Landscape Hardscapes 101
One of the most expensive parts of any landscape are the hardscapes. Hardscapes are just what they sound like…Hard. Anything from concrete to metal, rock, sidewalks, built in ponds and pools are hardscapes and soft materials such as plants and soil complete a landscape.
Pools, patios and decks are very popular in Central Texas. Wood decks (below) are an excellent choice for challenging topography, but if you’re on a relatively flat area, stonework is worth the expense.
Wooden decks require a lot of maintenance in our heat and humidity and there is nothing cheap or sustainable about refinishing decks every few years. If the aesthetic speaks to you, check out composite wood as well as high quality treated hardwood options in your area.
The Sandstone slabs below weighed in at 300 pounds each. The bench in back is made of solid limestone blocks and this creation is easy maintenance, low water and doesn’t require much effort once it’s done.
Water Features and Ponds
I am a huge fan of water features in the landscape because they create sound that is pleasantly distracting from the world. Tranquility at its best, the sound of running water lowers our blood pressure, calls to wildlife and numbs out the world in a delightful way.
Even the smallest in ground Disappearing Water Feature can make a big splash in our space.
In ground ponds (below) are a meditative paradise but maintenance is also required as the plants that are needed for proper PH will reproduce every few years and pumps need to be cleaned twice yearly. Proper installation is crucial to prevent leaks and you won’t want to skimp on the liner or the filter system.
Retention Walls and Dry Creek Beds
Retainer walls are extremely valuable in challenging topography. Large stone blocks are from 50 to 80 lbs each and need to be laid by a professional. Retainer walls should always be installed on a concrete footer appropriate to the height of the wall and PVC or 1/2 inch mortar free weep holes should be along each foundation.
The weep holes should be covered by landscape fabric and back filled with gravel and/or high quality topsoil or bed fill for planting. Remember these are just big flower pots so the soil must be a planting medium topped with native shredded mulch.
Dry Creek beds are very useful in the Hill Country landscape. We’re hilly and that is what makes us special, but it also make gardening and erosion a challenge sometimes. Water will always take the path of least resistance, so just go with the flow…the larger the rock the less chance of them moving.
Avoid using more than 3 colors or textures in rock and stonework. The landscape can begin to look a bit riotous with too many colors going on, so stay neutral and add colorful additions in a meaningful way.
Below you see beige hardy plank with the same limestone and brick used throughout the front and sides of this home. There are already 3 colors and textures so it’s best to stay with this color pallet. Adding stepping stones and river rock will be a natural addition to the existing local stone used in the patio and home exterior.
This trough style water feature is attached to the patio and provides sound and plants for texture and seasonal interest. Firm sided water features are easier to care for than those in the ground and less prone to damage from nocturnal visitors. Ponds hold a tremendous amount of water so be sure your vessel is secure, well built and level.
The shot (below) is one of my many edible gardens where hardscapes such as natural stone and rock played a huge part in my design. Rock and stone should be a compliment to the landscape, not the center of attention. We are Central Texas, the look should be green with pops of rock and metal and color where we can get it.
One of the most important things to consider when making decisions about rock and concrete installation is the style of your home. It is important to mirror the design and architecture and to “update” as much as possible. It is also very important to consider the cost. Concrete work is on average is about $20 a square foot and stonework can be very comparable. These types of decisions are permanent and should be made thoughtfully.
River rock can also be used for an excellent alternative to concrete or stone and mortar. It is much less expensive and can be quite functional when prepared correctly.
Above, a constantly wet side yard becomes a feature and a sidewalk. Below, a drainage problem becomes a dry creek bed. Fairly inexpensive solutions for big problems.
From modern contemporary to English garden, river rock and stones are an inexpensive way to add value and structure to our landscape.
Below is an example of a beautiful balance of stone and rock with a natural look in an suburban setting. Stones and rock are a great way to create borders without the formalities of metal.
Hardscapes such as these (below) will cost a pretty penny, so always start with bids on the patio stone options that are local and most cost effective. As always, the higher end the home, the more expensive the stonework will be which is worth the investment when done properly.
Some Examples of My Work
All materials should be brought in as samples before making final decisions. Rock and stone can change color drastically from day to night and the affects can sometimes play negatively against the color of the house or existing landscape. When all else fails, stay hyper local and neutral in tone and you will keep the cost down and make the choices easier.
However,…if you go all out as my client here did, (and I loved every minute of it!) by all means do it right.
Some of the common choices people have to make are the shape of the stone and the color of the metal. These are not only determined by the price of the home but by the budget of the home owner.
Black Star rock and similar black/grey rock has become quite popular. It’s a really cool look but you’ll pay for it. These types of rocks and fabulous colored rock like those below can be 3 times the cost of local limestone and lower Colorado River rock. Below is a combination of local river rock (left) Black Star and Limestone block.
Mixing hardscape materials is a great way to create drama as shown above. Below is a great example of using similar colors to make the space go away. This hardscape work keeps a clean look, extends the sidewalk in a busy intersection and reduces watering completely.
Rock of any kind can grow weeds. Some materials such as crushed granite can be quite fertile so keep a weed tool close by and plan a weekly tour to keep them at bay.
River Rock as a Feature and Function
Below, I used hardscapes that added beauty and function. Not only have we added space to the walk way from the drive way, but we’re addressing the water issues as well.
When using rock, it is imperative that 4 mil plastic or Landscape fabric be used beneath. I will never encourage you to use landscape fabric in your planting beds, but you do need it beneath rock and plastic holds up longer than fabric. However, fabric is needed on slopes for obvious reasons unless you’re building a slide.
Hardscapes require proper installation and layout to be the most effective. Leave ample space around all trees and plants for water absorption and protection against disease.
A good rule for layout is the larger the home, the larger the beds and stone should be too. Interesting lines can create the appearance of more space and in this case, also serve an important function in the way of drainage. High metal edge creates drama and holds mulch to a greater depth.
This Cantilever architecture (below) deserved a special treatment but the landscape was washing away with each season. Using local rocks and many already on the property, the landscape keeps its soil and the water still gets its way.
Other important additions to consider are Corten Metal edge, Privacy panels for AC/ trash and so much more. Hardscapes are an art form and installation needs to be done by skilled hands or passionate nature lovers who understand what a creek bed actually looks like…
Metal can be used for a myriad of funky uses and range from affordable to custom.
Standard 4 inch metal edge can be very effective if installed with clean lines.
Corten Metal Edge is a thicker gauge metal that can be found commercially at 6” but taller metal can be customized for high end or modernized landscaping.
Metal and Stone Edging
Limestone blocks are pretty much the standard in Austin and Central Texas because we grow them here. Local rock and stone is sustainable and affordable and it supports local businesses.
Below I used chopped block and patio limestone step stones as well as the lower Colorado river rock. This simple elegance was all that needed to enhance this space.
Random, limestone patio stones are one of my favorite additions to any landscape. No matter the price point, this stone looks beautiful as long as it is appropriately sized for the space.
Finally, shop around for the best quality for the best price. Choose local and sustainable whenever possible and buy in bulk. Stepping stones should be a minimum of 2 inches thick to prevent breakage and patio stone installed with mortar can be 1 inch thick which gives you more by the ton. Stone is sold by the ton and half ton, rock by the yard and metal by the foot (typically 10 or 12 feet).
From lawn, yawn to rock and roll…every slope in this hardscape (front and back)is designed to water the beds with runoff instead of forcing it to the street or neighbors. Best of all…no more lawn, replaced by food and flower.
Xeriscape, Before and After
Find reliable sources, do it right the first time and use your imagination to create something unique for “your” space.
Lisa’s Landscape and Design
“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”