Around Your Pool or Spa
There are several fundamental principles on
which the landscaping plan depends. Landscape architects and
designers too, rely on these plans, namely beauty, privacy, safety,
convenience, flexibility and easy maintenance. Though not all the
criteria can be fulfilled at the same time you can design a plan to
your satisfaction by keeping these goals in mind.
Beauty around the pool cab be created by
blending the pool or spa and other landscape elements with the house
to achieve an aesthetic balance in the whole environment. Privacy
should be of prime concern and should include trees, fences walls,
screens so as to block the view of the pool or spa area from
outside. Comfort should be another thing that you must weigh. For
soaking, sunning, entertaining or swimming should be giving you as
much comfort, in the correct setting. Safety is another important
criteria that should be given lots of thought for the safety of the
swimmers. Also when the pool is not in use, the pool should have
safety fence to keep away the children and animals from falling in.
The area around the pool should be well lit too. For Convenience and
flexibility try to plan the area such that entertaining, showering
or changing are easily accessible. You can also include the
furniture for relaxing by pool side. Ease of maintenance and ever
increasing maintenance cost will always want you to choose materials
that needs little maintenance. Also planting trees and shrubs that
drop minimum of leaves and flowers in the water, will reduce the
As you plan the setting for your pool or spa,
keep four basic landscape goals in mind: unity, balance, variety,
Unity in a pool or spa setting is achieved
when everything looks as though it belongs together. No landscape
element stands out; each blends with the other parts, as well as
with the house and the lot. To achieve unity, avoid designing too
many distinctive units that will have to be tied together. The more
units you divide your landscape into, the harder it will be to
Balance does a lot to make a setting pleasing.
Most likely, your pool or spa will be the focal point of your
landscape design. Achieve balance by combining elements that produce
the same visual weight on either side of this center of interest. A
large tree or structure on one side of a pool, for example, can be
balanced with a grouping of smaller trees on the other.
Variety breaks up what could be monotonous
unity. Differing but complementary grade levels, textures, colors,
and shapes arouse visual interest both horizontally and vertically.
Proportion demands that the various forms, materials, and open
spaces of your landscape be in scale with one another. Nothing looks
more out of place than a small pool in a yard as flat and expansive
as a football field, or a patio that looks more like a parking lot
than an entertainment area.
Landscape elements need to be in scale not
only with each other, but also with your house, lot, and pool or
spa. If your lot is extremely large, try breaking the space up into
several distinct areas. Screens, plantings, patios, or walks become
borders or barriers that can divide your yard into intimate areas.
To maintain proportion in a small lot, keep
things simple and uncluttered. Tall vertical screens used to enclose
a small area will actually make it seem larger, as will solid
paving. Use plants with restraint-over planting adds clutter.
When selecting plants, keep their ultimate
sizes and shapes in mind. Though a young plant may suit the
proportion of your lot, within a few years it may grow so tall that
the effect is spoiled.
Landscape architects and designers use some
basic design techniques that you can borrow in thinking about your
own plan. These can make the difference between a visually pleasing
landscape and an awkward, jarring one. If the relationship between
elements in your landscape is either too equal or extremely unequal,
the result can be visually disturbing. When organizing space,
remember that most people find a sense of order in well-known,
simple shapes, such as squares, rectangles, triangles, and circles.
Arrange plantings and structures to satisfy the need for privacy,
but don't carry the design so far that it will produce a cooped-up
feeling. You can create pleasing variations in the landscape design
and yet maintain unity by carrying a recognizable shape through a
main theme. A theme with variations creates a unified landscape. In
grouping shapes or masses, make them seem unified by joining or
interlocking the units, rather than separating them. The safe way to
create a unified landscape is to make a rhythmic pattern of the
Lots are not all perfect, like everything else
in nature. One of the secrets of landscaping is knowing how to turn
liabilities into assets.
Small sites: Function needs to be your
foremost consideration when you are landscaping a small area.
Besides swimming, or soaking, you may want to use the space for
entertaining, sunning, or play; it might also just be admired for
its aesthetic qualities. Even in a small site, careful planning can
create the illusion of space. Brick paving, with its small scale,
repetitive pattern, gives an expansive feeling. To save space,
display plants in small beds, containers, or hanging baskets.
Built-in storage and seating are practically a must where space is
limited. Choose furnishings that don't overpower their surroundings,
and avoid clutter at all costs.
Sloping sites: Whether your lot is gently
sloping, extremely steep, or somewhere in between, you will have to
consider special design requirements.
