Moultrie Observer

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February 4, 2013

Hardscapes: Complementation, curb appeal and function

Georgia Clippings

TIFTON — Your imagination becomes your resource and guide as basic yards are converted into functional outdoor living spaces for personal enjoyment. Many hardscape products are on the market for creating stylish and graceful walkways, geometric or curvilinear lawn and garden pathways, stunning and functional patios and impressive outdoor room spaces which may include benches and seating, fire pits and fire places, and steps and stones.

Also, investing in hardscapes to enhance and enrich your home's exterior curb appeal increases the economic and aesthetic value of your home and property. In the practice of landscaping and grounds care, hardscapes refer to the paved areas like streets, driveways, sidewalks, patios and courtyards where the actual upper soil profile is no longer the exposed surface to the elements.

Residential hardscape examples include brick or concrete patios and sidewalks, as well as retaining walls which are often used to create boundaries between the hardscapes and the softscapes (the earthly landscaping features). From an urban planning viewpoint, hardscapes can include very large features such as paved streets and roads. Also, most artificial water features are hardscapes since they require a barrier to contain and direct the water, instead of allowing the water to infiltrate and drain through the surrounding soil.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, hardscaping permits contractors to build landscaping features that would not be possible because of soil structure or potential erosion characteristics (the hardscaping serves as a form or support system). Also,  hardscaping (walkways, etc.) allows large volumes of human traffic to use and circulate throughout an area that would otherwise be less possible because of the potential wear and compaction effects on the grass or exposed earth.

The water table underneath large areas of hardscape can be reduced because the amount of precipitation that actually infiltrates into the soil is not sufficient to recharge that water table. Most of this precipitation is directed into drainage systems and channeled from the property. These areas must depend upon irrigation systems to support the watering needs of any vegetation.

A balance should be established between the use of hardscapes and the availability of grass and beds to allow infiltration and minimize the amount of water that must be removed through actual drainage systems. Any imbalance or lack of appropriate capacity can cause major flooding situations after heavy rainfalls or major storms.

Hardscaping is an affordable and attractive feature which offers desirable options from an aesthetically-pleasing wall or terrace to a functional outdoor living or enjoyment area. The decision to develop an outdoor space involves careful planning of your hardscape needs and goals. Research your plans and determine feasibility before starting a project.

Hardscaping projects, like everything else, must be planned carefully to minimize common mistakes and provide an area that can be enjoyed for many seasons and years. First, consider the entire area as a whole in the design process even if the project will be developed in parts or segments. Think of it through the vision of your home structure – you plan the whole home, not one room at a time each year. For example, you want to negate improper patio placement this season which becomes in the way of expansion next season and has to be removed or broken up.  Make every effort to design proper placement of your use areas.

Second, a very severe potential problem involves ignoring drainage. Never ignore drainage. If you do, then the end result can be very ugly and costly. You must know that the area will properly drain and what impact your patio or wall project might have on drainage and what issues must be addressed before construction. From an environmental consideration, you should design your project so that any run-off can be collected or directed in such a manner that it can be used on site. Otherwise, it will be wasted as it leaves the site through drainage lines.

Also, any material used as a hardscape should blend into the landscape. For example, boulders that are placed on top of the ground as part of a site development do not blend in as effectively as those which are partially buried into that portion of the landscape. Those boulders that are partially buried blend in and appear as a natural component.

Also, give appropriate thought to the natural lines of space in the landscape rather than simply rigid geometric shapes and forms. Include curves and irregular shapes which allow the hardscape components to transition and flow more gracefully into the remainder of the landscape. Rectangular or square patios may not be the best “shape” answer for your situation.

Also, develop a strong balance and complementation between the use of green vegetation and hard surfaces. Know when to “lawn it” with grasses and groundcovers, and when to “pave it” with concrete, stepping stones or brick. Turfgrass is a much safer playing surface for children and also helps to cool down the landscape on sunny days, while paving better serves traffic flow patterns and heavy-use flats or landings.

Whether your focus is a relaxed or more formal hardscape, make sure it has a well-defined style that fits your agenda.  Within your style and with professional assistance, select a few materials that complement rather than contrast both the interior and exterior of your home and are visually creative. Do not over-simplify with a single color or single material.

Extend care in the selection of texture of the hardscapes since textural variety is very important. It is acceptable to balance two textures (stone or brick footing and block or rock wall) simultaneously, but more than two textures create confusion and appears very cluttered. Also, if wood is selected as a deck material, then choose a single type of stone or brick for your hardscape to complement for best curb appeal and appearance.

Always purchase more brick or stone than you calculated because the additional amounts can be used to highlight beds, add stepping stones or develop landings. These additional features will complement the dominant hardscape and provide more effective continuity.

In selecting hardscapes, consider price, quality, availability, durability, longevity, weatherability, color, and complementing characteristics. Price does not always determine quality but realize that you normally cannot get something for nothing. Be cost-conscious and do your homework through researching the available materials for the best investment (shop around).

Also, be sure that the site has been properly prepared through appropriate tillage, leveling, sloping, drainage, base preparation and construction, as well as following sound specifications. Follow each step of development through observation and inspection to assure effective quality control and good workmanship. If you lack in familiarity of the project, seek proper resources for appropriate assistance. Don’t wait until the project is finished because a lot of mistakes may have already been covered over at that point.

Increased property values, reduced maintenance costs, and instant curb appeal can result from effective hardscaping. As you plan your hardscapes into the landscape, always keep sustainability and environmentally-friendliness in mind. As with enrichment items, be selective and limit the volume of items to be included in your hardscapes so that clutter does not become an issue. Continue to play in the dirt and enjoy each moment as you prepare your domestic environment for personal enjoyment!

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