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Hardscapes: Gentle Retreats

Hardscapes: Gentle Retreats


Photo courtesy of Native Edge

It’s understandable how many people tend to dream big after purchasing a brand new home. One of the initial fantasies that more than likely arises is envisioning how to transform the barren front and backyard into a beautiful haven of an outdoor living space.

Our publisher has taken to living in her backyard. She has both a veggie and herb garden, rose bushes and fruit trees and is creating a livable patio space with plans for a built in bench and bar, hot tub and a fireplace. Of course, none of this is possible without the hardscaping.

You have shopped Pinterest, you have seen the dazzling outdoor patios. You can spend a lot by hiring a landscaper who specializes in it. You may even hit a stroke of luck and find a professional who can offer a reasonable deal for your planning in mind. If your current budget is a concern and you’re feeling ambitious, than maybe you’re feeling confident enough to begin shaping your yard into the masterpiece you desire by yourself. Thinking, planning and eventually working toward installing your hardscapes in your yard should not be an intimidating process, contrary to what so many of the landscape catalogues and manuals will have you believe. If you’re like most new homebuyers, than the anxiety behind making any big changes to your outdoors can pin you into the paralysis of analysis.

To better understand how hardscaping is approached, it is necessary to get a grasp on the types of materials that are used. Every yard is different, and each one requires its own consideration for a specific type of hardscaping material. These materials come in a wide spectrum of different assortments. They each have their own advantages and distinguished uses. Some will serve your yard better than others will, but keep in mind, one big priority should be making it the way you want it to.


Refers to the mineral applications in a residential or commercial landscape that are essentially the solid features of the outdoor design.

OUTDOOR SYSTEMS that incorporate hardscaping procedures:

  • stone pathways
  • retaining walls
  • fireplaces
  • patios
  • walkways
  • driveways
  • fountains
  • decks
  • pools

PURPOSES AND FUNCTIONS of hardscaping include:

  • visually enhancing an outdoor theme in a yard
  • helping in installation preferences for a homeowner
  • delivering a solution for a low-maintenance yard.

An additional benefit. Hardscaping:

  • guards horticulture practices in a nearby garden
  • stabilizes a slope to secure a more balanced lawn
  • assists with weatherization difficulties.

Recommended when there is more of a focus for aesthetics and uniformity in an outdoor landscape. These pavers are commonly applied to pathways, plazas and patios and highlight the vibrant components in a yard. Well-manufactured pavers can derive from natural materials or mimic them while also being completely durable. Photo: Jason Lee for New Creations Landscaping

Concrete Pavers: Flexible & Affordable

Concrete may not necessarily be the first enticing word that comes to mind when picturing your completed, gorgeous hardscaping components intertwined with your garden and collection of plants. Concrete, however, can be beautiful, just as natural flagstone or carefully patterned limestone can brighten up a walkway or courtyard. This is where pavers come into play. One of the most multifaceted and popularized forms of hardscaping materials in the industry today are customized concrete pavers. These pavers are used on a widespread scale and are typically found on the outside of just about any commercial building. They can do marvelous things for homes as well. Their multipurpose characteristics make them great for beginning, intermediate and advanced design purposes. If you’re looking for something elaborate, there are pricier options, yet their are other attractive alternatives that don’t have to break the wallet. Concrete pavers offer a reliable answer to an outdoor landscape because of their ability to be used with almost any aspect of a yard, whether it be for pathways, patios or borders. Pavers generally fall into two categories which are interlocking and architectural. Interlocking pavers are typically used for driveways, outdoor flooring and pathways and are regarded for their durability and sturdiness. Property owners tend to prefer them for their cost effectiveness and easy maintenance and installation. Architectural pavers are designated for the use of patios, decks and other visual properties in an outdoor landscape.

“Since there is so much movement with the soils [in this environment], the concrete actually cracks a lot quicker, whereas the paver is meant to flex with the soils itself. That right there makes it a superior product.”

Pavers are proven to act as a better alternative than poured concrete in numerous ways. Jason Lee is the founder and owner of New Creation Hardscapes and his experience with hardscaping in the Denver Metro area spans more than a decade. He has a firsthand understanding of the benefits associated with concrete pavers and their assets that are unique to Colorado.

