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A softscape is, simply put, the living parts of a landscape, in contrast with a hardscape, which composes the inanimate portions of landscaping and gardening. The term is often used in landscaping jargon, with most gardeners preferring to just say “plants.” The composition of the softscape is a critical part of 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 color 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.
Most gardens and landscapes combine softscaped and hardscaped elements. A garden 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, looking at how the features of the land lie, and then works with inanimate and living objects to create a pleasing whole.
Climate is usually a major influence on the softscape, since climactic conditions limit what can be grown in the area. Some 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 colors the gardener wants to use, the design of surrounding structures, and the look that the gardener is going for. There are a number of different gardening styles, from very formalized gardens to rambling gardens filled with native plants and landscaped to look wild, and each requires a different approach.
Materials for softscaping can be acquired from nurseries and garden supply stores. Some gardeners also like to grow their own softscaping from seeds and cuttings, exchanging horticultural elements with other gardeners in the area. This method can be especially useful for gardeners who are new to an area, as it allows them to cultivate plants which are known to thrive in the region.