Uniformity of hardscape materials

tanowickiJune 1, 2010

I'm currently laboring to turn my neglected side yard into a nice side yard. But while I do that, my mind tends to wander and now I'm thinking about the design of my front yard. As I was tending to (i.e. mowing) the front yard I got to thinking about the "plan". I plan on getting rid of some of the grass and replacing it with planting beds. As the idea ferments in my brain, I've gotten stuck a little with the idea of bed outlines and whether the edging material should be uniform.

What I have: My front yard is about 15' deep by 35-40' wide. About 2 ft from the sidewalk is a small retaining wall (about 12 inches high). The wall is made of small granite blocks which are angular. Nearer the house are some planting beds and they are edged with river rocks which are round. The disparity of the materials isn't a problem because they're not serving the same purpose and aren't that close to each other.

What I want: One of my ideas is to create a bed along the edge of the driveway which would run from the wall towards the house. I was thinking of using more of the granite instead of the river rock to tie it into the wall. This bed wouldn't be contiguous with a bed along the house - there would be a narrow path separating it from a bed extending from the house. I was thinking of using the river rock as the edging material for this bed because it's there and I want to use some of the rock as a splash area for my downspouts which come down in roughly the sides of the house bed so I was just going to extend it into the edging.

Where I'm stuck: Would it look strange? Both materials (granite and river rock) are rock but they're very different. They would now be in relatively close proximity to each other and serving the same purpose (bed edging). I do like to have my beds edged with something so not putting something down isn't really an option.

I'm thinking of just ditching the river rock except for the splash downs and using it somewhere else in the yard but is that necessary? If it was rock and wood or some completely different materials, I wouldn't be as stressed but it seems like very different kinds of rock are another story. Am I making this a bigger problem than needs be? In your opinion, should edging of paths/beds be made of the same material when they're in the same small yard? What exceptions can be made and when?

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I think those materials go beautifully together. But it of course depends on the design, I'm really bad with written explanations so it's very hard to give an opinion. Potentially it can look really good.
If the yard looses uniformity then maybe add river stone more prominently in other areas of the yard, for example piles of round stone look really nice when strategically placed. This way both materials look like they belong in the garden and work well together.

*my comments are not based of any kind of official education I'm a complete amateur*

    Bookmark   June 1, 2010 at 2:47PM
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Temes, You should try writing your explanations because it will make you understand why you know what you know instead of just "feeling it". It might take a while, but it is very powerful self learning experience.

The question is very general and I think Temes gave you a good general answer. Materials can be mixed. Sometimes they mix well from the get go, sometimes they need help. Almost anything in a landscape can be made or broken by whatever else is either supporting it, mitigating it, or fighting it.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2010 at 8:32PM
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I agree that they can be mixed and matched somewhat but if you had a walkway made of flagstone that suddenly changed to brick, it would look odd. That's a situation that would need help to look okay. I'm worried I'm setting myself up for a situation that's going to need help from the get go and would like to avoid it.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2010 at 8:53PM
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KarinL will likely chime in on this. She has done a lot of successful mixing of hardscape materials at her home and is not shy about posting pictures.

It might be useful for you to post pictures of the two materials, at least.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2010 at 9:18PM
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Took these images this evening - it was raining (again) so the material is darker than it is while dry.

First photo is of the wall of granite blocks:

These are the blocks used as edgers:

Here are the river rocks as edgers:

So, my issue comes when I'm thinking about this area:

An idea I was considering is:

Where the little circles are the river rocks and the repeated square-like things are the granite.

And this is where I think the disparity in materials would need help from the start.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 1:52AM
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queerbychoice(USDA 9a/Sunset 8 (CA))

I think the river rock is not working well for you where you currently have it. The river rocks are small and not built into any substantial mass, so they have no meaningful impact. By contrast, your granite block wall has enough substance to it to make a meaningful impact. Therefore, I would edge all the beds with granite blocks to tie in with the wall, and get rid of the river rock (or use it for something other than edging beds, preferably something with enough substance to have an impact).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 6:50PM
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I agree the river rock is doing squat right now. I was thinking that if I used it, I'd double and triple it up to make it a more substantial material and wider edge.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 6:58PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

I think the beds are too small.

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 11:16AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

To some extent I think you're focussing on details at the expense of the big picture. From a distance these two materials are likely to be almost indistinguishable anyway, both being grey and pretty small.

As Laag says, I mix hardscape of all kinds, partly because I get bored easily, partly because I'm commitment-phobic. But also, I just find one material doesn't meet the needs in all places - in one spot I want big slabs, in another small bricks will better achieve my objective.

So to the extent that it's successful design (Ink hates it, but thanks Laag), I think that comes from the fact that function is always served by the material used, although I do try to pay attention to contrast, continuity, harmony, repetition, and other strategies for making it look good.

And so it's function that bothers me most about what you've shown and what you're planning: neither of these materials look like really useful edging to me. Weeds and grass can grow through them all too easily and they look difficult to mow beside. But if that isn't a problem for you, then appearance-wise I think that visually they mix just fine. And they will both have some tie-in to functions as the square stone functions in the wall and the river rock will function in the splashdown area.


    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 12:31PM
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