“In this environment there’s clay, so it’s a lot of movement. The material that’s competing with a paver installation is a concrete base. So, since there is so much movement with the soils, the concrete actually cracks a lot quicker, whereas the paver is meant to flex with the soils itself. That right there makes it a superior product. If there is any movement, you can take out that section that’s moved, fix what’s underneath and put the pavers back down,” Lee said.

It’s difficult to feel tranquil and appreciative for your outdoor patio and its paired paver design if a single, bland color scheme comprises its identity. An outdoor patio is arguably a bit of a sacred place for any home. It’s where a bulk of social gatherings, family barbeques, storytellings and other important activities take place. This is where interlocking concrete pavers can make a huge difference. What about outdoor walkways and paved pathways? How will someone feel invited to explore the nooks and crannies of your lawn and garden if there is an absence of any clean geometric designs and shapes on the pavers of your walkways? These nuances may seem subtle, but they can make a drastic impact when measuring a level of comfort and overall personality in your yard. That is why picking a set of Interlocking pavers that specifically suit your yard in areas like these can be a major key to solving these types of dilemmas.

Interlocking pavers come in a vast selection of varying arrangements, colors and textures, giving them more of an appeal for those looking to customize their landscape to their personal taste. They can be ideal choices for builders who are working to give their clients as much freedom in their yard planning as possible. Lee described how customers are willing to compromise for paying extra with a paver installation than commit to poured concrete because of the overall quality.

“People are tending to spend a little bit more money up front than pay for it twice. Plus, there’s many options to the paver itself. Just in this area there’s like six different manufacturers that produce the interlocking concrete paver,” Lee said.

Photo courtesy of Karlson Studios

Pavers have a superior reputation in comparison to poured concrete in many ways. For one, they are less prone to any cracking or fracturing. This is a common detriment in Colorado because of the seasonal freeze thaw conditions that work against the material. Tom Sunderland is the founder and general manager at Native Edge Landscapes. His 20 plus years of experience in the industry has made him a leading expert on hardscaping and its different approaches in the state. Sunderland explained how concrete can be a useful alternative for certain projects. However, it has its downfalls that can often do more harm than good when affordability becomes the incentive for its installment.

“It takes a little bit more effort here than other places to do it right simply because of the freeze thaw. If you do concrete in a place that doesn’t have freeze thaw cycles, there’s less that goes into it in terms of the structure and all that,” Sunderland explained. “When people are looking at concrete and choosing concrete, and they often do, as opposed to a stone patio as a cheaper alternative, then yes, we see cracking concrete all over the place.”

Colorado’s unpredictable weather patterns are unavoidable, so one might as well accept the hurdles that these can present when managing any hardscaping project. Rain and thunderstorms are a common occurrence in the state’s fall and summer seasons, and water runoff can threaten a garden or landscape. Permeable pavers can solve damages that runoff can cause to a hardscape while remaining environmentally friendly. Several selections of permeable pavers in Colorado are qualified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or (LEED) credentials and can protect significant parts of an outdoor area in major ways. Lee elaborated on the environmental benefits with permeable pavers and their security purposes some could offer in the local area.

“That application could be huge. Some of the alleyways in Denver gather a lot of water and there’s nowhere for it to go, so if you put permeable pavers in that area, it allows the water to go back into the soils itself. So that actually would be helpful for the environment as well. There’s not a whole lot of it going on. A lot of the government agencies ask for that type of system. I’ve looked at some of their designs and they do require permeable pavers,” Lee said.

Photo courtesy of Karlson Studios

Natural Stone: All-Natural Artistry

Coloradans who own a big home and an expansive outdoor landscape are fortunate to live in a state that has such diverse geography. This is especially true for locals who have a home dwelling near the Front Range or the Rocky Mountains. So many gorgeous residences in these places have stretching properties that seem to seamlessly connect with the natural environment neighboring the perimeter of the yard. Start paying closer attention to the natural deposits of scattered boulders and larger rocks that seem to be positioned just right in the untouched acreage far beyond the outskirts of your yard. This may be harder to visualize if you live in a tight suburban neighborhood that doesn’t have the luxurious views of far reaching mountainous horizons or prairie fields in the distance. Your goal should be to start practicing a sharper awareness on why certain stones are as beautiful as they are in their natural placement on the native landscape. Take these aesthetic details into account if you desire to harness the natural beauty of the untamed backcountry right in the comfort and security of your backyard.