A shallow slope can be converted with a
minimum of grading into two or more level areas. Steps and a raised
planting bed serve as retaining walls. Steps, ramps, or both can
provide the transition from one level to another. Exercise caution
when moving from level to level so as to reduce slips and falls.
Grass or ground cover can be used to prevent erosion in large
A medium slope can be graded to form a series
of gradual levels, each marked by a retaining wall and planted with
A steep slope can often be conquered by a deck
built beside the pool. Steep slopes often require the attention of
professional landscape architects and engineers.
Besides their purely functional use in
providing a connection between different levels, steps and ramps
play a major role in both grading the site and integrating buildings
into the landscape. They also separate areas, direct foot traffic,
display plantings, and on occasion, even provide extra seating.
When landscaping the area around your pool or
spa, the scope of landscaping elements available is very broad. The
following few are the most crucial: plantings, fences, masonry
walls, vertical and horizontal screens, decks and pavement, poolside
structures, and final touches such as lights.
Many of these elements can be used in
different ways. Be sure to follow all codes and be open to
professional advice. Combining the elements wisely is as important
as choosing them in the first place. Remember that they should not
only complement each other, but also harmonize with the lot, and the
Fencing your pool
Enclosing a pool with a fence helps keep
children, animals, and non-swimmers out of the water when there's no
one around, and also provides security and privacy when you are
swimming. Check with your local building department before landscape
planning, for many communities require fences with self-closing and
self-latching gates around pools. A fence is a good safety measure
for your own children and those of your guests even for non-swimming
adults. Fences should be at least six feet high with vertical
members spaced no more than 4 inches apart to prevent entry.
Besides being an important safety feature,
fencing can be used to separate your lot from your neighbor's, to
designate space, to conceal pool support equipment, and even to hang
maintenance equipment. A fence near the pool can keep debris from
blowing into the water and reduce maintenance. It also provides more
specific climate control in the immediate pool area; you can orient
the fence panels to block out cool winds and admit the sun when you
want it. Safety or property line fencing should not be less than 4
feet from the edge of the pool; that's the minimum width required to
permit safe passage around the pool.
Whether you purchase a prefabricated kit,
build the fence from scratch, or have a professional do it, you'll
find that advice from a landscape architect or fence contractor can
help you decide what type of fence is best suited visually and
functionally to your pool landscape.
Wood, chain link, wire mesh, wrought iron, and
various forms of masonry are used as fencing materials. For fences
around pools, you should choose pressure-treated wood or
rust-resistant, non-corrosive metals.
The style of your fence can affect the amount
of wind protection you receive. For example, wind rushes over a
solid fence like a stream of water. Such a fence provides little or
no wind protection past the distance equal to its height. Angling a
baffle 45 degree into the wind extends maximum wind protection to a
distance almost more than twice the fence height. Or, you can
eliminate the downward crash of wind by using a baffle angled 45
degree with the wind. To reduce wind flow, use fencing with openings
at least 1/2 inch but no more than 4 inches wide, or use plant
screens. Dense plants offer even more protection.
Screens may be lightweight partitions made
from bamboo or reed, canvas, wood, safety glass, or translucent
plastic; or they may be living screens composed of plants and trees.
Either way, they help control unwanted sun and wind while
contributing to an attractive outdoor setting. Screens can be
portable or stationary, simple or elaborate.
You can position screens to block the sun's
heat and glare, the wind's chill, and the view of neighbors. Screens
can also define space for showering and dressing, lounging, and
entertaining. Trailing, climbing type plants grow well on such
Masonry walls are constructed from concrete
block, brick, stone, adobe, or poured concrete. They are solid,
sturdy, permanent, and practically maintenance-free.
Masonry walls are excellent barriers to sun,
noise, and intruders. Because they store and reflect heat, masonry
walls can heat or cool the area directly around them. Low masonry
walls are also effective retaining walls for raised plants, beds,
terraces, or embankments.
Masonry walls do have two major drawbacks:
high cost and a tendency to give a closed-in feeling. You can cut
costs by tackling some of the construction yourself. To make the
area feel more inviting, make the wall the minimum height required
by code, usually 5 feet, and at a distance of at least 4 feet from
the pool. Arches, wrought iron panels, gates, or grilles created
with bricks or concrete blocks can be incorporated in the wall to
open up the space.
Plants can soften the lines and texture of
masonry walls; the wall itself provides excellent support for
climbing plants. But since masonry both absorbs and reflects heat,
delicate plants may not fare well near a sunny wall.
Deck and Pavement
The deck around the pool and any paved
surfaces such as walks, patios, or steps are functional and
versatile landscaping tools. They add usable space, provide a
transition from one area to another, allow for drainage, and cover
up barren soil.
