Materials Used In Garden Design

What are the materials used in garden design? There are numerous softscapes and hardscapes that can be added to any landscape to enhance its look and function.

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What are the materials used in garden design? There are numerous softscapes and hardscapes that can be added to any landscape to enhance its look and function.

Some softscape materials include plants, trees, flowers, even organic mulches. Functional hardscape materials such as patio furniture, water fixtures, gazebos and outdoor kitchens bring enjoyment to the yard. Other hard landscape objects often added include lights, retaining walls, gravel and slabs.

This article covers 19 different types of materials used in garden design for both homeowners and businesses. It’s broken down into two sections, which are softscapes, or living elements, and hardscapes, which are non-living features. We discuss what each one is and how it brings value to the overall landscape.

As I continue my own journey into landscape architecture, I’m learning more and more about the art of design. For the past year, my landscape has centered around my garden beds, plants and flowers. But this year, I’m putting more time and thought into the overall look and visual appeal of my landscape. These are some of the features I’ve been looking into adding to the land.

Table of Contents


What is a softscape? This is any item in the landscape that is living or once lived. This could be anything from greenery, like trees, flowers and plants, to the soil it grows in, to the organic mulch used as a ground cover. Here are four different types of softscape materials used in garden design:

1. Soil

To a gardener or landscaper, dirt and soil are two different things. Dirt is considered unusable for growing healthy crops. Oftentimes, this is because it’s too clay-like or it’s red and hard. But this dirt can be improved to become organically rich soil. This is done by amending it with organic matter such as compost or manure. Or you can build raised beds and add fresh, new soil there.

2. Fertilizer

Just like humans can’t live on water alone, the same goes for greenery. You must feed your plants to keep them healthy and thriving. For slow-release fertilizing, many gardeners top-dress the soil with compost, manure or granular fertilizers. When plants need a quick boost of nutrients, liquid soluble fertilizers, such as fish emulsion are commonly used.

3. Mulch

Although there are inorganic mulches, today, we’re discussing organic, softscape mulches. Covering your landscape with this ground cover has multiple benefits:

  • Weeds – Helps suppress weeds
  • Water – Traps moisture so its readily available for the plants
  • Compost – Decomposes over time, adding rich, organic nutrients to the soil
  • Protection – Protects bare soil from the blazing hot sun

4. Green Space

In urban gardening, this is an area of open space. It’s used to add color and improve air quality, thanks to the oxygen that greenery gifts to the world. Green spaces, also known as plantations, often feature such tranquil amenities as plants, flowers and water features. They are a pollinator’s dream areas.


What are hardscapes? They are all the non-living features within a landscape. Some add function to the yard, while others are simply added for beauty. Others bring functional value and also add to the aesthetics of the area.

5. Concrete

Concrete is one of the most commonly used materials in landscape design. It’s used to create driveways, walkways, curbs, stained benches, outdoor stairs, foundations for patios and many other things. Add some wood and glass finished to liven things up a bit.

6. Outdoor Lighting

Lights allow you to enjoy your yard during warm nights when it’s just too hot to be cooped up in the house. They make it easier to see pesky bugs flying around while giving your landscape an intimate look in the dark. Outdoor lighting comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. Add solar lighting to ensure they work when needed with running unnecessary cords all over the yard.

7. Fencing

A fence creates boundaries between your yard and your neighbors’ landscapes. It can also act as a boundary within your landscape, for example, keeping kids out of the pool area. Some of the most common materials used for fencing include brick, concrete, wood, metal, bamboo and vinyl.

8. Gravel

Gravel is commonly used in landscapes as a filler. Many people install it in their driveways to avoid the costs of pouring concrete. The material is great for borders around garden beds and trees. You can also use gravel as a ground cover because it drains water really well.

9. Bricks and Pavers

Bricks and pavers are awesome hardscape materials for building patios or stone pathways. They are much less time-consuming to install than natural stone or concrete. These hardscapes are also much more flexible and come in a wide array of sizes, colors and shapes.

10. Stone Curbs

Looking for a unique looking edging for your walkway or garden beds? Stone curbs are amazing-looking structures usually made from granite. They are salt-resistant, making them very durable even in areas prone to snow and ice. These features also enhance the look of the landscape.

11. Irregular Flagstone

These are asymmetrically shaped flagstone pieces, usually created without any 90-degree angles. They have very irregular patterns, so technically, no two stones are just alike. When symmetry is not the look you’re going for, these stones add a natural appearance to the landscape.

12. Boulders

Boulders can last a lifetime because they never rot or rust. They are very durable and resistant to cracks and chips. These hardscapes can usually be found laying around your yard. Or you can purchase them. Either way, they make great borders and edging for pathways and garden beds.

13. Slabs

Concrete or stone slabs generally come from salvage yards, landscape supply houses and quarries. They come new or you can find antique slabs to add a vintage appeal to the landscape. Both slab materials are pretty easy to install and are commonly used to create decks and other outdoor floorings.

14. Polycarbonate Panels

Although this is not an organic material, polycarbonate panels are see-thru and allow light to pass through. Use them to build a well-thought-out greenhouse or a privacy screen for a special part of the yard. They absorb very little moisture, so they are resistant to water damage. The panels are also chemical resistant and flame retardant, making them a very tough material.

15. Weathered Steel

This is a maintenance-free garden design material that’s becoming more common as a residential hardscape. Homeowners use weathered steel to create treads, backyard bridges, retaining walls and more.

16. Retaining Wall Blocks

Is there an area of your landscape that looks like the dirt may crumble and fall like an avalanche if an earthquake comes? Block that dirt in place with retaining wall blocks. They also help create new landmarks and give some stability and style to irregular landscapes.

17. Edgers

Edging helps direct traffic by creating pathways throughout the landscape. They also act as barriers to keep your soil and mulch within their assigned garden spaces. You can find these hardscapes in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and materials to complement the other aspects of your yard.

18. Sand

Sand is a very underrated hardscape in the world of landscape architecture. It’s used to lock bricks, pavers and unworked stone in place and keep them level when constructing outdoor flooring. The sand creates a buffer in between each piece while allowing it to be positioned properly. Once the structure is complete, simply pour sand in between each piece to stop them from moving out of place.

19. Water Features

Water equals life for all living creatures. It also brings on a tranquil feeling while enhancing a landscape’s beauty. Small lakes, ponds, waterfalls and birdbaths draw in the eyes and make magnificent focal points. They are also great for cooling off the surrounding area through evaporation during hot summer days.

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