How Hardscaping Works

General Hardscaping Design Guidelines

Gazeboes make great focal points to center a wandering eye in a yard.
Gazeboes make great focal points to center a wandering eye in a yard.

After considering all of the practical advantages of hardscaping options, you'll want to delve into your design choices. Everybody's got his or her own sense of style, and there's no sense arguing about matters of taste. Nevertheless, armed with some general guidelines, you'll be able to plan your hardscape with a cohesive, attractive design, all the while incorporating your own flair.

­Most landscapers advocate an appropriate mix between hardscape and softscape. This doesn't mean that your yard should be half hardscape and half softscape; rather, it should reflect your needs, circumstances and the size and layout of your yard. For instance, if you have a small, urban yard, putting in a patio probably means you'll have more hardscape than softscape. But if you have a vast yard with mostly softscape, you merely need to accent the plant life with walkways and a few scattered statues or a fountain.

Hardscaping expert David Stevens explains balance in respect to symmetry. He clarifies that a good design need not be perfectly symmetrical to be balanced. He suggests thinking about design balance on a weight scale. The things on each side don't have to be mirror images of each other to balance. A few medium-sized­ rocks, for instance, could balance out one large statue. Or a single pot could balance out a large fountain if the pot is moved closer to the center. This is what's called asymmetrical balance. It avoids the blandness of symmetry but keeps the look within a pleasing design.

Another element that most hardscapers advocate incorporating is a focal point. This is a central feature of the area that focuses and anchors an onlooker's gaze. Stevens suggests that water features, such as ponds or waterfalls, and large structures, like gazeboes, can serve as effective focal points in a yard [source: Stevens].

There's no one correct way to achieve all of these effects, but overall you should strive to blend the hardscaping structures with their surroundings. This can mean the house, the natural world or, if possible, both. Rather than jarring people with drastically different styles, designs should promote a fluid transition from inside the house to outside. This is why professional hardscapers often coordinate the hardscaping color scheme with not only the exterior color of the house, but also the interior colors of the house's walls and furniture.

If you have an attractive view of the landscape beyond your own yard, you might also like to achieve a fluid transition from your yard to the surrounding natural world. Some hardscapers suggest adapting the shapes and lines (such as those that form the borders of your garden beds) into curves that are conducive to this transition [source: Kennedy].

The materials you choose to achieve all these effects make a big difference. If you're planning a patio, you might be able to find a particular kind of stone whose color and texture work well with the materials that make up your home. Or you might use a special kind of timber that grows naturally in the surrounding landscape. We'll learn more about popular hardscaping materials next.