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What Is Hardscape Installation?

On personal recommendation we’ve just hired a father and son hardscaping team to carry out work on the patio and decking in our yard. So what exactly does hardscaping consist of?

A hardscape contractor can design and construct all the ‘built’ elements of your yard, such as driveways, paths, patios, fences, and walls. They can also help you put up decking, gazebos, pergolas, and water features such as ponds and fountains.

Let’s dive down into the subject of hardscape installation in more detail, and discover what hardscapers do, the difference between hardscape and landscape, and look at how to hire a hardscaping professional…

What Is Hardscape Installation?

What Does a Hardscape Installer Do?

A hardscape installer will take care of all of the built elements of your yard. So, we’re looking at driveways, paths, patios, fences, and walls. They’ll also work on landscape features such as fountains.

Essentially, it’s outdoor construction work for domestic properties. Your hardscape installer may also be able to design your driveway or water feature, or you may need a specialist landscape designer on board, too, especially for more complex problems.

Some hardscapers also double as landscapers; however generally, these are pretty different skills as we’ll look into shortly. If you’re having a major revamp in your yard, you may end up with a designer, a landscaper, and a hardscape installer (or even a team if it’s a big job).

What’s The Difference Between Hardscape & Landscape? (Also Called Softscape)

Hardscape is the built element of your yard and landscape (also known as softscape) is anything that grows. That’s the most basic definition. The two elements work together to create a yard that’s both beautiful and functional.

This is why the two sides of your garden often require different professionals. The hardscape installer is more like a construction contractor, while the landscaper is a horticulturalist. Sometimes their roles come together (creating raised beds or boundaries that combine fencing and hedging, for example).

Ideally, both elements work in partnership during the design element. It makes sense to work on the concrete and paved areas first, but this will still need to take into account larger and more architectural softscaping elements such as trees and hedging.

What is Considered Hardscape? (Examples)

Hardscape is the artificial element of your garden, as opposed to the landscaping side, which involves the horticultural aspect. But what exactly is covered by the term “hardscaping”?

Here are a few examples of what is considered to be hardscaping:

  • Driveways, whether they’re asphalt, paved, or brick
  • Parking areas, ditto
  • Brick, stone, or paved patios
  • Wooden decks (yes, even though wood is a natural material, this still forms part of the structural element)
  • Concrete patios (which can be tiled over for a different finish)
  • Pathways (even gravel ones count as hardscaping)
  • External steps and stairs, such as between levels
  • Metal fences plus posts and gates
  • Wooden fences plus posts and gates
  • Stone boundary walls
  • Stone retaining walls (more about these in a moment)
  • Gazebos and arbors, plus foundations and fixings
  • Pergolas (similar, but attached to your home)
  • Permanent awnings
  • Water features such as fountains
  • Ponds and surrounding paths
  • Built-in benches 
  • Large-scale play equipment (such as forts) that requires fixing

This list isn’t exhaustive, as there are so many built elements to our yards. If you are moving into a newly built property, or want to completely revamp your yard, the chances are that you’ll need several of these elements.

Some of these jobs are weekend DIY tasks, if you don’t mind a bit of hard labor! For example, with some help, it’s perfectly possible to dig and install a pond over the weekend. 

Take a look at this short film from Lowe’s about how to build your own backyard pond. This shows how building a small fish pond in your yard can actually be pretty straightforward. 

However, some jobs require more muscle, such as creating new driveways, patios, or paths. The hardscaper may even have to bring in a digger for some of these tasks. 

It’s also a good idea to hire in the experts if you need structural work: a retaining wall should never be undertaken by an amateur. 

Garden structures such as pergolas can come in kits; however, bear in mind that these are often trickier than you think! A hardscaper can create solid foundations for your structure, fix it properly, and build it in what feels like a bewilderingly short time to us amateurs.

Why is Hardscaping Important in The Yard?

There’s more to hardscaping than simply creating an attractive yard. As well as the practical and structural elements, transforming your garden with hardscape installations can really change how you use and enjoy your yard.

Here are some of the benefits that hardscaping can bring to a garden:

  • Leveling sloping gardens. If your lawn is at quite an angle, a hardscaper can introduce a tiered system to give you a series of flat areas. This is supported by retaining walls and reached using steps
  • Defining boundaries and giving privacy. There’s a great choice of fencing materials and designs that can help you create a safe and clear boundary around your property
  • Benefiting nature. A pond acts as a habitat for many garden critters as well a providing a much-needed drink for birds and mammals
  • Providing safe hard standing for your vehicle. A well-made driveway provides a good surface for your vehicles
  • Making your garden accessible. Hardscaping can be used to create easy-to-navigate paths, slopes, and ramps in your yard
  • Retaining heat. Stone walls and pavers will absorb heat, which suits some planting schemes
  • Creating an outdoor room. You can add to your living space with a well-made patio, deck, or gazebo
  • Allowing you to reimagine your yard to suit you and your lifestyle. You don’t have to put up with the tiny patio you inherited when you bought the house, that’s not big enough for your whole family. A hardscape installer can help you recreate this as a large, sociable, outdoor dining spot

Where Can You Find a Reputable Hardscaping Contractor?

If you’re about to hire a hardscaping contractor, you want to make sure that you’re getting the right person (or team) on board. There are several ways to find and select the best hardscaper for the job.

Firstly, word-of-mouth. If a friend or a neighbor has engaged a company or individual, and they were pleased with their services and the result, then that’s a really good starting place. 

Also, if you see a yard you really like the look of, don’t be afraid to ask! Ring the doorbell and ask the homeowner which contractor they used, and would they mind passing on their details. You may even be lucky enough to see a contractor’s van mid-way through a good-looking project.

You can also search online. A quick Google will bring up the companies in your area, and you can usually check out their reviews.

A large retailer like Lowe’s can provide you with the complete project. For example, Lowe’s can supply the fence and arrange the installation for you. This is perhaps the easiest way to complete a specific hardscaping project.

You can also use a search platform such as HomeAdvisor, which lets you search for specific contractors.

We’d always advise getting quotes from three separate traders if possible. You need to ask them:

  • What are their costs. Make sure you cover time, materials, any plant hire, or extra labor charges
  • What is their availability
  • Can you take a look at their portfolio, or are there local gardens you can look at
  • For a large and expensive job, you may want to ask them for references from previous clients
  • How they work: do they offer hardscape design or are they happy to work from plans
  • Will they source everything
  • Do they also provide a landscaping service
  • Check out their paperwork: check their insurance, certifications, and find out how they guarantee the work

Final Thoughts

The father and son team we hired for our hardscaping project are currently doing a great job at the time of writing, so in this case the personal recommendation really worked out.

I wish you luck finding your own hardscaping professional and every success with your yard plans.

It’s so exciting to see everything taking shape! 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >