Hard landscaping is an essential part of a garden – it is the backbone of your outdoor space, providing structure and punctuation as well as a practical, stable surface around which to work. Many of us are using our gardens as an extra room these days, taking advantage of the obvious benefits of being outdoors. The right landscaping can extend the outdoor season into spring, autumn and even winter. It can also make an outdoor space much easier to maintain.
Hard landscaping can sometimes look harsh and uncompromising, especially in a newly finished space, but it can be designed so that it looks more organic, while existing landscaping can also be softened in a number of ways.
"The dark tones of a path can be softened and complemented by the glossy greens of woodland planting."
Think outside the ‘box’
Many gardens are square or rectangular with straight lines and angles – but that doesn’t mean landscaping has to follow the same rules. By introducing curves, a garden can instantly become less ‘boxy’ and uniform. For instance, instead of conventional narrow flower beds running along a fence, D shaped beds can provide more depth of planting, with taller plants at the back forming an interesting pyramid of foliage.
Organic shapes can create calm, harmony and flow in a garden. Instead of a straight landscaped path going from A to B, a path meandering through different ‘rooms’ with focal points of interest can add an element of exploration. A curved decking path can look sensational. Millboard’s Weathered Oak Embered boards were part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations at Chelsea Flower Show recently. The decking walkway flows around images of the Queen visiting Chelsea over the years.
The dark tones of a path can be softened and complemented by the glossy greens of woodland planting. Alternatively, long-flowering perennials that return year after year can be used to create a cottage garden effect. Nepeta, lady’s mantle and geranium all have lush dense fronds that will dance over the edges of paths.
"When moving between different types of hard landscaping, for example from decking to gravel, planting can soften the transition and the landscaping helps make it easier to maintain the planting."
Take it to another level
Different levels of soft landscaping and hard landscaping can also break up the one-dimensional feel of a boxy garden, for instance, stepping up to a decked dining area or down to a seating area with a fire pit. When moving between different types of hard landscaping, for example from decking to gravel, planting can soften the transition and the landscaping helps make it easier to maintain the planting.
This approach can be echoed with planting - large pots can elevate small trees, built-in planters can display plants at whatever level desired and tall alliums look great sticking out of a lower level of planting. Ironwork archways and pergolas are perfect for adding height and extra greenery.
"The edges of low walls, built-in planters or paths can be smudged with creeping or cascading plants."
The three C’s
Plants that climb, creep or cascade are perfect for softening the edges and angles of hard landscaping. Placing a climber in a corner blurs the boundary of a space, adds height and extends the amount of green space that the eye beholds – climbing plants consequently can make smaller gardens appear much bigger. Clematis, jasmine and roses can be trained to smother brick and fence with flowers and foliage, while in ‘difficult’ areas, such as dry shade, ivy can fill otherwise bare gaps.
The edges of low walls, built-in planters or paths can be smudged with creeping or cascading plants.
Low-growing creeping plants such as thyme can fill spaces between paving stones in full sun areas, wafting herby scents underfoot - thyme is tough and able to withstand trampling. Corsican mint or camomile suit more shady areas. Mexican fleabane, with its profusion of tiny daisy-like flowers, is soft and very natural looking – it will spread quickly and flower from June to October.
Hard landscaping provides structure, function and privacy in a garden - it is worth investing time in getting it right. It can be a thing of beauty on its own, but it is best in a supporting role, acting as a stage for the natural world without us even realising it is there.