How Hardscaping Works

Design Principles in Garden Hardscaping

In this garden, although the vegetation is more interesting, the birdbath gives your eye an anchor on which to rest.
In this garden, although the vegetation is more interesting, the birdbath gives your eye an anchor on which to rest.
Greg Ryan/Sally Beyer/Red Cover/Getty Images

­Even if you don't have the budget to accommodate a large project such as a patio or a retaining wall, you have plenty of other hardscapin­g options. Hardscaping expert and author Keith Davitt writes about how a simple lawn ornament can enhance the softscape in your yard.

Davitt goes as far as to say a garden can't be complete without the structure hardscaping provides [source: Davitt]. Although the plants in your garden are beautiful in and of themselves, Davitt maintains that the human eye needs an anchor on which to rest from plant life. While plants are inherently complex and overwhelming for our eye to digest in one gaze, hardscaping features, such as a wall or a rock, are simple. Our eye can wander into the foliage and then continually return to hardscape for a rest. This contrast between complexity and simplicity provides the necessary balance in a well-designed garden.

Another important contrast between hardscape and softscape is that of permanence versus transience. We know that plants lose leaves seasonally, grow and die -- hardy evergreens put up a good fight against the cycle, but deciduous plants are especially vulnerable to it. On the other hand, a durable stone wall will far outlive the vegetation that grows around it. Onlookers get a sense of comforting permanence from hardscaping features like a stone wall. A related contrast has to do with how softscape is vulnerable and hardscape is solid.

Because hardscape stands out from foliage so well, you may need only one statue, birdbath or large rock to do the trick. Davitt stresses that hardscape should be arranged in a way that doesn't detract from the plant life. Remember that the hardscape is there to accent and complement the vegetation. It merely adds another dimension to the garden in the same way a singing voice can add a harmonious dimension to an instrument in a musical performance [source: Davitt].

Aside from this rather abstract reflection on why small hardscape features are so aesthetically pleasing, let's go over a few useful hints on how larger structures can help you enhance your garden. For instance, if you do have a natural slope in your yard and you'd rather not correct it with an unnatural-looking retaining wall, you can install a waterfall instead. A waterfall is a good solution for complementing your sloping landscape because it gives the appearance that it's naturally occurring [source: Seferian]. In addition, if you'd like to install bordering walls that separate your garden from a grassy area, a tall wall and door will give your yard an alluring secret garden look.

While garden hardscaping might be more about accentuating the natural world, patio hardscaping is usually about functionality. Next, we'll talk about patio design.