Hardscape Ideas to Transform Your Yard in 2017

using masonry in beautiful landscapes

Stylish hardscapes and artisan touches call for a mason’s touch

Masonry is a trade that goes back centuries. The first century Romans built much of the ancient Coliseum using concrete-like materials, and skilled stone artisans constructed the Roman Empire’s famous network of roads.

You can still see their work today.

Whether you choose poured concrete with designed-in theme and accents, stone retaining walls and patios, or interlocking wall and paving elements, masonry adds lasting beauty that can transform your outdoor surroundings.

Often chosen for its strength, weather resistance and fire protection, today’s masonry is also a good choice for energy efficiency and low maintenance.

Masonry’s permanent, solid good looks can add to resale values when used in fencing, walls and other landscape elements.

Slate, a popular material for walkways, works well to help create stairs and a mortarless terraced front walk for a rustic setting.

Stone and brick are traditionally thought of when masonry is mentioned; but today, the category takes in concrete cast materials, blocks, glass, and poured and textured concrete.

Generally, masonry costs more and requires trained craftspeople to build, but the benefits include longer life and added prestige.

Masonry can also be used where seismic concerns exist, because lighter materials are now available that are engineered to be seismically safe.

Façade elements over more resilient core materials also provide the necessary flex to survive an earthquake.

Landscape design elements usually fall into two categories, hardscape and greenscape. Obviously, your hedges, flowering plants and deciduous trees change as seasons change and weather varies, but walls, patios, fences and decorations are a more permanent part of your home’s landscape.

If you think of them as a picture frame for changing plants and trees, you’ll see why selecting the right kinds of materials for your pathways, patios, stone walls and decorations is vital.

Because masonry and stonework can be an expensive part of landscape design, carefully plan how you’ll use it to achieve lasting beauty and years of livability.

Your landscape architect can help because he or she utilizes the latest virtual reality tools. Your ideas and preferences can be integrated to create a computerized landscape master plan that lets you freely move design elements around while trying different colors and schemes.

Your landscaper will also help you visualize how various arrangements will fit into the natural topology of your property.

A sampling follows of ways masonry can be used effectively.

Irrigation and drainage

poured concreete in landscaping

Poured concrete can be colored and textured to match stone.

Culverts, drain approaches and exits, irrigation control and water protection for weather-facing zones can be constructed using masonry. Boxed and terraced planters retain more root moister and nutrients.

Stonework aids erosion control and soil retention.

Working with natural hillside drainage, masonry elements shape flood control paths to protect landscaping as well as your home itself.

Pedestrian and vehicle access

Brick, poured concrete, interlocking pavers and stonework offer clear and safe parking and vehicle access, especially within your commercial or business landscape.

Pathways guide garden visitors around through sensitive ground cover, while steps and pathways make sloped areas accessible.

Architectural uses

Use of masonry themes set off your home as a special place with unique spaces. A masonry base wall gives a gazebo a solidly formal appearance, for instance.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright used innovative masonry to blend his homes and buildings into their surroundings, using native stone and masonry colors that match surroundings to create beautiful, restful viewscapes.

Contemporary home and landscape designers have been inspired by Wright’s work, and nowhere more than in the desert Southwest, where earthen tans and reds of Zuni pueblos once dominated.

Santa Fe-inspired landscape design is heavy on masonry because massive walls and sun shelters absorb heat and radiate it back in the cool, dry, desert nights. A patina of earthen clay or sandstone helps fit your landscape into its native surroundings.

Earthen walls and planters around a Tucson home form a comfortable visual backdrop for water-efficient landscape design that features desert-adapted plants.

Masonry structures serve outdoor kitchen facilities and pool environments. An adobe Ramada shade structure provides excellent thermal mass for evening warmth and daytime sun protection.

A gas grill and tool storage cabinet built into a mossy volcanic rock retaining wall does double-duty in the Sierra foothills of California’s Gold Country, while a semicircular brick fire pit provides warmth on cloudy evenings in the coastal Pacific Northwest.

Appealing accents

Blending materials such as river rocks, concrete design elements and walkway pavers help create a custom look to hardscapes.

Masonry seating and benchwork invite and welcome visitors. By mimicking wilderness settings, use of rock fountains and stream runs soften harsh views and environmental sounds.


Equipment such as air conditioning units, hot tubs, electrical and irrigation junctions, piping and drains, even parking areas can be hidden from view or visually enhanced by using masonry accents.

Lower cost architectural materials can be clad in masonry veneer elements to save costs while dressing things up.

Electrical and plumbing elements can be concealed from view and protected from weather at the same time, by integrating PVC pipes and electrical runs that serve lighting and irrigation controls.

Landscape area utility structures can become part of your overall landscaping when masonry design elements are used to tie them to walls and walkways.

verigated pavers in landscape

Varigated pavers are a way to make large driveways more visually stimulating and are a sound choice of materials due to the pavers’ strength and drainage ability.

Masonry materials in common use today include rock, brick, quarried and cut stone, concrete block and design element, and poured concrete.

Concrete Masonry

Designed concrete is increasing in popularity. Colors, shapes and finishes can be incorporated right into the material itself.

Borders and repeating patterns can add visual interest while tying architectural themes.

Concrete may also be used to build a stable base for other materials, such as a brickwork patio. The state of the art has developed to the point where highly polished colored designed concrete countertops are virtually indistinguishable from granite and other polished stones, yet require no sealants or protection.

Rock and slate

Rounded river rocks set in mortar can form a background to pines and alpine flowers for a touch of Tahoe in your landscaping. Because river rocks have withstood years of stream weathering, they’re often more durable in freezing climates.

Design a landscape with flat stone monuments, wood rails and slate stairs; combine it with Adirondack chairs and dark-stained decking and suddenly, your backyard feels like a posh resort in the Catskills.

Fired clay bricks

A time-honored material that has become more costly, bricks have fallen out of favor for home construction, even in traditional formal architecture on the US east coast and elsewhere.

By using bricks in landscape design, however, one can save money, while retaining that traditional feel that the presence of brick gives your home setting.

Quarried and cut stone

Use of granite, sandstone, and other quarried material is still largely restricted to commercial, multi-story structures, although it is more often finding use in Greek and Mediterranean themed home and gardens.

Quarried stone is smooth and attractive for use as a paving material for high-traffic walkways, too. A Stone Mountain country club estate home’s light stone slab entryway evokes tradition and solidity.

mortarless retaining wall landscape

Combination of conventional block wall, mortarless retaining wall and greenscape accents.

Mortarless concrete blocks

The preferred masonry material for planters and terraced gardens, mortarless concrete blocks usually replace weather-prone wood and earth construction and are usually considered the lowest cost designer material for landscape masonry.

Stackable wall elements and ground pavers lend themselves to just about any kind of landscape access requirement or design theme. One Central California’s wine country homeowner protects a circular driveway from erosion with light chocolate-toned stackable blocks.

Blocks and driveway pavers combine to complement the earth-toned Spanish style home situated on a live-oak-studded hillside.

About the Author Bill

Leave a Comment: