Solid Hardscape Advice

By Jay Ladell

An excellent landscape is as much about hardscaping as it is about the plants. Hardscape refers to the hard-structural elements and surfaces used to create your outdoor living space such as patios, pathways, stairs and walls.

The wide choice of materials – both natural and pre-cast concrete – will inspire you to transform your front or backyard. Simply follow these tips to turn your backyard into an outdoor oasis or a pathway that beckons you to the front door.

Driveway and entrance-way path surfaces are subject to a lot of use and they need to stand up to the weight of cars and the occasional delivery truck without breaking under load. That is why I recommend a minimum 70 millimetre thick paver or flagstone for the front.

Pavers are also subject to abuse from daily use, and from oil stains and exposure to de-icing salts. Some pavers and slabs have a built-in water repellent finish that protect them from salt damage and staining. Another option is to apply a layer of sealant to your materials. Available in a natural or gloss finish, they can also be used to enhance the colour of the paver.

Hardscaping can make the front yard look like an extension of your home. You can achieve this by selecting materials that pick up on the materials and style of your house exterior. For the early-to-mid 20th century homes of older Ottawa neighbourhoods, I suggest a mix of brick-coloured pavers and natural limestone. For an added pop of colour and elegance, I suggest a border of pavers with a different colour or texture.

The key is to pick up on exterior architectural details and to incorporate them in the design. If there is an archway in the front entrance, for example, I may add a reflective element in the front path, such as an arch in the front step or landing.

The modern homes are perfect for the new, eye-catching linear look that is achieved by using longer-length pavers and contrasting them with different-textured ones.

Did you know that potential buyers often consider a home with a smaller size if it features an outdoor living space? That is because outdoor living spaces are now must-have items where you entertain, cook, relax or even work.  Features like outdoor fireplaces or fire pits extend the usage from spring to fall.

Hardscapes form the floors and walls of your outdoor living space, while carpentry and plants create the ceiling and walls. Your choice of materials will transform your backyard. I love mixing the smaller textured pavers with large slabs and natural flagstone. You can choose whether to have straight lines, curved or the natural shapes of pavers that reflect your garden style.

Patio materials are also ideal for steps and walls. For instance, you can use 15-to-18-centimetre-thick limestone or granite risers or pre-cast wall blocks.  A bench wall can be built with these materials thanks to the new wall systems that have come out on the market over the past two or three years.  These bench walls are essentially free standing walls that border the living space that add extra seating.  Other hardscape elements such as smooth boulders can be integrated as informal seating.

The same wall materials are used to make additional features for the outdoor living space. More homeowners are adding outdoor counter-tops, fireplaces and full kitchens. These structures can be built out of wall material or stone.

The investment required to upgrade materials is often a small percentage of the overall project costs. This means you can afford to spend a little more on materials, so you can include extra design elements such as different colour pavers for a patio border. By adding colour to the patio hardscape, it can transform a modest project into one that looks like a million-dollar landscape.

When it comes to informal backyard pathways or side paths, the materials often include stepping-stones, that can be either square cut, or random shaped. Another option is the large slabs of pre-cast concrete, granite, limestone, sandstone, or porcelain. The rest of the pathway is filled in with a gravel limestone crush or river stones for added colour.

A great landscape design carefully considers the hardscape materials. They draw you to outdoor living space or to your front door. The colours, shapes and sizes reflect the architecture of your house exterior and garden adding elegance and curb appeal.


Article originally published in the O.S.C.A.R. newspaper

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