What is Hardscape, Anyway?

Perhaps you’ve happened upon this site and seen the byline “Yardscapes, Hardscapes and Outdoor Rooms”.  Then maybe you’ve glanced at the categories, and there it is again, the first category – “Hardscapes”.  I’m sure you’re not totally in the dark here, you’ve probably got some idea of what hardscape is, but maybe you’d like a bit of clarification, hmmm?  Alrighty then.

Luxury Paver Patio with Outdoor Furniture as Examples of Hardscape

Origins of Hardscape

In 1873, Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape designer considered by many to be the father of American landscape architecture, was commissioned to design the grounds surrounding the US Capitol building.  Much of his plan for this project involved architectural elements in addition to nature.  These elements included fountains, lanterns, lampposts, seat walls and pathways.  OK, now we’re gonna fast forward about a hundred years or so.  In discussing Olmsted’s design, modern-day landscape architects coined the term “hardscape” in order to distinguish these elements from the natural, or botanical, components of Olmsted’s work.

At first, the term “hardscape” was used primarily within the realm of landscape architecture and city or town planning.  As is often the case with a newly minted word or phrase however, the use of the term, over time, has spread to the general population.  Landscapers certainly use the term in their everyday work-related vocabulary.  And even your average back yard and outdoor living enthusiast (such as myself) will be found using the word when discussing outdoor environments.

 

Definition of Hardscape

So what, exactly, does hardscape encompass?  Let’s start with the big stuff.  Which is also the stuff that pretty much everyone can agree on.  Wikipedia will tell you that:

Hardscape, in the practice of landscaping, refers to the paved areas like streets & sidewalks, large business complexes & housing developments, and other industrial areas where the upper-soil-profile is no longer exposed to the actual surface of the Earth.  The term is especially used in heavily urbanized/suburbanized areas with little bare soil.

 

Examples of Hardscape

Well, that’s a start, I guess. But it’s a pretty narrow definition. Especially considering the fact that the term was first coined to include things like fountains and lampposts. So yes, buildings, streets, sidewalks and paved areas are certainly hardscapes. But so are patios, courtyards, terraces and decks, as well as porches, verandas, balconies and even rooftops. Taking the concept a bit further, hardscapes also include driveways, walkways, pathways (but not natural earth pathways), stepping stones, bridges, stairways and steps. Materials for these elements often include wood, cement, asphalt, natural stone, cut stone, pavers and metal.

Luxury Outdoor Patio with Table and  Chairs, Pillar and Ceiling Fan are All Examples of Hardscape

Everything You See in This Picture is Hardscape

 

The term also encompasses things that we don’t walk on, things that aren’t laid out on or over the ground or water. How about vertical elements like walls, retaining walls, posts, pillars, fences, gates and screens. And then there are structures such as pergolas, gazebos, arbors, trellises and archways (but not archways comprised of trees).

Hardscape includes functional and decorative elements as well. Any form of outdoor lighting, heating and cooling elements, rain barrels, composters, benches or seating – in fact, all outdoor furniture, umbrellas, awnings, outdoor rugs, bars, grills and even flatscreen TVs fit the term. And let’s not forget statuary, sculptures, birdbaths, fire features, ponds and water features, wrought iron and other decorative metal work.

 

Decorative Wagon Wheel in GardenEven smaller decorative items can be considered to be hardscape. I’m talking about things like wind chimes, garden gnomes and other non-living decorative yard and garden creatures, signs, outdoor art, weathervanes, wagon wheels, decorative wheelbarrows, ladders, barrels and the like.

Bird houses and feeders are hardscape, but not the birds they attract. Flower pots and planters are hardscape, but not the plants and soil inside them.

Briefly getting back to some larger hardscaping elements, I’d also include pools, hot tubs, spas, swing sets, jungle gyms, basketball courts, tennis courts, bocce courts – well, you get the picture.

Let’s see, have I forgotten anything? How about boulders, whether they exist in the landscape naturally or were placed for aesthetic purposes, ditto for large stones, rock gardens, dry creeks, pebbles and gravel.

If I had wanted to keep this short and simple, I might have merely said that hardscape includes all the non-living elements of a landscape. But that’s just not my style.

About the Author

Diana Manning
Find out why My Yard Rocks!

Comments

  1. Wow Diana,

    I had no idea what hardscape meant but I sure do now. Thanks for clearing this up so thoroughly for myself and others.

    What an excellent article!

    Paula

  2. Great article. If I ever had any questions about whether something in my yard was hardscape, I don’t any more!

    Darren

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