As their names imply, hardscape refers to the hard, non-horticultural elements that are incorporated into a landscape—that is, the paving, planters, walkways, retaining walls, stairs, and even reflecting pools and smaller-scale items like doghouses and sundials. On the flip side, the plantings and botanic elements are called softscape. Together, the two make up the major components that you can find in a designed outdoorspace.
Typically, hardscape elements must be installed, built, or completed before the softscape elements can be put in. This is because hardscape materials are usually incorporated into the ground, and often physically alter the landscape—whether it’s the removal of dirt for a pool or cutting and filling soil in order to install a retaining wall or terracing.
Once the main elements of the hardscape are in place, the softscape elements can be planted, and the overall landscape design can be fleshed out. Hardscape features are usually the focal points of a landscape design. Outdoor fireplaces, reflecting or swimming pools, or other water features like fountains can act as a visual and physical gathering place for visitors. However, at times, softscape elements—like a particularly elegant tree or flower bed arrangement—may steal the show.