Decks: Most pools and spas are surrounded by a
symmetrical or freeform deck. Besides creating a frame for the pool,
the deck provides a safe walkway around the edge of the pool, and,
if enlarged, provides enough space for pool furniture and lounging.
In choosing a decking material, remember that
the deck must be safe underfoot and not slippery, coarse, or uneven;
using a heat reflective material will keep the deck's surface
cooler. To prevent hose or rain water from draining into the pool,
or water that has splashed onto the deck from reentering the pool,
the deck should drain away from the pool's coping by 1/4 to 3/8 inch
per foot. Be sure the deck is easy to clean or hose down-it forms
the barrier between the pool and your plants and will catch falling
leaves, grass clippings, and other debris.
Choose a decking material that blends with or
matches other paved areas and is resistant to acid, algae, bacteria,
chemicals, frost, and fungus. It should also be non-slippery and
cool under your feet. Brick, flagstone, tile, pavement block, and
finished, colored, and exposed aggregate concrete are excellent
decking materials. Other interesting materials are rubber,
broom-finished concrete, and cooltype concrete decking for hot
climates. A selection of materials is illustrated below and
Pavement: Paved surfaces in the pool area
include patios, walks, low-level decks, steps, and special activity
areas. A patio can function as an entertainment or lounging area, as
well as a transition between the house and pool. Walks permit
passage from one area to another, provide a border for plantings,
and can break up the straight lines of an angular lot. Low-level
decks add more surface space on problem grade sites such as
hillsides. Steps not only link one level to another, but also
separate areas and levels.
Brick, concrete (finished, colored, or pebble
surfaced), tile, flagstone, adobe blocks, and wood are durable and
reliable pavement materials for the pool landscape. Again, consider
surface texture and color, ease of maintenance, weather resistance,
and drainage capability.
Chances are you won't want pool traffic going
in and out of your house, you'll need storage space for pool
equipment, and you'll want to be outside by the pool as much as
possible. The answer to all is to build a structure near your pool-a
pool house or cabana, a storage facility, a sauna, a gazebo, or some
other enclosed or semi-enclosed area. Such a structure will add
immeasurably to the comfort and attractiveness of your pool's
Though your house and poolside structure can
differ in style, their scale, texture, and material should be
compatible. Remember that your structure must conform to local
building codes, and you must have a building permit.
Shade structures: Adding a shade structure
such as a gazebo, patio roof, horizontal screen, or overhang makes
for a more versatile pool environment. It can become a sheltered
play area for children, a shady spot for relaxation and reading, and
a place for eating and outdoor entertaining.
A gazebo, fine for entertaining, has storage
and dressing rooms in the rear. A pool house can simply be a place
to change in privacy and hang wet towels and bathing suits, or it
can include a shower and lavatory. Some pool houses are a lot more
elaborate, designed as warm weather retreats complete with sauna,
living and sleeping areas, and storage space.
A simple approach is to incorporate a dressing
area into your garage by erecting a few panels in a corner.
Some pool houses have room for a shower and
bath, sauna, changing area, and small kitchen.
Your sauna can be a freestanding structure in
a private, unused corner of your yard near the pool, or it can be
incorporated into your pool house. You can purchase saunas in kits,
either prefabricated or precut, or custom-made.
Storage structures: You'll need considerable
storage space for the support system, vacuum, leaf skimmer, brushes,
and chemicals. You'll probably also need space to store poolside
furniture, game and fitness equipment, and other accessories during
Sheltering pool support equipment in a
well-ventilated, covered area prolongs its life. If the support
equipment is installed near a fence, garage, house wall, or garden
storage shed, only a simple windscreen or fence extension with a
lean-to roof is required. Allow a clearance of 3 feet for air
circulation and maintenance access. Check zoning requirements before
Long-handled cleaning equipment can be hung
neatly on hooks in a wall or fence. Just be sure they don't block
access to the pool support equipment. Keep pool chemicals locked in
a cool, dry, dark place.
Protect pool or patio furniture, game
equipment, and other pool accessories from the elements by storing
them in the garage, in storage boxes that double as benches or in
utility storage areas.
Getting the work done: Consult professionals
during the design stage for they can offer sound advice and make
sure your landscape design conforms to local building regulations.
Then you can hire a contractor to do the actual work. They have the
skill, and the equipment, especially for the electrical wiring,
paving, or excavation.
With a project as involved as developing or
remodeling a pool landscape, you may find it best to rely completely
on professionals architects, landscape architects, landscape
designers, contractors, nurserymen, or gardeners.
