An introduction to Hardscaping from our British expert, Ashley Ford-McAllister.
The Hard Stuff
Hardscaping is the practice of using objects, both natural and manufactured, rather than plants, to create a pleasant, relaxing garden that will remain interesting and bright whatever the season.
Hardscaping allows for creativity on a budget, as impressive and intricate effects can very easily be created with natural found objects, such as pebbles and driftwood, as well as second hand finds.
I began looking into hardscaping when I bought my house, which came with what the estate agent described as “an attractive, bijou al fresco courtyard space”, and which anyone else would call “a small, fenced in, concrete yard.”
This was my first, small gesture towards claiming and brightening the yard: the pebbles came from the beach that's a 20 minute stroll from the front door, the plants were end of season bargain-store sell-offs, and everything else was a second hand find.
A piece of hardscaping like this would be ideal for a child's area of the garden, perhaps with other additions, such as fairy lights (there are many solar-powered options available, which are safe to use outdoors in almost all weathers), and bright displays of artificial flowers, as a fairy garden, or fantasy woodland – encourage your children to look for natural, found objects, such as pebbles, pine cones, or driftwood, whilst out on family walks.
Or you could create attractive hanging baskets from empty soda bottles - heather, bought from a local market stall, is thriving in an empty soft-drink bottle hung over the top of my back gate, along with a pound-store hanging plaque, and a brightly-coloured spirits bottle.
With hardscaping, as with regular planting, you don't want to overwhelm your space. The objective is simple, striking scenes or objects, that will draw the eye, or which serve to create the illusion of a larger space by splitting small areas up into distinct, individual settings, so that even a basic square of concrete can become a journey into other worlds, full of possibilities.
FIVE QUICK HARDSCAPES FOR THE BEGINNER
The point of hardscaping is that should be fun, with the bulk of any effort being in creative thinking about what you can do next, where you can display something, and whether you can create an entirely new scene for free, using just found objects.
#1: Pebble Stacks
Select three or five pebbles, ideally round, relatively smooth ones, of different sizes. Try and go either for the same colour, or sharp contrasts, such as black and white.
Stack the pebbles on top of one another, starting with the largest as the base, and working up to the smallest. These pebble stacks are small, but perfectly formed, and create a simple yet striking aesthetic when placed among some decorative grasses, or in an area hardscaped with a coastal theme in mind.
#2: Get the Birds with Vintage!
Vintage-style teacups, often found on market stalls or in thrift shops, threaded at intervals along braided garden twine (try and purchase three different colours of twine, and plait them together to add even more colour) make attractive bird feeders – or, in my world, wolfdog feeders!
(Yes, I have a wolfdog. Yes, the daft creature will eat birdseed from a bird feeder, given half a chance.)
I'm currently looking for suitable crockery to create a new bird feeder, as mine was sadly broken when a neighbour's gazebo broke loose from its moorings during high winds, and bounced not-so-gracefully across two other gardens.
You shouldn't need more than three cups, and you can either hang your feeder in a simple, vertical position, or loop it round to create a small, picturesque arch. However you intend to hang your feeder, you should aim to tie your cups on at one-inch intervals, to allow space for birds to perch.
#3: Have You Got the Bottle, or Lost Your Marbles?
Who doesn't like a bottle of wine every now and then? The only problem is, if you don't have a scheduled glass collection, and don't live near a recycling point or bottle bank, what to do with the empties?
Well, when you start hardscaping, the answer to that is simple: fill a clear wine bottle with coloured marbles, or a green glass wine bottle with white marbles, wrap the neck of the bottle in garden twine, and hang!
(Again, in my garden this is “hardscaping-awaiting-replacement”, having been broken in the same incident which put paid to the bird feeder – I don't drink much wine, so it's a case of waiting for a suitable occasion to buy, and drink, a bottle!)
#4: Gardening With Artifice
Artifice, in the legal world, relates to burglary – but don't worry, I'm not encouraging you to do anything illegal here!
A simple hardscape hack is to look out for things such as unusual boots, teapots, or durable vases in thrift shops and the like, then purchase bunches of artificial flowers (readily available in home bargain stores or online). Place the flowers in your container, and decorate your hardscaped area with immortal, eternal evergreen blooms.
I have to put a lot of my garden up on bar stools, to save it getting knocked flying by over-enthusiastic dogs! Everything in the (plastic) urn is artificial.
However, some of my quirky planters do house live plants – this teapot should burst forth in a cloud of daffodils come spring:
#5: Paint the Town
Or at least solid surfaces in your own garden. If you have a fence, paint your side of the panels with standard household paint in bright colours, and then weatherproof with varnish.
This can also be used on external walls where the brickwork has been clad, and the cladding painted over – if you're particularly arty, you can even try doing designs – I'm currently honing my skills in order to be confident enough to risk a sun and moon yin-yang design on the rear external wall of my house (facing the back yard) come Spring 2018 – so, watch this space!