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Landscape Terminology

I’ve noticed that I have developed a bad habit. I employ certain terminology that is commonly used amongst my colleagues and other landscape professionals when I’m meeting new clients, assuming they know exactly what I mean. I’ve realized that some people may have no idea what I’m referring to when I say ‘hardscape’ or ‘swale’ or ‘perennial.’ Sorry about that! I’m a work in progress. At least I don’t say ‘expresso.’

Over the next several months, I’m going to be regularly blogging about landscape terms, in an attempt to clarify for our clients and friends what all this terminology means. Have a term you’re confused about? Ask me! I welcome your feedback! Today, we’ll start with some of the most commonly used terms when we’re discussing landscape and landscape design.

This is an umbrella term that covers everything on your property, outside of structures like your home or garage. Your patio, your pool, your trees, your lawn, your vegetable beds, even your low voltage outdoor lights are all part of your Landscape- and all can be incorporated into your Landscape Design.

Basically, hard stuff. Usually refers to flat paved areas with materials like stone, concrete, or brick, but we even consider gravels to be ‘hardscape’, even though they are permeable. There are a lot of materials that can be used to hardscape an area to make it more useable. Check back here for more on that topic.

The soft stuff. Lawns, trees, shrubs, flowering perennials, grasses . . . basically anything that grows outdoors can be considered softscape. The word Landscape is often used interchangeably with Softscape, to describe any planted material.

When I was a kid, I thought ‘evergreen’ referred to plants like Pine or Spruce trees- plants with needles or cones that don’t shed their leaves every fall. As it happens, evergreen plants can be trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, or groundcovers- any plant that keeps its foliage all year round. Broad Leafed Evergreens (BLEs) are plants that have foliage broader than a needle. Camellias, Boxwoods, and Hollies all fall into this category. Furthermore, conifers (needle-leaved plants that produce cones) can be deciduous, losing their foliage each year. Crazy, I know.

This word refers to plants that die back once a year, usually in fall or winter. Basically they look dead and you get really annoyed with your landscape designer, but then a few months later, tada! They come back looking refreshed and go through the whole cycle again. Many of the plants with the most spectacular show throughout the seasons are deciduous – flowering cherry and Japanese maple trees, Hydrangeas, Black-Eyed Susans, Crape Myrtles, Dogwoods, Poppies . . . . these plants all take a nap in winter and come back the next spring.

Stay tuned. My next blog post will explore the oft-confusing but thrilling world of annuals vs. perennials!

Posted by barrysacher on September 18, 2012
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. 11/5/2012

    This was a wonderful idea for an article – I hadn’t thought of that.

  2. 09/18/2012

    This is most useful information for me. I look forward to hearing more information on garden terminology. Thanks!

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