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Winter is the time to plan hardscaping projects, such as a patio, fencing, garden paths, and retaining walls.  Here’s how hardscape surfaces can redefine an outdoor living space.

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The quiet of winter is the time to make plans for upcoming landscape projects. Hardscaping is an integral part of the yard, but not one people think about designing.

Hardscaping, like it sounds, is the ‘hard’ part of the landscape – patio, garden path, gazebo, stone wall, and fencing, to name a few. It is the bones of the whole yard. Fixed features remain static as plants change with the seasons. Hardscape surfaces are also a solid place for the eye to rest when looking at the complexity of the greenery.

Expanding your hardscaping

To update or expand your hardscaping, you will need to consult with a landscape architect. Make a master plan for the yard, and get done what is feasible. Maybe it will be one big project, or you might stretch it out over a few seasons. Either way, it will last for years, even though you might rearrange the plants.

Start planning now by asking yourself these questions.

What purposes will hardscape surfaces serve?

What is the function of your hardscaping?

  • Do you need a small area for morning coffee, or a large space for entertaining dozens of people?
  • Do you want to cut back on maintaining the vegetation?
  • Do you want privacy from the neighbors?
  • Do you need a quiet space away from the house?
  • Are there too many plants and not enough hardscape?
  • Are there dog paths instead of walkways?
  • Do you need shade protection?

What do you want?

Next, clarify what will satisfy the functions.

Morning coffee would be enjoyable in a small courtyard that has just enough room for a café table and chairs. Throw large parties on an expansive patio with complete living and dining areas, and a full kitchen. For smaller gatherings, build any one component of something so grandiose.

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Replace plant material with pea gravel or natural stone pavers for a low-maintenance yard. Lay a walkway of pavers where the dogs have trampled the lawn and compacted the soil.

Fencing can line the entire property line or just a section of it for privacy from neighbors or the street.

A garden path can wind down to a gazebo in a far corner of the yard for a place to rejuvenate away from the buzz of daily home life.

Balance a heavily planted yard with a water fountain or fire pit surrounded with comfortable chairs.

For cooling shade, train a flowering vine onto a pergola built over your patio.

Choosing materials

Material choice is dependent on many things. First, you always have to think of your budget. Concrete is inexpensive and versatile. You can score designs in it, stain it, or add color to the mix. It is also low maintenance. Stone is beautiful and natural, but it could end up being the most expensive. Know what you can afford.

Choose a color that is related to your home’s construction. You want to blend the two, not let them look like separate entities. They don’t have to match, they just need to be visually and psychologically connected.

Use no more than three materials. One should be dominant, and the others subordinate. The yard will be less confusing and more relaxing if it’s not busy.

More materials

I already mentioned stone and concrete. Brick is another popular and inexpensive option. Bricks can be laid in patterns for visual interest, and they can be colored. Pavers are also inexpensive and easy to lay. They come in a variety of shapes for ease of installation and visual interest.

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Cedar wood is an excellent material for decking and fencing, because it is naturally rot resistant. It is expensive, but beautiful and long lasting. Railroad ties, with their heft, are a good choice for retaining walls.

Hire a professional

All this may sound overwhelming, and it is! That’s why it’s necessary to hire a landscape architect or building contractor. Aside from brainstorming ideas, they will tell you what is and is not good for your particular site. If you have drainage or topography problems, they will work to alleviate them.

Consult with at least three contractors, and get bids. Be sure to understand exactly what that bid covers. When you choose whom you are going to work with, get on their schedule early. A big project could take a good part of the season, and you will want to get it started in spring.

In the meantime, look out on your winter landscape, and imagine spending time there come summer.

Your hardscape ideas

What are some of your own plans to transform your outdoor living space using hardscape surfaces? What do you feel are some barriers to your success? Tell us all about it in the comments section.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.