Understanding the Differences Between Hardscape and Softscape in Landscape Design

Differences Between Hardscape & Softscape

Landscape designers combine hard and soft materials to create outdoor spaces that are greater than the sum of their parts. A closer look at a well-landscaped yard will reveal a mixture of what’s known as hardscape and softscape materials. While these textures are polar opposites, they are complementary design elements that work together to create a functional, beautiful landscape.

If you’re planning an upcoming project, be sure to include both aesthetic and practical landscape design elements. Here are some key considerations:

What is Hardscape?

As its name implies, hardscape refers to the hard materials including bricks, stone, concrete, and wood. Hardscape is the solid, unchanging, inanimate objects which make up the foundation of the landscape regardless of the season. Examples of hardscape include:

  • Paths and walkways
  • Decks and patios
  • Driveways
  • Fences
  • Gazebos
  • Retaining walls

In addition to allowing practical access to the landscape, hardscaping can create visually appealing focal points (such as outdoor fireplaces or water features). Some types of hardscape can also prevent soil erosion, protecting the landscape’s plants—or softscape.

What is Softscape?

While hardscape refers to the hard aspects of the yard, softscape materials are soft, living, growing plants or mulch that can change and evolve with the seasons and time. Softscape adds color and beauty to a landscape, with examples including:

  • Shrubs
  • Flowers
  • Accent plants
  • Trees
  • Grass/turf
  • Soil/mulch

While hardscape is more permanent, softscape requires regular maintenance such as weed removal, mowing, watering, and fertilizing. Don’t worry—even if you live a busy lifestyle, there are ways to design a beautiful, low-maintenance landscape. 

Creating the Ideal Landscape

The ideal landscape is made up of a well-balanced combination of both hardscape and softscape. Too much of one or the other can lead to visual and functional problems.

For example, too much hardscape in someone’s front yard can make it look more like a commercial property than a home. Adding sufficient softscape would help the area to appear more welcoming, relaxing, and visually appealing.

Too much softscape, on the other hand, can end up looking like an unkempt jungle rather than a well-maintained yard. This doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in your love of plants… it just means that adding more hardscape such as a stone path or retaining wall would help the area look less chaotic and more accessible.

At Garrett Churchill, we offer on-site consultations to help you create the perfect landscape, tailored to your taste and lifestyle. Contact us today to get a quote!