As outdoor living areas grow in popularity, hardscapes are becoming more and more prominent in homeowners’ landscaping plans. From walkways and steps to retaining walls, the materials available for hardscaping can be broken down into three categories: Brick, concrete and stone. Deciding which material is right for your project depends on the type of hardscape you’re building, the style of your home and how important “going green” is to you.
“The green approach is definitely here to stay!” says Eric Stromer, host of HGTV’s Over Your Head and AOL’s DIY with Eric Stromer. “Finding creative and sustainable alternatives when it comes to walkways, walls, gardens and the like are not only beautiful, but better for the environment!”
One green retaining wall material is Millenia Wall Solutions’ recycled resin. It decreases the environmental impact of a retaining wall by 55 percent (including a 65 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when used instead of concrete blocks).
Planning and design
The permanence and expense of hardscaping is daunting to many homeowners during the planning phase. To ease the process, many experts recommend working with a professional.
“Hardscaping can be one of the most expensive components of your landscape. A landscape architect or landscape designer will look at your site and conditions to provide you with a design that will incorporate all of your needs and wants. It will cost you more money up front, but by having a plan, you will save money in the long run by reducing mistakes. All of the components of your landscape will blend together seamlessly.”
Sloped landscapes are often in need of a retaining wall to avoid erosion and drainage problems and provide support for near-vertical grade changes.
“Retaining walls must be engineered if you have compaction, erosion, drainage or structural issues to deal with,” Stromer says. “Make sure you have a qualified general contractor on board when getting involved with retaining walls.”
According to Travis G. Brooks, member of the ASLA and owner of Brooks Landscaping Architecture, sometimes a retaining wall is not necessary. “Many short walls are installed when some gentle grading could have been used and great savings could have been made to the project cost,” Brooks says.
Aside from the functional purposes, retaining walls can be an attractive addition to your landscape. “Envision how the retaining wall can enhance your overall outdoor living area,” recommends Paul Forsberg, president of Millenia Wall Solutions.
“Consider drainage issues! Homeowners often immediately go for the beauty of the design elements and don’t consider the impact that inappropriate drainage can have on your property if water has no place to go.”
Walk this way
Whether it leads to your front door, around the side of your house or to and from your outdoor living area, walkways are an essential element for any landscape. The design of a walkway is a great way to add character to your home’s exterior, and the material choice is crucial to the design. “Try to blend your walkway material with the architecture of your home,” Hill suggests. “A formal brick home might look best with a bluestone sidewalk with a brick border. A modern stucco home may look best with large, natural stone pavers. An Arts and Crafts-style home may look best with concrete pavers.”
Path to Success
Travis G. Brooks, member of the ASLA and owner of Brooks Landscape Architecture, suggests you ask yourself the following questions when planning a walkway and steps for your landscaping:
• Where is the path leading? Never lead the pedestrian to a dead end without providing some gift at each destination.
• What are you connecting? This will help you determine the width of the path. For example, a path to your potting shed and composting area should be much narrower than the one from the outdoor great room to the pool.
• What is the height of the riser for your steps? Make sure the steps are uniform and a comfortable height for use.
Paving bricks are a popular material choice for walkways and steps. “Consider utilizing two or three color combinations to accentuate landscaping and provide the perfect compliment to the overall face of the home,” says Mark Longoria, paving brick specialists for Boral Bricks Inc. He adds, “It’s important to design the look of your paving landscape projects in advance. This will allow you to create and outline unique patterns and color combinations.”
Clay paving bricks are an eco-friendly option for your walkways. According to Longoria, “The durable longevity of this paving solution has been proven, and the future reclaimed use of clay paving is an added bonus for our environment.”
Concrete is commonly found in walkways to front doors, mimicking the look of a nearby sidewalk. To dress up the look of concrete, Hill recommends you “think color! Concrete can very easily be colored or stained. Stay away from painted concrete that will flake and need to be repainted.”
To cut down on the production of new landscaping materials, Stromer suggests you consider recycling old pieces of your demolished concrete slab and use them as stepping stones for patios. “Although this look plays into a more modern architectural style, it can be taken in many directions with a little creativity,” he adds.
“Natural stone is the perfect material to establish a hierarchy in your pedestrian circulation,” Brooks says. “The stones allow for varying path width and very informal connections can be used with individual stepping stones separated by mulch or lawn.”
Complete the Look
Once your hardscape is installed, it’s time to accentuate the brick, concrete and stone with plants. “Plants soften and compliment the stiff lines of garden architecture and hard landscape features,” says David Wilson, horticulturalist with Garden Splendor. “They help to add a sense of depth and perspective, and make a wonderful accent or focal points to draw the eye and liven up the scene.”
Wilson recommends the following plants for each type of hardscape:
• Speedwells have been cheering up walking travelers for centuries. The common name originates from the happy blue flowers that grew by the sides of paths to speed weary ancient trekkers on their way.
• Tickseeds grow well in sunny conditions and can withstand the heat along stone paths in the summer.
• Lychnis is a superb addition to lining paths. The ‘Rolly’s Favorite’ version of this flower stole Wilson’s heart in the Garden Splendor trials from the moment the first charming pink flowers opened in late spring. Growing 15 inches tall by about 12 inches wide, this plant has a particularly floriferous nature and requires very little attention.
• Clematis is a regal, majestic flower that is sometimes referred to as “the queen of the vines.” A wall festooned with multitudes of brightly colored clematis is a beautiful sight.
• Echinacea purpurea has pom-pom shaped flowers that contrast nicely with the round flowers of clematis. Wilson recommends the ‘Pink Double Delight’ version of this flower, which grows about 18 inches to 2 feet tall, is bushy, sturdy and will keep on flowering (if dead-headed) through most of the summer.
For information on these and other plant selections, visit www.gardensplendor.com.
Add some color to your landscape! Made with 100-percent recycled ground cover, Zorock Decorative Stone manufactures brilliantly colored, man-made stones. Available in six different colors, these stones, unlike mulch, do not attract termites, don’t wash away in the rain and don’t need to be replaced every year.