How to Choose the Right Hardscape Materials

 In Garden Tips

How to Choose the Right Hardscape Materials

Building a hardscape is an exercise in style, but substance matters just as much as style (if not more). The wrong choice of materials will undermine the most beautifully designed deck or pathway, no matter what creative tricks you try to implement. 

You must consider how well-suited a material is for a particular hardscape feature regarding its durability, appearance, and even price. This post will take a look at the materials that are best suited for your choice of hardscape.

1. Stone in Sustainable Gardens

Stone comes in a variety of looks, cuts, and shapes. You can opt for a more natural look that mimics patterns you’ve experienced on a hike or a more geometrical shape for a more formal arrangement. 

If you go for natural stone, the textures will feel and look rougher and have more ridges and thickness and texture differences. But this adds character to an otherwise dull hardscape feature. 

It’s best to reserve stone for hardscape features that are long-standing and don’t require constant upkeep. They’re also ideal for features that may be susceptible to water damage or insect damage, i.e. cellulose eating creatures like termites.

If you choose to use stone in your garden, make sure you get it from a reputable source and not someone who is pilfering from the national park. Also, opt for a local source rather than import from far away. 

Sustainable Landscape Design Ideas for Stone 

  • Pathway/walkways
  • Backyard staircases
  • Garden walls
  • Patios
  • Flower beds

2. Using Wood in Your Garden Design

Wood is a traditional favorite for all sorts of hardscape features. 

With that said, you can use wood for just about anything, whether it’s a deck or backyard steps, and much more. What you need to think about if you’re going to use wood is its quality. 

Choosing high-quality wood affects the appearance, durability, maintenance, and feasibility of the feature you decide to use it on. 

As a Landscape Architect, price is a factor that many of my clients ask about when it comes to choosing the right wood. Local woods are not as expensive as exotic hardwoods, but they may require more maintenance, meaning more money spent down the road. 

On the other hand, an exotic hardwood costs more upfront but will last longer and look prettier for any hardscape feature. But again, consider the source and the carbon footprint associated with your ultimate material selection.

Tennessee Landscape Design Ideas for Wood

  • Decks & patios
  • Fences and walls 
  • Pagodas
  • Backyard steps
  • Walkways 

3. Concrete in Your Outdoor Living Space

Concrete is best reserved for patios and pathways, although you can use it for other hardscape features if you’re incredibly inventive or creative. 

With that said, concrete doesn’t have to be boring. You can stain it, texturize it, and do much more to give it an elevated appeal. (There are as many recipes for concrete as there are for cakes.) The key to using concrete for your hardscapes is to ensure that a contractor or your design team pours it properly, or else it can get messy fast. 

You can do it as a DIY project, but you’re better off calling a professional Landscape Architect or contractor to assist you if you are inexperienced. As a general rule, consider concrete for irregular shapes and forms. It’s much easier, and there is often less waste for a poured-in-place material such as this vs. selecting something that will require hundreds of cuts at the conclusion to achieve a curve. 

Landscape Design Ideas for Concrete

  • Retaining walls
  • Walkways/pathways
  • Patio pavers
  • Front-entranceways (i.e. driveways)
  • Pools 

4. Composite Materials

Not all synthetic materials are inadequate. Composite materials (“Trex” synthetic wood, etc.) can be eco-conscious and an excellent choice for certain hardscape features. 

While best suited for decks, composite materials can be used for some other hardscapes if used correctly. Composite materials usually have a long shelf life. That means they’re resistant to mold, splinters, insects, and rotting. 

The composite material also requires little maintenance and offers some safety features such as increased traction in the winter, reducing slip and fall risk. The only caveat is that composite material is more on the expensive side. However, it’s worthwhile to have a few extra bucks and use it for the right feature.

Landscape Design Ideas for Composite Materials

  • Deck
  • Patio
  • Fences

5. Using Brick in Your Landscape Architecture Design

Brick may very well be the most versatile and available material on this list. Just think of all the various applications and uses for brick that you’ve seen in your lifetime. 

What’s excellent about bricks is that if you’ve got the eye and mind of an artist, you can lay them together to create intricate and ornate patterns much like stone. You can opt for new brick, although it will come at a higher cost and has a longer shelf life. 

Used brick is also a popular choice and is an eco-friendly option as well.

Landscape Design Ideas for Brick 

  • Walkways
  • Patios
  • Garden walls (i.e. for flower beds)
  • Water features (i.e. fountains) 
  • Backyard steps

6. Incorporating Tile in Your Landscape Plan

Don’t assume that tile is exclusively an interior design material. You can use tile for various outdoor applications, including patios, courtyards, and more. 

The key to success is using the right type of tile for the desired effect and, more importantly, installing it properly. For example, if you’re going to lay down ceramic tile, you should set it in a mortar bed on top of concrete slabs. Tiling’s success is very much dependent on the installation process. 

Also, keep in mind that outdoor tiling does carry a risk of slip and falls when it gets wet.

Landscape Design Ideas for Tile 

  • Pathways/walkways
  • Patios
  • Walls

7. Unit Pavers for a Beautiful Landscape

Unit pavers might be a source of confusion because they are not necessarily a type of material themselves. In other words, pavers come from various materials ranging from concrete to brick or even flagstone. 

In the world of landscape design, we typically use pavers to establish borders and boundaries that are permanent and to prevent shifting or sliding of other materials. However, they can be used as the foundation for hardscape features if used appropriately.

Landscape Design Ideas for Pavers

  • Patios
  • Walkways/pathways

A Material World: Choosing the Right “Building Blocks” for Your Sustainable Design

A hardscape’s design indeed lives or dies by the blueprint. The wrong choice of material can compromise your hardscape. The opposite is true as well. The right choice will enhance the finished product. For the sake of your hardscape’s appearance, longevity and functionality, you must choose the best combination of materials for your project. 

From the right plant selection, using native plants or even choosing the proper outdoor lighting for the back or front yard, a design consultant like a Landscape Architect is highly recommended. 

If you need help making those choices book a consultation with me to get started.

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