Hard Landscaping
February 1, 2024

Posh Possibilities or Just a Pile of Rubbish?

By kate and Len Lucas

Over the years everyday things have their name changed often without anybody noticing. Our rubbish collection used to be done by the bin men. Today it’s the “environmental control officers”. We can’t remember when hard landscaping started to turn up in gardening magazines. It’s a bit like the change from bricklayer to stone mason. Neither comes cheap but a stone mason does have the ring of Ely Cathedral about it so we suppose that hard landscaping sounds better than gravel and concrete slabs.

Well, it does, doesn’t it? In any case, what you call something is meant to describe what it does so brick layer is fine but we are not so sure about stone mason and does hard landscaping really tell you what it is all about and we doubt that “Capability Brown” walked around the grounds at Stourhead and said what this place needs is some hard landscaping.

Of course, this subject is at the very least about bricks, stones and boulders, gravel and paving. And for us normal gardening people that’s usually what you find lying around in a builder’s yard. We don’t know about you but most builder’s yards that we have visited don’t exactly cry out with the message “your garden can look like this because that’s how Capability Brown started.”

It’s hard enough picturing what a plant will look like in your garden but a bag of 5 to 10 mm hand-washed flint chippings is a real challenge.

So what’s your point then? Well, apart from anything else why would anybody want any of this landscape stuff? Believe it or not, in the natural world plants do grow around or over or across those very things you find in that builder’s yard or that section of the garden centre called landscaping. Japanese garden design is a particularly good example of the blend of the two.

So the challenge for the gardener is to find the answer to the question  “will any of this make my garden look and feel better”? 

The answer is very much yes but with a very big BUT. For us the borders in the garden should be full of plants and nothing else, or at least that’s how we started out many years ago. What we have discovered is that the combination of plants with things that are definitely not plants has something special to offer. This discovery coincided with our need to be less at the mercy of the garden and enjoy why we have one.

Let us give you a very new development which we hope will make the point. We are constantly looking to reduce maintenance time whilst still having a garden that looks and feels like one. Usually that took the form of removing some plants and hoping that it wouldn’t notice.

We needed to remove some plants at the end of a border and decided to fill the space created with a secluded seating area actually in the very same border so that it was surrounded on three sides by the remaining plants including a ten-foot-tall elephant grass. At the back of this area is a close-fitting fence with an evergreen common Jasmine and it now forms a very private place with two chairs and a table made out of an old pallet.

All in all no more than a few square yards but a space we hope no longer needs weeding. The oblong paving slabs and charcoal-coloured bricks, which we already had, are laid on what we hope is levelled garden soil, with no cement or sand or grouting nor the sound of a cement mixer or obligatory radio. Hard landscaping yes and laid by two amateurs but the nearby plants make all the difference. Yes the weeds might grow through the cracks and it might wobble a bit and If we have got anything really wrong then there is not much to dig up and put right. It might not be posh but it certainly isn’t a pile of rubbish.

Motto: If you fancy the idea then have a go.

No need for a bricklayer or a stone mason let alone a landscape architect.