and gazebos provide shade and serve as backyard destinations. Arbors and trellises offer support to vine growth at entryways and adjacent to homes and other structures, respectively. A combination of any of these can be integrated into your landscaping, but make sure the overall design follows a certain theme that utilizes the right color scheme, materials, and style.
What Is a Softscape?
A softscape consists of all the living elements within a landscape—trees, flowers, grass, shrubs and other plants. It also pertains to other aspects that fall under gardening, including weed management, the use of mulch and other tasks like mowing, trimming, grading, and planting.
While hardscape is more permanent, a softscape can be changed at any time. It can be as simple as planting a seedling and tending to its growth or as complex as experimenting with different landscapes from year to year. Given the abundance of perennial and annual plants that can be planted, you have the option to try different designs for your garden or overall landscape. Trees are an exception, however. While they can be replaced, letting them grow is more economical.
A softscape also sets the mood for the entire outdoor experience within residential properties. After all, the plants found in the garden or any landscape add color, texture, and fragrance, turning the space into something more relaxing and inviting. Unlike the hardscape, however, it requires constant care. A plan must be in place for watering, fertilizing, trimming, and weeding. Unless you have a green thumb, you can choose certain plant varieties that require less maintenance.
With softscaping, you contribute to the improvement of the local environment and your well-being. Soil and vegetation don’t just help reduce pollution and watershed health but also boost your physical and mental health. It also keeps the overall ecological balance in check; with plants growing and flowers blooming, beneficial wildlife such as bees, frogs and earthworms are expected to thrive.
Common Softscape Elements
Below are some of the more conventional choices for creating a softscape that will help beautify your garden or landscape:
- Annual Plants
These plants complete their life cycle—the period of growth from seed to full-grown plant bearing seeds—within one growing season, which is usually from spring to fall. They are often displayed prominently at garden centers in late spring. Lupine, scarlet sage, morning glory, basil and sweet alyssum are some examples of annual flowering plants.
- Perennial and Biennial Plants
Unlike annual plants, perennial and biennial plants tend to have longer life cycles. Usually, the top portion of perennials lies dormant each winter and regrows in the spring from the same root system. They also tend to keep their leaves throughout the year, making them great border plants along pathways. Biennials, meanwhile, develop leaves and flowers during the first year, become dormant during the fall and winter and bloom again the next year before dying completely.
A healthy softscape should have mulch-covered soil on plants that require nourishment and growth. This particular element is important because it retains soil moisture, stops weeds from growing around plants, and prevents frost heaving during winter. Organic mulches, which consists of grass clippings, shredded leaves, wood shavings, bark chips, and straw, improve the soil structure, drainage, and nutrient-holding capacity.
Striking the Balance
A beautiful landscape should have a well-balanced hardscape and softscape. Too much of either one can lead to aesthetic and functional problems. A facade or backyard with excessive hardscaping can look like a hotel or any commercial property, creating a cold and sterile environment that makes relaxation a challenge. On the contrary, going overboard with the softscape will make the outdoor space look like an unkempt garden of an old house, inching closer to becoming a miniature jungle that needs heavy pruning and weeding.
To strike a balance between the two, make sure that you are working with trustworthy landscape professionals who can guide you in designing your home’s facade or backyard. For this, turn to Backyard Reflections. We can help customize your landscape and build unique structures that are tailored to your outdoor lifestyle. We are also committed to taking care of what we designed and built for your home—our experienced team can provide either full-scale maintenance services or a one-time cleanup. Regardless of the project’s size and scope, expect us to get the job done right the first time.
Call us today at (320) 274-6336 (Annandale) or (218) 454-1065 (Nisswa) or fill out our contact form to get started. We’ll set up a no-obligation consultation so we can discuss your landscape design ideas or with one of our expert team members.