Hardscape is the non-living elements of a landscape. You could think of it as everything but the plants, encompassing walkways, walls, patios, gazebos, and a wide variety of other structures. Arranging the hardscape elements in a landscape is a critical part of achieving an aesthetically pleasing whole, whether one is gardening in a small patch of land in front of a city home or landscaping a sprawling country estate.
When a garden is designed, hardscape elements are often among the first things to be plugged into the landscape. The gardener usually starts by assessing the lay of the land, and looking for key elements of the natural landscape and surrounding environment which will become integral to the landscaping. For example, if a garden is in a region surrounded by mountains, the garden can be arranged to complement the view of the mountains, integrating the garden with the surrounding area.
One of the first hardscaped elements to be installed is often pathways, which may be made from brick, crushed gravel, woodchips, and a wide variety of other materials. Pathways map out the garden, determining how it will flow across the landscape and how people will interact with the environment. As softscape elements like flowerbeds, shrubs, and so forth start are installed, gardeners can identify areas in which other hardscape elements might be desired, like a low rock wall to separate different parts of the garden, or a gazebo for entertaining in a pleasant area of the property.
Usually, the elements of the hardscape are fixed and permanent. Sometimes, they are there before the garden is installed, as in the case of large boulders which may be impossible to move, or structures which existed before the landscaping was initiated. In other instances, the garden may be designed around a key hardscape feature like a fountain or outdoor sculpture. Gardeners may also include mobile elements, like rotating displays of art which can be changed with the seasons.
In a well-designed garden, the softscape and the hardscape complement each other without clashing or competing for attention. Gardens can be designed in a number of different styles, and the hardscaping can have a huge impact on the look and feel of the garden. For example, a formal garden might have crushed gravel paths and fountains in its hardscaping, in contrast with a storybook garden, which may include stepping stones and pools to make people feel like they have been transported into a book of fairy tales.