If you’re thinking about redoing your landscaping, or maybe designing it for the first time for your new or new-to-you home, one thing is clear: You want it to be beautiful! When it comes to landscaping, harmony and balance reign supreme. It’s important to strike a balance between hardscape and softscape. If you’re unfamiliar with the difference between hardscape and softscape, it really comes down to materials and permanence. In this article, we’ll clearly define hardscape and softscape and offer some suggestions for balancing the two for the optimum results within your aesthetic and your particular space.

The Difference between Hardscape and Softscape

Hardscape and softscape might be unfamiliar terms, but they are all around you. Most landscaped areas, whether residential or commercial, have a combination of these two basic components of landscaping. Hardscapes are the parts of the grounds or yard that are formed with nonliving materials and are more permanent, while softscape refers to the organic, living elements such as the flowers, soil and trees. As an example, a concrete planter is hardscape, while the plants and soil within it are softscape. See the chart below for more examples:

PaversTrees and shrubs
Retaining WallsLawns
Cement, brick, or gravel walkwaysFlower gardens, flowers in pots
Pools, spas and their decksHerb and pollinator gardens
Decks and patiosGround cover plants
Gazebos and outdoor kitchensNon-flowering plants

Balancing Hardscape and Softscape

Now that we know what we’re balancing, let’s look at the why and how. With no color or softer shapes with plants, an endless hardscape can seem sterile and uninviting. Conversely, without fixed structure, your eyes don’t know where to look and the scene may look chaotic or too natural, giving it a wild, untamed look. As with interior design, too much of anything can be overwhelming. It’s the accents and artful focal points that draw and delight.

Definition and Focus

In the photos below, the hardscape adds definition to the plants and gives them a background that helps them stand out. In addition, the hardscape provides clean lines and structure. Like a tidy desk or room, the order the hardscape brings can give a sense of inviting calm. Of course, the pool and fire pit don’t hurt, either.

Color, Nature, and Depth

Vertical stone water feature amid native plants. Evergreens line the fence behind and alternating colors of ground cover are in the foreground.

For a space that’s predominately hardscape, the addition of flowering plants, or even a little greenery can add a pop of color, give it character, and draw the eye. Plus, we all need nature. Preserving nature in your own backyard can be refreshing and grounding. If you don’t have room for flower beds, strategically positioning stone or ceramic planters on the patio or pool deck can make a huge difference. If you prefer more natural environs, adding a stone water feature like the small vertical one shone above, can provide a focal point with amazing results. In the example below, a patio with fire pit and stone bench are nestled within plenty of greenery, for a harmonious balance. Statuary and a water feature add more visual interest.

Semicircular stone bench hugs round patio with Adirondack chairs and stone fire pit amid shrubs, trees, groundcover. Grecian fountain in foreground.

Hardscape and Softscape: Complimentary Complements

Hardscape and softscape go together like black and white, like popcorn and movies. They complement each other brilliantly, when done right. Achieving that balance between the rigidity and hard lines of the hardscape and the more fluid shapes and wildness of the plants and trees will transform your yard into an exquisitely framed and functional work of art. At Hall Landscape Design, we listen to you and create an aesthetically pleasing landscape that will feed your soul and make you want to spend more time outdoors. For landscape design in Napa, Sonoma, and Marin counties, give us a call or use our consultation request form to get started. We also design landscapes in and around San Francisco and Walnut Creek. We can’t wait to design your space!