Putting your ideas on paper: Whether you're
retaining a professional to do designing the landscaping for you,
you'll want to draw up some plans based on your own ideas first. If
you've already made a plot plan to determine your pool location, you
can use that for your landscape design. If not using a tracing paper
laid over the plot plan to sketch the various approaches. Plan for
what you'd most like to have, then add up the costs. Creating a
strong design will help you distinguish between the more important
and less important elements of your plan. Try to think in three
dimensions to help you balance the design elements and visualize the
Plants around the pool or spa creates a
beautiful, natural setting for your enjoyment. It also adds color,
texture, shape, and interest to the landscape. Trees, dense hedges,
or vines, when grown over a support, hide unwanted views, thereby
providing privacy and security. Tough plant borders or barriers can
prevent animals and people from walking across lawns or plant beds
and discourage trespassing.
Plants insulate the area surrounding the pool
or spa. Plants are even good cover-ups. Use them to soften severe
architectural lines, hide construction flaws, camouflage pool
equipment, and fill in odd angles or spaces on your lot. Plants must
be suited to their climate zone.
Planting considerations: Choosing plant
materials and the location of planting beds very carefully will
produce the attractive landscape you want and ensure minimum
maintenance. If you've ever had to pluck plant debris out of a pool,
you'll understand the reluctance of many pool and spa owners to
plant anything next to the water. But plants play a vital role in
Lawns, ground covers, and other plants can
absorb quantities of water, to protect this area from becoming
saturated and boggy, channel the water before it reaches the plant
materials by using deck drains.
Selection of plants: Installing a pool
produces high humidity in your yard, especially if it is heated. In
making new selections, choose plants that will withstand this extra
If your pool or spa site is surrounded by
eucalyptus trees, pines or other conifers, all of which shed
year-round, you might go so far as to consider a screened enclosure
for the entire pool, spa, and deck area. Otherwise you'll have to
accept the debris problem. Sometimes those who want the benefits of
trees plant deciduous varieties, preferring a big leaf drop once a
year to the small but continuous dropping of many of the evergreens.
Keep any new tree plantings away from the pool
or spa, if possible. Also, be sure you know how far their root
systems are likely to spread, so you won't get roots in your water
Don't plant any fruit-bearing shrubs or trees
near the deck. The dropping fruit becomes slippery and can stain the
deck; it also acts as a magnet for bees, yellow jackets, and other
insects that can spoil your enjoyment of the pool or spa.
Around the pool or spa, choose plants that
drop a minimum of leaves, seeds, resin, and other debris; avoid any
that attract birds or stinging insects. And if you're fond of shrubs
with thorns or barbs, plant them well away from the area.
Some of the worst litter bugs are bamboo and
pampas grass, though they look nice near the pool. If you want to
use them, plant them on the side of the site away from the wind or
where they're best sheltered from wind, to prevent litter from
blowing into the water.
As in any garden setting, choose the right
plant for the particular location. In small gardens where the pool
or spa and its pavement occupy almost all of the garden, container
gardening comes into its own. Where a baffle fence is used for
privacy or wind protection, or where the pool or spa is enclosed
with a wire fence for safety reasons, these structures offer an
opportunity for interesting vine plantings.
When selecting flowering plants, aim for good
design with beautiful if not bloom-the year round flowers. Remember
that in some areas early spring flowering varieties may bloom long
before the pool or spa is in maximum use. Plants that bloom during
summer months, when the facility is being used, will brighten tubs,
boxes, or insets in the pavement.
Swimming pools and spas can provide pleasant
backdrops and tranquil settings in which to entertain, offering you
and your family and friends more than the chance to swim or soak. At
night, with the addition of tastefully arranged outdoor lighting,
the view of your pool or spa and landscaping can be especially
The safety and the level of illumination
within the pool with the underwater lighting, is of primary
importance. Use full brilliance when children are swimming or when
you are hosting late parties or cocktail hours. The extra light is
necessary for guests who have been drinking or for those people who
have poor eyesight or poor night vision.
Good outdoor lighting is both functional and
aesthetic, for it offers the right kind of light when and where you
need it for entertaining, outdoor cooking, or just relaxing. At the
same time, proper lighting adds to the beauty of the pool or spa
area by highlighting architectural features and background
If you're designing your own outdoor lighting,
experiment with lights in various locations. Buy several inexpensive
clamp-on lights and reflectors and extension cords. (Keep in mind
that according to the National Electric Code, extension cords that
are used around pools should not exceed 3 feet in length.) Place the
lights in the areas you want to highlight or illuminate and observe
the results at night. If you're not satisfied, move the lights
around until you get the effect you want. Then have the permanent
lights installed professionally.