Difference Between Hardscape and Softscape and How to Use Them in the Garden

While we can think of landscape design in terms of plants, trees, flowers and shrubs, this is only part of the story. Even if your garden was designed to look like a meadow of wildflowers, chances are you have a non-living component like rocks or a fence. This is “hardscape” and plants are “softscape”. Here’s what you need to know about both landscape design categories.

Hardscape vs SoftScape

In short, these two types of landscaping mean exactly what you think. As Lisa Hallett Taylor explains in an article for The Spruce :

Hardscape is the hardest thing in your yard: concrete, bricks and stone. Softscape is soft, growing material such as perennial flowers, shrubs, succulents and trees. Softscape is alive; hardscape – no. Ideally, a well-designed landscape combines a balance between the two.

How hardcaping affects softscape

The plants in your garden are likely to be your main focus given that they require regular maintenance, but the challenging landscape can play an important role in their successful growth. In fact, as Keith Regge explains in an article for Dwell , the hardscape comes first:

Typically, hardscape elements must be installed, built, or completed before softcape elements can be inserted. This is because hardscape materials are usually embedded in the ground and often physically alter the landscape – whether it is removing mud for a pool or cutting and backfilling the soil to install a retaining wall or deck.

It is also important to consider the materials used in your hardscape as they affect the environment in different ways. Per Taylor :

Hardscape materials have different effects on the environment. The complex sidewalk prevents water from entering the soil, thereby increasing runoff that can carry contaminants into streams. Porous materials allow water to enter the soil. Harvesting is an advantage for the garden because it reduces potential erosion and keeps the land intact.

Ultimately, the idea is for both your hardscape and softscape to blend into the local environment and mimic something that can be found in nature, explains Regge . This means choosing plants that thrive in the area and do well in a particular climate.

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