Sunderland is cognizant of why this is an advantage for landscapers here compared to other states and how it elevates the overall scenery.

“Sometimes planting is bringing complete nature in and the hardscape is that functional artistry that adds function, but also creates a really strong contrast with the plantings. So much of it in any kind of art form or architecture is about contrast. So, the hardscape to planting creates an opportunity for contrast,” explained Sunderland. “Colorado specifically has a lot of stone resources where not everybody does. You go to other states and they’re getting stone imported from Lyons right down the road. Up in Loveland we got a lot of granite that’s available to us. The grey granite and boulders and things like that are quarried off of I-70. There’s a lot of natural resources here that not everybody has.”

Colorado’s accessibility to natural stone creates more outlets for creativity to be explored for homeowners. Unlike poured concrete, the functionality, elegance and organic strength embedded in Colorado’s minerals outweighs the basic conditions of artificial substitutions. Using natural stone can be more expensive, but it will be worth settling for if you take certain criteria in mind. Lee described why hardscape adaptability in this format overrides the argument for using anything else.

“You can do the outdoor kitchens, you can do water features included into the hardscape. I just think people like the versatility of the whole concept in general. It just looks better than plain concrete. You can add bench walls, you can add low voltage lighting systems to it and that sort of thing,” Lee said.

Photo courtesy of Native Edge

Harmony is a rare but achievable concept that can be prioritized when attempting to blend the artistry and maintenance demands in hardscaping. In many cases, this idea can help marry the outdoor design with the architecture of the home. Sunderland spoke on how Native Edge has succeeded at having the hardscapes in an outdoor design share a relationship with the architectural style of the home in this way. This can ultimately make a home and its landscape possess a personality or character that is purely its own, without the two appearing remotely out of place.

“Typically, the architecture is an asset that you can really harmonize with because the materials are attractive and there’s an intentional style that the homeowner loves about the architecture of their house. If that’s the case, then there’s an opportunity to extend that and to blend that into the landscape in subtle ways,” Sunderland said. “One thing that we’ve done many times over is taking the materials of the house when it’s possible and build some walls in the outdoor kitchen as part of the layout and a fire pit, whatever it may be. Then on that other side, the property over to the natural environment is perhaps rock outcroppings and hills where you’re seeing them in the distance. There have been several projects where you can bring that rock outcropping and create something that looks like it has been there forever.”

“Typically, the architecture is an asset that you can really harmonize with because the materials are attractive and there’s an intentional style that the homeowner loves about the architecture of their house. If that’s the case, then there’s an opportunity to extend that and to blend that into the landscape in subtle ways.”

Photo courtesy of Karlson Studios

Healthy Lifecycles: Maintaining the Balance

Inheriting your own appealing outdoor living space comes with a multitude of responsibilities that should not be taken lightly. After all, you’re working to manage a careful balance of having your own healthy ecosystem thrive with the physical, non-living qualities of your yard. This doesn’t have to be a daunting daily assignment. Instead, look at it as a way for you to relish in a few regular moments of uninterrupted, meditative self touring around your yard. While you peruse, make a conscious effort to take care of any lawn trimming and watering. This can be followed by the cleaning and removing of any stains, scratches or buffs that may have presented themselves in the process of maintaining your hardscapes. Stay away from relying too much upon any herbicides, pesticides, growing solutions or any other nasty chemicals that will only provide a temporary solution to a problem. This will do wonders to keep all of your softscape and hardscape parts in place.

Over time, the upkeep will feel less like an obligation and more like a fun way to budget time caring for your outdoors. As your landscape evolves to your taste and personal style, you’ll crave more moments out in the fresh air anyway.

