Hardscaping and Landscaping: What’s the difference?

Irrigation system

Hardscaping and Landscaping are complementary components, however, Landscaping is often used as the overall term for both activities with ‘softscaping’ (natural, living elements) and ‘hardscaping’ (man-made elements).

In this article, we look at the two and compare them to define the difference between hardscaping and landscaping. They are complete opposites and there is so much more to them than meets the unskilled eye.

It’s not simply a case of planting a few trees and flowers or plonking a pond or gazebo where you think it will look good. One has to have a real ‘feel’ for the job at hand either deep-rooted or learned.

With nature and man working in tandem to create an outdoor oasis, the incorporation of well-designed and -executed manmade or hardscape embellishments can transform work environments into lush and spectacular, sculpted works of outdoor art.

A quality, rewarding and holistic landscape installation, requires design and landscape architecture skills, precision, lots of dedication, and time. All key reasons why it should be undertaken by qualified professionals trained to know their stuff.

Whatever terminology one chooses to use, the ultimate objective is to create a soothing, harmonious, and beautiful environment for people to enjoy – whether in a corporate office parklike setting for employees or visitors or at home for family and friends.

Here is a synopsis that puts hardscaping and landscaping into perspective, underscoring the multiple skills that may be required to achieve your desired outcome.

Landscape architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, incorporating aspects of botany, horticulture, architecture, industrial design, geology, and the earth sciences, environmental psychology, geography and ecology.

The activities of a landscape architect can range from the creation of public parks and parkways to site planning for campuses and corporate office parks; from the design of residential estates to the design of civil infrastructure; and the management of large wilderness areas or reclamation of degraded landscapes such as mines or landfills.

Landscape architects work on all types of structures and external spaces – large or small, urban, suburban and rural, utilising ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ materials while paying attention to ecological sustainability.

In simple terms, it can be described as ‘gardening on steroids. That is taken to the next level, and beyond!


Hardscaping is the addition of man-made elements. Heavier (sometimes moveable), inanimate components usually comprising gravel, paving, stone, concrete, and wood, that find the delicate balance and work in harmony with the softscaping, pulling all the elements together. 

Not only good to look at it, they often serve practical functions as well. 

Bricks and mortar hardscaping – paving for example – can help to preserve the structural integrity of surrounding buildings and safeguard them against excessive wear and tear e.g. in office parks where employee and visitor foot traffic is high. Permeable paving stones also absorb rainwater permitting it to drain through to the underlying soil.

Rainwater harvesting products i.e. water storage tanks are increasingly becoming a hardscaping essential in SA.

With experts predicting that South Africa’s demand for water will exceed its supply by 2025, making better use of our water resources through rainwater collection and enhanced storage and management will become a critical part of a more sustainable future according to Wayne Wiid, chairman of the Association of Rotational Moulders of Southern Africa (ARMSA).

John Telford, managing director of Calcamite tanks, agrees. “Even during a good rain season, South Africa’s terrain is not ideal for capturing water and therefore rainwater storage tanks are a smart way to ensure you have extra water for your office or home gardens.”

Using greywater and rainwater can also save money on water bills and irrigation. “We flush a lot of useful water down the drain, which can be replaced by greywater. In addition, the average household uses up to 40% of its water for the garden, which can also be replaced by grey water,” Telford says.

However, it is not simply a question of installing a tank and using the water. The plastic storage tank is only one small element of rainwater and greywater harvesting – the other elements needed to complete a system that complies with health and safety standards are most important.

Other hardscaping elements include:

– Walkways, driveways

– Patios, gazebos, pergolas, decking

– Retaining walls, steps

– Arbours, archways

– Stone benches, vertical walls

– Water features, fountains, ponds (koi for example)

– Sculptures 

– Sprinkler systems


Simply put, and in contrast with a hardscape, a softscape comprises the plants and living ingredients of your landscape, encompassing all the elements that Mother Nature has blessed us with. In South Africa, the more water-wise and indigenous, the better!

The composition of the softscape is a critical part of the landscaping, and thanks to the development of advanced landscaping design programs, landscapers can play around with the softscape on a computer before they even start to break ground. Getting an idea of how subtle changes will impact the landscape.

Numerous things can be incorporated into a softscape, including plants, trees, shrubs, vines, and groundcovers. Some items may be fixed, as in the case of evergreen trees and shrubs which remain consistent year-round, while others are temporary, like annual plants installed along pathways to add colour in the summer … or bulbs which only bloom for a few months of the year before dying back. Arranging all of these elements in an aesthetically pleasing way is the cornerstone of landscaping.

Climate is usually a major influence on the softscape since climatic conditions limit what can be grown in an area. Some landscapers and gardeners also like to look at the surrounding environment and use that as a gardening inspiration, blending the garden with the surrounding area so that it feels more natural.

Other determining factors might include which colours the gardener or landscaper wants to use, the design of surrounding structures, and the look and feel that the individual is going for. There are many different gardening styles, from very formalised gardens to rambling gardens filled with native plants and landscaped to look wild, and each requires a different approach.

Most gardens and landscapes combine softscaped and hardscaped elements. A garden – corporate or home – is not a garden without plants, but stone walkways, walls, fountains and other hardscape features are equally important.

A good landscaper takes the condition of the underlying land into account, looks at how the features of the land lie, and then work with inanimate and living objects to find a balance and create a pleasing whole.

Nothing is more inviting than beautiful gardens and greenery complemented by well conceptualised, designed, and constructed hardscape features.

At FSG, we provide the full gamut of hardscaping and landscaping … and more.

Call us today


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318 Sunriselaan, North Riding AH, Roodepoort, 2169

010 600 5050

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