Planning Hardscapes

Hardscapes are the constructed features such as patios and pergolas that make a landscape human-friendly. Their permanent and relatively costly nature calls for careful planning before construction. Here are some questions and suggestions to help in planning:

How you want to use the space? Today’s home landscapes reflect individual lifestyles. Features such as shaded dining areas, private nooks for relaxing, outdoor games, fire pits, BBQ or cooking areas, and areas for children’s play can create a space that enhances household life. Peruse magazines and websites (Houzz.com, Pinterest) for inspiration.

Consider how many people will commonly use the different features. This will help you determine the size of gathering areas like patios and pergolas. Measure rooms in your house to help envision what can fit into a space.

A small patio makes an inviting entry.

A small patio makes an inviting entry.

Study your existing yard. Where are the sunny and shady areas? Are there areas that are a logical fit for a particular use? Do existing rooms in your house relate to items on your wish list? How will the new features relate to each other? Strive to create a sequence of features that relate to each other, to your existing conditions, and to rooms within your home.

Once you know what you want to build, how big it will be, and where it will go, consider materials. Your selections will be influenced by budget, maintenance goals, intended use, and aesthetics.

In general, the more steps it takes to construct something, the more it will cost to install and the more durable it will be. Labor costs often exceed the cost of materials. For paving, loose materials such as decomposed granite are inexpensive and easier to install but harder to maintain. Concrete paving is moderately expensive and requires skill to install but requires little maintenance. Unit pavers such as brick or natural stone are very expensive and durable when installed over a concrete base. Installing them over a flexible base such as base rock is less expensive, less durable, and requires more maintenance.

Consider how surfaces will be used and by whom when selecting materials. Smoother surfaces are easier to maintain and are a good choice for areas used by running children or people with limited motility.

Finally, consider aesthetics. The materials and the shape of hardscaped areas affect the look of a landscape. Landscapes can fall on a continuum from formal to natural. Formal designs lean toward symmetry, geometric shapes, hard edges, and solid construction. Asymmetry, curvilinear lines, irregular edges, and soft materials support a rustic feel. For maximum cohesion, let your home’s style guide your aesthetic choices. Look for ways to repeat architectural details and materials in your landscape.

Bring home samples of potential materials to ensure a coordinated look between new and existing features. Are the colors complementary? Is there a balance of highly textured and less textured materials? Do the materials fit with the intended style?

A well-planned hardscape looks and functions best.

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