Daily lawn maintenance also includes a vigilance for potential dangers that could threaten the existing state of your plants and hardscapes, and a knowledge for the appropriate products to use when considering preservation. Neglecting your outdoor hardscapes and their surrounding softscapes can lead to the deterioration of pathways, patios, retaining walls, decks, staircases, etc. and jeopardize the continued longevity of your yard. Hardscaping has a limitless capacity for determining style and symmetry. Nonetheless, the hardscaping techniques that are in place to sustain the ecology of the yard are even more essential. Karina Zedalis works in business development and office logistics at Ecoscape. Ecoscape is a Boulder landscaping company that specializes in native and edible landscapes. Zedalis recognizes the positive meaning of applying hardscapes that work with the encompassing environment rather than against it.

“While hardscaping is an integral part of a landscape design, the choices one makes with incorporating mini-watershed areas, ongoing soil building techniques, and increasing plant diversity is really where the important work is being done. More urgent to understand: homeowners and commercial property owners have an opportunity to impact the local environment through their landscape. Sure, hardscape is where the money is, but a vitally alive landscape is where the life is,” Zedalis said.
Learning more about the ways your garden, plants and other living softscapes interact and grow alongside the accompanying hardscape structures in your yard can guarantee a long-standing lifespan for your outdoors. It’s a topic that resonates with Sunderland and his organization at Native Edge.

“I think often there is contradiction in terms of what people want to see and to experience versus the other piece that they also always want which is the low maintenance landscape. There’s this perception, oftentimes a false perception or just an underestimated perception, of what proper maintenance is and the value of that. I don’t really like the word maintenance. I’m actually going to switch everything to land care just because maintenance in the traditional meaning of the word really refers to preserving what is, and ultimately the landscapes and the watering systems, the soils and the roots and the plants are all an evolving system, even when they mature,” Sunderland said.

Nurturing your home landscape is an ongoing process that requires a dedicated amount of tireless effort to shape it into the comfortable setting you want it to be. Homeowners can rest assured that a heightened sense of awareness and accountability in their hardscaping endeavours can increase their overall home value as well. Everyone wants their home and yard to be evaluated for its beauty and cohesive design. That’s why laboring for a comfortable, alluring and safe landscape is worth the effort, and your home becomes the sanctuary it should be. That’s perhaps the biggest benefit of them all.

Outdoor features such as fireplaces and water fountains can add wonderful functionality to an outdoor landscape, such as in this design by Native Edge. Photo courtesy of Native Edge

Damage Control: Hardscaping Gets Practical

Hardscaping in Colorado may have its luxuries pinpointed in the state’s natural resources and unique geography, yet it also has its abundance of things that make it just as difficult. One example is found in Colorado’s expansive soils. The uneven moisture in the soils has such a drastic effect on any structure that is placed on top that its movements have reportedly destroyed entire homes. Don King is the owner of Don King Landscaping and has over 40 years of professional landscape experience in the Boulder County area. His career has provided him with a broad perspective on these issues applicable to Colorado.

“Here in Colorado we are on a bed of expansive soil which is bentonite and dolomite clay. The bentonite and dolomite clay move. If you take the tall prairie grass away it moves. It soaks up water and it expands and then if it dries out, then it contracts. If you’re building something on it of a structure of any kind, you have to take into account the expansive soils,” Don King said.

A majority of homes along the Front Range require retaining walls to hold the soil. Colorado’s expansive soils make this even more pertinent for homeowners to take into account. There are a variety of materials to choose from including concrete blocks, pavers, rocks or boulders, poured concrete and many others. The materials with the longest lifespans usually are the wisest to consider in Colorado because of the nature of the state’s soils. Lee described how these barriers are imperative for many homes in the foothills and other places.

“If you look outside you’re seeing hills, mountains and then you have all these developers that are developing houses and new businesses. Everybody around the Front Range needs a retaining wall because they have such a steep grade and businesses need to be built up as well. It’s a great environment for the retaining wall modular block system. The modular block system is designed to flex with the soils when it moves. So It’s needed,” Lee explained. “It’s not like Florida where everything is flat and you don’t need a retaining wall. A lot of the government agencies require you to build a retaining wall.”

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