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Master Gardener Journal  


B E T T E R   L A N D S C A P E   D E S I G N



"Hardscaping" Your Landscape

by Sandy Turico,
Master Gardener


What a beautiful time of the year here in the Valley of the Sun! While we may need to slip on a jacket or sweater to guard against the nighttime chill, daytime temperatures are decidedly pleasant...a perfect time to tackle a "hardscape" project for your landscape.

What exactly is meant by the term hardscape? Hardscape is any non-living element we place in our yards, such as patios, fences and sidewalks. While many of us think of plants as the major players in our landscape, hardscape features can also have a considerable impact. These components can be used to enhance our outdoor spaces by offering opportunities for entertainment and recreation, providing a focal point in the landscape, solving privacy and security issues, and generally making our yards more livable and easier to maintain. As a bonus, the value of your property may even increase.

Although a major undertaking such as a swimming pool is best left to professionals, there are countless projects the average homeowner can tackle with some research, proper planning, and a little imagination.

Outdoor dining
The same materials used for walkways can be utilized to construct a wonderful spot for dining furniture, a bench or a glider.

Think about the ways in which you presently use your front, back, and side yards. Are there ways to better separate the public, private, and utilitarian areas of your property? Could you make better use of the space you have? As you study your landscape, remember that any hardscape you add to your property should not only be functional, but attractive. Try to blend in the new with the old. Examine your landscape and reflect on the following possibilities:

Walkways should be adequate and inviting. Study the traffic patterns throughout your yard. Perhaps an attractive winding path would encourage visitors to explore that stunning garden you've created. Would an additional sidewalk facilitate taking out the trash, servicing your pool equipment, or getting the kids safely to their play area? Is the passageway leading to your front door welcoming? Creating a new walkway or making an existing one more appealing can be done in numerous ways. Pavers, bricks, flagstone, or tile can be set in a mortar base and arranged in a variety of striking patterns. Some materials can even be laid in a base of sand making the job easier. An exposed aggregate concrete sidewalk is a more interesting option than plain concrete. Even a simple gravel pathway can be attractive.



Fences or walls provide privacy and security. Socializing with your neighbors is a great way to establish a sense of community in your neighborhood; however, there are times when we need to establish boundaries and protect our privacy. If young children have access to your yard and pool, a fence in conjunction with a locked gate can prevent a tragic drowning. Intruders can be discouraged in the same way. Concrete block by itself or coated with stucco will withstand the test of time in our dry desert climate. A low wall of brick, glass block, or interlocking masonry blocks (no mortar required!) is an option if you wish to separate one area of your garden from another. A coat of paint can add pizzazz with a minimum of effort. If you happen to be artistically talented, a mural or abstract design can give a unique look to your outdoor space.

Features such as patios, built-in barbeques and fireplaces make entertaining a pleasure. Many of us are fortunate enough to have a covered patio attached to our home, but another option is to install a patio in the backyard or a side yard if you have the space. The same materials used for walkways can be utilized to construct a wonderful spot for dining furniture, a bench, or a glider. Check out plans to build a barbeque grill. Cooking outdoors keeps the heat out of the house during our hot summers but a barbeque is a pleasure to use any time of the year. Finally, imagine the cozy ambience that an outdoor fireplace would provide on a chilly evening. Pre-fabricated fireplace kits are available, and so are instructions to build a masonry one.

A pool is not your only option if you want to include a water feature in your landscape. Having a pool in the backyard can certainly offer relief from our hot summer temperatures, but there are those who would rather not deal with the initial expense in addition to the time and money involved in maintaining a pool. There are a number of alternatives if you desire the pleasant gurgle and the cooling effects of water in your landscape. Think about including a fountain, waterfall, or a pond in your design. Do-it-yourself kits make one of these projects easier than you might think.

Arbors, ramadas, gazebos, and trellises offer shade and opportunities for enthusiastic gardeners to add more plants to the landscape. Shade is at a premium here in the desert. It can make outdoor living during the summer bearable. These structures help to cool areas of our landscape and provide protection from the sun. They are practical as well as attractive. Vining plants are ideal to train up and around these projects.

Raised beds and containers work well if your space is limited or if you need easy access to your plantings. Many gardeners find growing vegetables, herbs, and annuals irresistible, but finding room in a small yard can be a problem. Maintaining these garden areas can also be demanding. Raised beds constructed from wood, concrete, or interlocking blocks can solve these problems, and help you avoid back and other troubles associated with bending and stooping. A group of pots arranged in the landscape or on the patio is another interesting idea. There are endless sizes and styles of containers that will satisfy anyone's taste.

These projects are just a few of the countless ways to integrate hardscape into your landscape. Hopefully, these will start your creative juices flowing. Browse through home and garden magazines, or check out your local library for more ideas. One of the best sources of books and project plans can be found at your neighborhood home improvement center.

Try to keep your plans simple. There is nothing more frustrating than starting something you cannot finish. As always, if you have any questions concerning Homeowner Association rules or local building codes, contact the proper agencies before beginning construction.



Maricopa County Master Gardener Volunteer Information
Last Updated January 25, 2003
Author: Lucy K. Bradley, Extension Agent Urban Horticulture, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Maricopa County
© 1997 The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cooperative Extension in Maricopa County
Comments to Maricopa-hort@ag.arizona.edu 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix, AZ 85040,
Voice: (602) 470-8086 ext. 301, Fax (602) 470-8092