DIY hardscape: 5 ideas!

Northwest Landscape Supply & Stone Ltd.

Hardscape features

Boulders, columns and stepping stones lend a natural, woodsy feel to an outdoor space.

Bruce Hunter, Hunter Landscape Design Ltd.

Hardscaping with flagstone

Flagstone creates a smooth, elegant patio; placed vertically, tiles become an artistic focal point.

Northwest Landscape Supply & Stone Ltd.

Pathway pavers

Pavers and cobblestones, reminiscent of country estates, are available in a wide palette of hues.

Scott Edwards, Northwest Landscape Supply & Stone Ltd.

Drystack walls

No mortar is necessary to balance the stones in drystack walls.

Pink Lotus Dramatic Landscapes Inc.

Interlocking Bricks

Interlocking bricks are easy to install, and are engineered for stability.

DIY Hardscaping and landscape design

Installing hard landscape features produces the most immediately satisfying results in your garden. Pathways, patios, stairs, walls and fences, if properly designed and installed, will add long-lasting, functional elements to your garden, and create the tone and theme for your plantings. No matter the purpose, hard landscape materials are your garden’s problem-solvers.

Landscaping bylaws and engineering

Remember, when it comes to erosion issues, you may need to hire an engineer. For your own safety, let the professionals tackle retaining walls and other major projects that could jeopardize the stability of your yard. There are many ­­hardscape materials that can easily be installed yourself, but you should contact your municipality to inquire about bylaws and regulations that may affect your project. One other reminder: dial before you dig! Local utility companies will be pleased to come and mark underground service locations before you begin.

Landscaping Materials

After the design decisions are made, think about the materials available for your project. By leaving the selection until purpose and placement are determined, you will find the options both limited and expanded: it is easier to eliminate inappropriate materials or find new options if you know what you are going to do with them. Whatever material you choose, consider:

  • Availability: Once you have decided on your ma­­­terials, get started as soon as possible. A delay in getting the materials will only dampen your enthusiasm and, if it’s a late-summer project, weather may become a factor.
  • Delivery: Can you take the materials home safely in your vehicle, or should you have them delivered?
  • Lifespan: Expect 15 and preferably 20 years of life from any hard landscape material, but check with the retailer on specific products’ durability. Make this an important part of your decision — once your project is completed you will want it to last as your living landscape grows and matures.
  • Weight: Landscaping should be both good exercise and enjoyable, but working with heavy, awkward materials will quickly take the enjoyment out of any project. Ask if there are any methods of handling the materials that can make the job easier.
  • Tools: An electric saw and drill are often the only tools you will need. Having to rent or buy tools for your project — that you might only use once — will add costs to the project, so be sure to find out exactly what is recommended. Factor in some extra time if you are using a new tool since it takes some practice to become efficient.
  • Safety: Use appropriate hearing and eye protection when operating any sort of equipment, and gear-up accordingly.
  • Installation: Finally, think about how easy the material is to install. Will you be doing it yourself, or using a landscape professional? Many suppliers offer do-it-yourself instructions, but these usually deal with the most basic projects. Take along photographs and drawings of your project when shopping. Ask the supplier for suggestions, and have them comment on installing the specific materials. Find out if they can offer assistance if you get into trouble with the project.
  • Care and Maintenance: Weather, weeds and wear will affect your hardscape as it ages. Select a material that will fit the amount of work that you want to put into these factors when making your choice so that you can enjoy your landscape effortlessly.

Landscaping budget: Beyond bricks and blocks

It’s not just the hardscape that will add to your project cost, planning and timeline. Before you install those shiny new patio stones, figure out if you will need to have soil excavated and debris removed. If you are extending the living space by building retaining walls, back-fill material for drainage and new soil will almost certainly be required.
As you prepare the area, you will also need to consider:

  • Drainage: How will the surface and groundwater be affected by the changes to the landscape? Underground tile drains and surface catchments to redirected water may need to be installed, particularly when walls and expansive hard surfaces are being built. An engineering professional or good landscape consultant can point out potential drainage problems and solutions.
  • Foundations, footings and base: A firmly compacted subsoil, and proper covering of crushed gravel, is essential for a stable base for walls, patio areas, driveways and walks. Never cut corners when it comes to preparing the base or early failure of your structure is sure to follow.
  • Fasteners: Many concrete wall-blocks are engineered to “Lego” together, and rely on substantial weight to hold them securely. If you are not using these formed blocks, then adhesives, nails, bolts, reinforcing rods or mortar may be required to hold materials securely.

Should I do it?

By this time you may be frustrated and confused about what you thought would be a fun and enjoyable project. Don’t be! Your project is going to be a great part of your landscape. If your frustration is skill, time, lack of knowledge or tools, think about contacting a landscape professional to build or assist with your project. A certified landscape professional will be able to take your ideas and requirements and turn them into the beautiful garden you envision. Whether they do all or part of the project, by being prepared, you can be sure your project is completed as planned, so you can be proud of your landscape.

Robert Welsh is an instructor of Landscape Horticulture at Capilano College, a Certified Horticultural Technician, the Horticulture Articulation Chair, and on the board of
HortEducationBC (

Photo: Bruce Hunter, Hunter Landscape Design Ltd.