Landscapes are defined by all the elements of hard and soft components and when it comes to choosing hardscape materials the right materials should complement all other aspects of the design.
The soft components of a landscape tend to be dynamic and are the easiest to replace as trends come and go in plant preferences or where growth outstrips functionality. Hardscape components on the other hand are a more permanent component of the landscape and often will remain in place for decades. So, when it comes to design and selection of hardscape materials, consideration of longevity, functionality and relevance is paramount.
At any one point in time the type of materials and the structures that are used to create, will vary as design ideation changes along with consumer preference and sentiment. The realisation of the impacts on natural resources as an example, is driving a shift towards more sustainable materials being used in all constructions including landscapes. A primary consideration should be to create and implement designs that are responsive to economic, environmental, and cultural conditions at local and regional levels. This means ensuring materials are sourced and managed sustainably and used efficiently throughout their life-cycle, including considering wastes as potential resources that can be used as inputs in both soft and hardscape construction. Sustainable materials management helps reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with the production, consumption, and endof-life management of hardscape material resources.
The types of materials available for hardscape construction fall into several main categories. Some of these components remain timeless and will always be on point when it comes to hardscape elements, they include:
• Pool surrounds
• Garden structures e.g., arbors, pergolas, and gazebos
• Walls and fences
• Stone and rocks
• Landscape edging
Each of these categories has a plethora of specific materials that provide both functionality and aesthetics within the landscape to meet the most demanding of design briefs.
The Building Blocks
Bricks have been utilised in construction for centuries and their versatility as a construction material continues to ensure their relevance in the landscape. Available in a range of profiles, sizes, colours, and textures. Utilised in landscapes from walls to firepits and as a paving material. Used bricks are currently a popular, environmental, re-use type material for many landscapes construction projects.
Pavers can be made of a variety of materials with the most popular being concrete, brick, and stone. One of the more popular choices in paving these days is the installation of pervious pavers due to the environmental benefits they bring to the landscape. The ability of pervious pavers to absorb water assists in managing storm water runoff within the landscapes and reduces puddling on hardscape surfaces that can pose a hazard.
Concrete has always been a go to material for construction purposes and continues to be so. Apart from its use in setting the foundation for other landscape structures it is in itself a versatile product for use a hardscape paving material. Concrete areas do not have to be dull colourless and boring slabs. Stamped concrete, stained, textured, or embedded with other materials such as pebbles can make it a functional and aesthetically critical component of any landscape.
There are also permeable products that can be installed comprising of UVstable resins mixed with granite or marble aggregates bonded to a coarse aggregate sub-base to form a strong rigid permeable paving system. The finished result is similar to that of exposed aggregate concrete, yet smoother and of course permeable. The use of crushed glass as a component with resin, on its own or in addition to resin bound stone offers many design possibilities. The inclusion of LED lights installed under crushed glass paving with resin offers some unique design opportunities within landscapes.
Things of Stone and Wood
Stone is a powerful element in any design and needs to be carefully considered in terms of its placement, colour, and texture in relation to other dominant elements of the landscape if it is to be used to good effect. Rocks, stone, and boulders should be considered in terms of the overall design and how they integrate into the site. The use of stone aims to create a balance between all the landscape elements and in all its sizes, shapes, textures, and colours, if chosen and placed carefully will enhance any landscape.
Timber is one of the most versatile elements used in landscape construction. Blended composite materials are manufactured from a range of reclaimed wood waste (fibre) and recycled plastic materials. The plastic component being predominantly sourced from post-consumer recycled plastics such as HDPE shampoo bottles, water bottles and milk cartons. Durable hardwood timber is a popular natural product that produces a unique finish and can be easily brought back to its original condition with little fuss.The species of hardwood timbers available is diverse and the cost will vary depending on timber species. Australian hardwoods are very resilient and durable but like all timber materials do require ongoing maintenance. Softwood timbers are a cheaper alternative to hardwood timbers and are much easier to work. The most common softwood timber for outdoor use is treated pine. Timber in a landscape provides a rich and warm natural feel and will always be a popular component of any construction. Recycled timbers are also a sought-after product such as used hardwood railway sleepers, for retaining wall construction and garden steps. Old wharf timbers and bridge beams can be precision milled and once dressed can make exceptional timbers for use in a wide range of landscape construction applications.
The use of metal products in landscape design and construction continues to push the boundaries of contemporary landscapes with designers utilising this interesting and popular material to create architectural design solutions that provide a unique characteristic that makes them stand out from the crowd. The addition of “metals” brings a simple, utilitarian, and industrial feel to any outdoor project. It adds contrast, texture, and a contemporary vibe to an otherwise run-of-the-mill project. The juxtaposition of a hard element in a natural setting can create something of interest. Depending on the type of metal and finish used, it can even spark new life into an older property. Corten steel is one product with a multitude of uses that bring an industrial element to the landscape but at the same time provides a harmonious link between other hardscape and soft landscape elements. Corten steel landscape elements have risen in popularity in achieving a modern design component by providing a rustic element, pardonthe pun. Corten steel products can be used in similar circumstances to more traditional materials such as timber, concrete, or masonry products. The versatility of Corten brings an ageless element that can be applied to a range of landscape fundamentals including garden edging, retaining walls, building cladding, fire pits, laser cut screen panels that can be customised in a multitude of profiles and sculptural elements that can be forged into any number of different shapes and sizes as well as planting container.
Aluminium is another material that is being used increasingly in landscape construction. Lightweight and corrosion resistant particularly coated products, it requires less strength in the structural base of installations such as fences, seating etc due to its weight advantage.
Stainless steel is also popular in landscapes, and it too has the benefits of corrosion resistance. More expensive than other metals but it does have the benefits of being available in a range of finishes and grades. Care should be taken when selecting stainless steel to ensure the correct grade is used as it can rust if not treated properly.
Hardscape materials and structures can have a big impact on the landscape and all components need to work together. No matter what materials are selected, choose materials that give the most benefit to achieving the design brief from the must have to the maybes, there is a material for every design solution.