Most agree that good hardscaping does wonders for beautifying an outdoor space. But hardscaping can also make the space more livable. After all, if you've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a piece of property, you should make the best of it and enjoy it all your space -- inside and out. There are several ways to use hardscape to improve the livability of an outdoor space, including enhancing privacy, creating boundaries, leveling the topography, providing shelter and reducing lawn maintenance.
For instance, fences offer privacy and safety. Fences can also provide solid property lines for defining the division of yards. The famous adage "good fences make good neighbors" is testament to the importance of clear boundaries in a community.
Fences or walls can be used to divide up areas within a yard for different purposes. If it's important to have grassy areas for children to play in or for pets to use, you may need to section these areas off from hard surfaces and vegetable gardens. You wouldn't want a child to fall on a stone walkway or your beloved dog to relieve himself on your cherished tomatoes.
Perhaps most helpful, however, is how walls can improve the general topography of a yard. There's nothing like a steep, awkward slope to make a perfectly large yard uncomfortable and unusable. If the slope is steep enough, it may be worth putting in a retaining wall to correct it. Several different kinds of retaining walls exist, but they all serve the same purpose. Essentially, they hold back sections of soil so that you can separate your yard into levels of flatter surfaces. Retaining walls also prevent soil erosion.
Among the different kinds of retaining walls are gravity, piling, cantilevered, gabion, anchor system and concrete block. Each of these uses a different process for holding soil back, and the best kind for you might depend on your situation and preferences. To retain their durability, all retaining walls need some sort of drainage outlet. This is because water can accumulate in the soil and push against the wall. For reasons such as this, you should seek expert advice before attempting to build a wall yourself [source: Kennedy].
Another function of hardscaping is to provide shelter. Gazebos and overhangs are two examples of outdoor shelters that allow you to use your yard more. They can protect users from a light drizzle or shade them on hot, sunny days.
Lastly, if you're the kind of person who abhors mowing the lawn, hardscape can cut down on that chore significantly. Paving walkways or -- even better -- putting in patios will reduce the amount of grassy area in your lawn, giving you a very low-maintenance yard.
You should consider these practical functions first and foremost when developing your hardscaping plan so that you can design around the important features. We'll talk about some design guidelines next.