Now that winter is keeping us out of the garden, what’s a gardener to do?   That’s easy — plan.  Plan for all the big ideas you’d like to turn into reality once spring planting fever hits.  It’s the perfect time to start planning structural hardscape changes in your landscape. 
Today, our landscapes are becoming extensions of our homes.  They bring us outdoors, in rooms and areas that provide entertaining space, room for kids and pets to play, or maybe a quiet reading nook. 
 
Where to start?   Ask yourself — was your patio too small for entertaining last year?  Did you, or your dogs, wear a dirty path in the grass to get from area to area?   Or do you just want to remove some grass, water a little less or solve a drainage problem with a dry creek?
 
Now what?
Ask yourself some preliminary questions.  First, consider your personal style – are you traditional, natural or contemporary?  Think about the existing area – do you want to use the same material as your house or other structures, or do you want something different? Identify whether you’d prefer creating a color contrast color or seamless hues of a single color.
 
Consider the type of material best suited to your project.  Stone is sold by the ton — decomposed granite by the yard — your local landscape supply yards can help you determine how much you’ll need based on your measurements.  Here are some of the choices that are commonly used for hardscape projects.
Flagstone – Can be used for a variety of landscaping projects, from paths to patios and walls.  It can be mortared into place or simply set in decomposed granite or gravel so it remains permeable.  Wondering what to do with the sidewalk strip in front of your house where the grass is perpetually dying?  Consider some attractive flagstone set in decomposed granite.  If you want a softer look, add a few Mexican feather grasses or a few small agaves or a boulder or two for interest. 
 
River Rock – Available in a variety of size ranges, river rock is smooth and comes in a blend of colors.  It can be used to create a meandering dry stream through your landscape or to solve drainage issues.  You can also simply replace grass with an attractive contrast of natural material in your yard.  It can be used to puddle below a water feature or a birdbath.  Always be sure to vary the size of the rock in a dry creek, scattering in the larger rocks before you put down the smaller size for a more natural look.
 
Pavers – Man-made pavers come in very imaginable color and size.  The most commonly used are made of concrete and can be used for patios and porches, paths and even walls.  They can be laid on a bed of sand, placed close together for a more manicured look, or can be laid with spacing to allow for either grass or pretty little ground covers to grow between.  Pavers create a more manicured, formal style in outdoor rooms.
 
Decomposed or crushed granite – Weathered granite that has broken down into small pieces and particles of silt, DG is commonly used in patios, paths and even beds with arid plants.  It’s versatile as a filler for many different projects – just be careful not to use it on a steep hill – our periodic gully washers can wreak havoc with it.  You’ll want to make sure to use some sort of edging – metal or stone – to keep the granite in place and separated from grass or beds adjacent to it.
Gravel – Available in many different colors and sizes, gravel is a great material.  It can work wonders to help with small drainage issues and it adds texture and contrast to the garden.  Because it is larger, when used in a path, it is less likely to wash away than decomposed granite. 
 
Chopped block – Most stone can be purchased as a rough-hewn brick-like shape that is more natural in form.  These are used to build retaining walls, benches, planting beds or pathway borders. 
River rock, flagstone, chopped block and other stones come in specific palettes of color – Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado or New Mexico – are some of the choices you can find around Austin.  From golds to browns and reds or grays and pinks, the right hues in your garden can be like a fresh coat of paint in your house. 
If you are creating paths or dry streams, remember to use long, sweeping curves to provide flow and make your garden more natural and inviting.

Adding different types of material to you landscape can make it interesting and inviting – creating contrast and texture that enhance your garden.  
These are all landscape design projects I created.  For more ideas and information, go to Diana’s Designs and see other projects.