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What is Softscape?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By JessiC — On Aug 12, 2011

@MissCourt – Hi! I certainly hope you don’t mind having a copycat, because I think you just won one over.

I, too, am an avid gardener, but I have the hardest time keeping on track with it. I think that if I went the way that you have – practical, useful and yet also attractive – I might have an easier time of it.

Do you have any tidbits for how to keep weeds and pests to a minimum, since it’s also decorative? And how do you fill in the gaps when you’ve harvested?

Thanks so much for this great idea! I can’t wait to get started on it!

By MissCourt — On Aug 12, 2011

All around my house is softscaped -- but it's also very practical. Everything in my softscape is editable in some way.

First, I have a small rectangle pathway that goes all the way around the back of my house. On the outside of that pathway are evenly planted rows of carrots, potatoes and radishes -- with the occasional beet row mixed in for color.

On the inside of the pathway is my lettuce, chard and spinach garden. They are staggered so that the they are in height order.

Then along the back of my house are the flowers and the tea plants. I have chamomile, peppermint and raspberry plants.

I think the thing that makes my softscape gorgeous is that everything is even. I've carefully planted each plant in a row, with the tallest ones in the back. It looks like paradise and has halved my vegetable bill!

By kylee07drg — On Aug 11, 2011

Because I like to get away with mowing and weeding as little as possible, I am all about ground cover. I designated two large sections of my yard as flower patches, but instead of planting flowers that have to be weeded around all the time, I sowed various types of ground cover seed.

I love the colorful blooms of rose moss. It grows and covers about six inches of space per plant, so I sowed the seed close together.

I also planted an area of Irish moss. This soft green cover has tiny white blooms for awhile, and then it converts to just leaves. It effectively takes over the area.

My favorite ground cover is pink creeping phlox. It is covered in pink blooms in the spring, and it spreads vigorously. When the blooms fade, it still provides an attractive green ground cover.

By Oceana — On Aug 10, 2011

I change my mind a lot, so when picking out a softscape design for my new yard, and I knew I should plant annuals. I didn’t want to commit to anything that would come back every year, because if I decided I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have the heart to cut it down.

I planted marigolds all along the front of my porch. I hear they are supposed to repel certain bugs, so I thought that would be a good spot for them. The orange, reddish-orange, and yellow colors of the blooms looked good against the brick.

The front edge of my lawn is lined with a brick fence that serves as a garden box. It was already filled with soil, so I just added some fertilizer and planted it full of petunias. I love the way the flowers cascade down the front of it and greet people as they pass.

By wavy58 — On Aug 10, 2011

I sought the advice of a professional when deciding on a softscape. I let him know that I did not like plants that required a lot of upkeep, so he recommended a yard full of flowers that grow from bulbs and tuberous roots.

He arranged the layout so that the spring blooming flowers lay behind the summer bloomers. That way, when their foliage began to die off in early summer, the emerging greenery of the summer flowers would hide their brown leaves.

He planted gladiolus in the very front. Behind those, he planted tulip bulbs, which send up shoots in March. In the very back, he put the daffodils, because they emerge as early as February.

Off to the side in a separate area, he planted daylilies. The leaves of these beauties cascaded like a waterfall, covering a large area and choking out weeds.

By Perdido — On Aug 09, 2011

I really enjoyed designing my own softscape. I had been playing around with growing different flowers for a few years, and I felt I had enough knowledge to remodel my whole yard.

An important element for me was vines. I wanted to have a wild, natural look, and I used the hardscape element of latticework as a base for growing my vines. They can only spread as far as you give them something to grow on.

In different areas of the yard, I planted starflower vine, honeysuckle, climbing roses, and wisteria. Starflowers are small, red, star-shaped blooms with fern-like green leaves all over the vine. Honeysuckle provided a strong, pleasant fragrance to the whole property. Purple climbing roses added a touch of elegance, and beautiful purple wisteria complemented the roses.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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