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Designing Your Swimming Pool Area

Updated on December 20, 2009

Once a private swimming pool was the preserve of the rich and famous. But nowadays the luxury of having a garden pool can be enjoyed by many more. There is such a vast range of sizes and designs available, that even small town gardens can often be redesigned to incorporate a plunge pool.

Of course, the secret of creating a garden pool which is both functional and attractive to look at is in the landscaping. No matter what the size and shape of the pool, the garden surrounding it must complement the overall design and also enhance the bather's enjoyment.

Before making any plans, it is a good idea to visit as many pool suppliers as you can and look through some of the glossy magazines featuring garden swimming pools. Gather together all the ideas and layouts you find most appealing and see how you can adapt them to suit your own particular setting.

Photo by Asif Akbar
Photo by Asif Akbar

Layout and Safety

Apart from the obvious financial considerations, there are a number of points to bear in mind when choosing your pool and designing the layout. For example, the pool itself should have a pleasing relationship with the garden itself in size and shape, and in length and breadth. The pool should be open to the sun yet sheltered from strong wind.

One of the most important points to keep in mind when landscaping the garden pool (particularly when children will be regular users) is safety. The entrance to the pool should lead people safely to the shallow end, and, if at all practical, the entire area should be designed like a room that can be shut off when not in use. Indeed, local authorities in some countries insist on safety fencing or enclosures around all pools.

Think of the entrance into the pool garden in terms of visitors approaching it for the first time, the hostess carrying trays of drinks to and fro, boisterous children racing back and forth and even the occasional evening bather. Beware of any sudden and dangerous changes in level and instal sufficient lighting to illuminate the entire pool area at night.

It is a good idea to make a graded plan of your garden, marking on the positions of all the main features- the house, walls, steps and paths, and so on. Then using a cardboard cut-out for the pool, move it around in different positions until you find the most advantageous spot for it both for safe access and full sunshine.

Consider existing features and try to retain them within the pool garden. Keep structures to human scale and try to develop a close relationship between the pool and its grounds.

Choose a focal point (perhaps a tree, arbor, statue or plant, not the pool itself) and draw the eye towards this without obstruction. Try to develop contrast and harmony, pattern and texture, light and shade. Add color for brightness or keep shadings subtle to give depth, coolness and quiet.

Deck and Level Areas

A non-slip hard surface beside the pool is essential. Random paving slabs, in-situ caste decking in brushed concrete, hard engineering bricks and even synthetic lawns or modern matting all make good decking. Avoid using bitumen, loose chippings or sharp edged mosaics, which might cause nasty cuts and grazes.

The decking may also be used as a convenient sunbathing area and could perhaps include a built-in stone seat for wet bathers. And remember that stone absorbs the heat of the sun during the day then releases it during the evening.

Another particularly good idea for this area is to create a 'solar deck'. For example, modern tube-in-the-mat heat exchangers laid beneath the decking collect the heat of the day then transfer it to the pool water. Either a filter or a separate pump then carries the warm pool water through the solar deck to produce, in effect, a low cost, unobtrusive environmental heating system.

Coping to edge the decking should be selected with care for, like the frame around a picture, it can either make or mar the entire effect. On concrete, a tile band about 200mm deep can be set around the pool walls for an attractive, hard-wearing surface at water level, which can stand up to the hard cleaning necessary to remove oily scum lines. In colder climates, however, bear in mind that materials must be frost-proof and set smoothly, to combat ice.

Another attractive and enduring finish can be achieved by taking mosaics down the walls and even across the bottom of the pool. Alternatively, a marblite mix or terrazzo rendering can be applied. After application with a wooden float, the surface is leveled, left for 24 hours at the most, and polished with a flexible head power tool until the walls are smooth and the floor textured. However, this is best left to the experienced plasterer.

An unusual alternative that might appeal to the more artistic, is a mural in pool paint. The 'canvas' of the pool floor offers immense scope.

Plants for Pool Areas

  • Ground cover: Alyssum, camomile lawn, heather, periwinkle, phlox, thyme, turf
  • Tubs and pots: Azalea, bay tree, begonia, bonsai, fuchsia, pelargonium, polyanthus
  • Beds and banks: Alpines, amaranthus, cotoneaster, ferns, ornamental grasses, spring bulbs, weeping forsythia
  • Climbers: Clematis, climbing hydrangea, grape vine, honeysuckle, variegated ivy, Virginia creeper, wisteria
  • Shrubs: Box, camelia, hibiscus, rhododendron, paeony, potentilla shrub rose
  • Trees: Broom, cedar, cypress, juniper, Japanese cherry and maple, magnolia, malus,

Landscaping Details

Once you have made your basic plans, you can start filling in the more attractive details. There are innumerable garden features you can use to add charm and character to the pool area. You may prefer to work around a theme - perhaps modern freeform or classic geometry - and select materials and objects accordingly. But do keep the overall layout in mind and avoid choosing anything that will clash or look obviously out of place.

Depending on the space you have available, you can use anything from screen walling, pergola columns and arbors to benches, fountains, statues and rockeries. You might even like to provide a spot where you can barbecue or have the occasional drinks party. Even when the pool itself is covered over for the winter, the surrounding area may still provide an attractive-even romantic -spot for dining on mild autumn and spring days.

Low-walled planter beds are a good idea for holding flowers and plants and as well as being easier to weed and look after, they also help to add height to the area. Another way of introducing height and shape around the pool is to use the excavated spoil to create low, gentle slopes to add interest and contouring.

Trees are especially useful around the pool area-the coolness they create is really welcome on hot, sunny afternoons, when the changing light and shade overlays the pool side and the sunbather.

Then, of course, there is an immense variety of flowers and shrubs offering infinite form and color. And once a good scheme is developed, the upkeep is relatively small, especially if slow-growing ground covering plants are selected.

Groups of color and clumps of shrubs suit the pool surround better than isolated specimens. Use dwarf varieties for precision, marginal plants for water boundaries and climbers to soften architecture. Choose ornamental grasses and specialty shrubs for their foliage.

Avoid plants that drop soft, staining fruit on the paving, also those carrying thorns or which tend to attract wasps and bees. And keep sensitive plants at least 3m clear of the pool. If soil is continuously saturated with chlorinated splash water, a chlorotic or anemic effect can occur in some plants causing them to grow straggly and lose color and hardiness through iron deficiency.

In spite of all the exotic opportunities using plants and flowers, many pool owners still prefer a well trimmed lawn. Both sloping and flat lawns can look superb and provide good sunbathing spots. Lawns must be well drained, however, and be constantly cared for, to keep them looking neat and attractive.

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