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The versatility, functionality, and pleasing aesthetic of hardscaping makes it a must for proper landscape design. The clean lines, square angles and rough textures of patios, walkways, and retaining walls lend stability and rugged elegance to outdoor living spaces. However, it is easy for these elements to overpower the overall design. The key to intelligent design is balance; where there are hard lines, there should also be soft edges. The use of greenery and plant life counters the structural lines of paved areas by providing a natural softness and more gentle geometry. The result is a visually stimulating yard, replete with textural variety and colorful diversity. The only question is where to utilize plant life in a strategic and design-conscious way.

Retaining wall planters

Retaining walls frequently serve a dual purpose as raised planting beds. A dynamic combination of both tall and low growing shrubs is ideal for presenting a softer upper level to balance the hard vertical of the wall itself. To further break up the strong horizontal lines of the retaining wall, plants with bowing stems or fronds are ideal. Flowers, vines, and ground cover that spills over the side of the wall coping are also excellent options.

Shown here: Unilock U-Cara smooth and pitched face

Related Read: Retaining Walls Are Way More Than Just Functional


Backyard steps are often thought of as a functional feature, devoid of any design merits. However, overlooking them as an opportunity for creating an impactful design is a mistake! Including planting beds on either side of the stairs can soften the hard, square angles of outdoor steps. Voluminous plants with round or irregular shapes work best in contrast with the square angles of the steps. If planting beds aren’t an option, potted plants can be placed on the edges of the stairs themselves to create a welcoming aesthetic. Even better, using landscaping in this way delineates the space between your home and your backyard by enhancing the entrance to the oasis you’ve created at the bottom of the garden stairs.

Shown here: Rivercrest Rapid Pillar System with Ledgestone treads


Patios typically represent the largest, functional portion of a back yard. They’re frequently the main place to lounge and socialize, which makes them important opportunities for creating a dynamic design. Breaking up a patio’s space with plants is a good way to add visual interest by creating contrast with the patio’s otherwise hard textures. Planting soft, flowing grasses and blooming flowers in retaining wall planters can be an easy way to contrast the hard edges of the paved surface. Use potted plants and small trees in planting beds near the edges of a patio to enclose the space and lead the eye out towards the surrounding landscape. Pergolas and other overhead structures can be used for hanging flower baskets or draping vines, that can further contribute greenery to a paved patio. In a patio you have, quite literally, the largest opportunity to make the most of your backyard space through landscape design.

Shown here: Bristol Valley with Brussels Block and Copthorne accents


Walkways provide the opportunity to create a guided tour, of sorts, from your home’s entrance to your backyard, and through your garden. A variety of low-growing plants and ornamental grasses are ideal for running alongside paver walkways to create a softer aesthetic. Create your very own secret garden by using taller shrubs and trees to border more meandering walkways, as these obscure the path ahead and contribute to a sense of mystery as to what might be beyond the next bend. The verticality of these plants also act as a lovely complement to the curved edges of a more winding walkway.

Shown here: Copthorne walkway with Brussels Block border.

Poolside Landscapes

The phrase “backyard pool” evokes images of reclining furniture, paved surfaces, and perhaps, the occasional palm tree. However, this kind of backyard poolside can feel empty and texturally dull, due to the large amount of space filled with hardscaping. Your pool area has the potential to be so much more than a standard poolside; it can be transformed through the clever use of greenery. Clusters of plants can transform a one dimensional pool area into an oasis-like setting by visually softening the hard edges of your pool’s construction and your concrete pavers. Beds of flowers and ornamental grasses placed near the pool’s edge introduce color and soft movement while small trees and shrubs can be used to separate the pool from the rest of your yard, all while providing additional privacy. Arranging a selection of potted plants near the pool’s seating area can further enhance your poolside’s feeling of a private oasis. Place these on pillars to keep them safely out of harm’s way and to add height to your design.

Shown here: Thornbury with Courtstone and Brussels Block borders

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