Hardscape vs. Softscape

hardscape vs softscape

Hardscape vs Softscape

Hardscapes and Softscapes are two concepts that will come up as you plan your landscape design project.

What’s the difference between hardscape and softscape?

Hardscape refers to the non-living elements of a landscape, while a softscape encompasses all the living elements in outdoor spaces.

Hardscapes provide structure and functionality to the outdoor space and softscapes bring an element of natural beauty and tranquility.

Hardscape Meaning

Hardscape describes the hard landscaping materials used in landscape design. These materials include paving, brick, gravel, stone, and concrete amongst others.

Different Types of Hardscapes

The different types of hardscapes include the following list:

  • Pavers
  • Concrete
  • Retaining walls
  • Walkways
  • Stone
  • Driveways
  • Tiles
  • Gazebos
  • Brick
  • Gravel
  • Patios
  • Boulders
  • Decking
hardscape vs softscape
Hardscape BBQ area with seating

Hardscape Examples

Hardscape refers to the non-living elements of a landscape, providing structure and functionality to outdoor spaces. 

Examples of hardscapes include:

  • Pathways or walkways leading to a patio area made with decorative stone in a BBQ area in the backyard.
  • A paved patio area with a table and seating under a pergola in the backyard with gravel walkways.
  • Retaining walls located in the backyard built from stone, wood or concrete to help manage slopes and prevent soil erosion.

Is cement a hardscape?

Yes, cement is considered a hardscape. It is often used to create pathways, driveways, and patios as they provide a long-lasting and sturdy foundation.

Its strength and durability make it an excellent choice to withstand foot traffic, various weather conditions, and other environmental factors. It can also be molded and shaped as needed.

Hardscape seating area with tiling

Softscape meaning

Softscape describes the soft landscaping materials used in landscape design. These materials include plants, grasses, mulch, soil, trees, and flowers.

Softscape Examples

Examples of Softscapes include:

  • Plants
  • Ground covers
  • Trees
  • Shrubs
  • Flowers
  • Grass
  • Soil
  • Mulch

Softscape examples can also include flowering shrubs, ornamental grasses and native plants. These elements provide ecological balance by attracting pollinators and providing habitat for local wildlife.

thick dense softscape bushes and trees
large tree and native grass in backyard

Softscape Ideas

Many softscape ideas can transform your backyard.

  • Use drought-tolerant ground cover plants such as Red Creeping Thyme to enhance your yard.
  • Use Mulch around the flowers, plants, vegetable patches, and trees.
  • Use evergreen trees and bushes to act as a hedge around your property.

Examples of Hardscape and Softscape Elements

Hardscape Elements Include:

Patios – Outdoor living areas made from materials like concrete, stone, or pavers.

Pathways – Walkways made from gravel, brick, stone, or concrete.

Retaining Walls – Structures made from stone, wood, or concrete to manage slopes and prevent erosion.

Driveways – Surfaces made from asphalt, concrete, pavers, or gravel for vehicle access.

Decks – Raised platforms made from wood or composite materials for outdoor activities.

Pergolas and Gazebos – Structures providing shade and architectural interest.

Fences – Barriers made from wood, metal, or vinyl for privacy and security.

Water Features – Fountains, ponds, or waterfalls made from various materials to add tranquility.

Outdoor Kitchens – Cooking and dining areas with built-in grills, countertops, and storage.

Fire Pits and Fireplaces – Built-in features for warmth and ambiance in outdoor spaces.

blend of softscape and hardscape in yard
softscape yard with retaining wall

Softscape Elements:

Trees – Various species providing shade, structure, and seasonal interest.

Shrubs – Bushes and hedges for borders, privacy, and decorative purposes.

Flowers – Annuals and perennials adding color and texture to gardens.

Grasses – Lawns, ornamental grasses, and native grasses for ground cover and aesthetics.

Ground Covers – Plants like ivy, creeping thyme, and pachysandra for low-growing coverage.

Vines – Climbing plants like wisteria, clematis, and ivy for vertical interest.

Herbs – Edible plants like rosemary, basil, and thyme for culinary use and fragrance.

Vegetables and Fruits – Edible plants like tomatoes, peppers, and berry bushes for homegrown produce.

Mulch – Organic or inorganic material spread over soil to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Annuals and Perennials – Seasonal and long-lasting plants that provide year-round beauty and variety.

These elements together create a balanced and aesthetically pleasing landscape that combines structure with natural beauty.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hardscape and Softscape

Advantages of Hardscapes

  • Increased Property Value
  • Controls Soil Erosion
  • Improves Curb Appeal
  • Conserves Water
  • Adds Privacy
  • Versatile 
  • Sustainable
  • Low maintenance
  • Durable

Disadvantages of Hardscapes

  • Heat absorption and retention
  • Reduce available habitat for wildlife
  • High installation costs
  • Maintenance is required
blend of soft and hardscapes

Advantages of Softscapes

  • Natural beauty
  • Environmental benefits 
  • Seasonal plants and bushes
  • Flexible and adaptable softscapes

Disadvantages of Softscapes

  • Requires constant maintenance
  • Limited durability
  • Space limitations including sunlight and soil conditions
  • Costing of a mature softscape

How to use both softscape and hardscape features together to create a beautiful landscape.

Using both softscape and hardscape features together is key to creating a beautiful, functional landscape that blends natural elements with structural components. 

A well-designed landscape begins with defining spaces using hardscape elements such as patios, pathways, and retaining walls. These features provide structure, organization, and functionality, allowing for easy navigation and creating distinct areas for different activities, such as dining, relaxation, or gardening. 

For example, a stone pathway can lead from a wooden deck to a cozy seating area defined by a low retaining wall, providing visual and physical connections between different yard parts.

Complementing these hardscape features with thoughtfully chosen softscape elements brings the space life, color, and texture. Planting various trees, shrubs, and flowers around hardscape elements softens their appearance and integrates them into the natural surroundings. 

For instance, vibrant flower beds and lush shrubbery can border a concrete patio, adding color and fragrance while creating a seamless transition between the built environment and the garden. 

Additionally, incorporating trees provides shade and vertical interest, while ground covers and ornamental grasses can fill gaps between pavers and stones, reducing maintenance and preventing erosion.

The interplay between softscape and hardscape elements is essential for creating harmony and balance in the landscape. While hardscape provides the bones of the design, softscape infuses it with life and dynamism. 

A pergola covered in climbing vines, a fountain surrounded by native plants, or a gravel path lined with blooming perennials are examples of how these elements can work together to create a cohesive and inviting outdoor space. 

By thoughtfully integrating both these hardscape and softscape features, you can achieve a landscape that is not only beautiful and aesthetically pleasing but also functional and sustainable.


Using elements of both softscape and hardscape features together can give you a lovely tranquil garden that you can enjoy. By balancing hardscape features like retaining walls, walkways, patios, and gazebos with trees, plants, and native grasses you can create visually appealing, functional, and sustainable outdoor spaces. 

If you need landscape design services in the Phoenix area, please contact us today.

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