Pools mean different things to different people. Parents of young children are most concerned with safety and fun, giving their kids a place to play in the water, according to Ellen Lee of Atlantic Pools. Some want a water feature focal point for their outdoor entertaining, and still others a bit older may use a pool for low impact exercising to ease joint pain. In whatever ways you might use a pool, you always want it to look nice and inviting. For that, landscaping or hardscaping are great ideas to keep your swimming pool a pleasure to the eye.
Some pools come with hardscaping built in. “Features such as a tanning ledge or a waterfall can be included, and we often build a spa as an extension of the pool. A well-designed pool with hardscaping and landscaping will transform a back yard into quite a showplace,” said Michael Elsey of The Clearwater Company.
Leading landscape architect Mark Cotterill of GrimballCotterill and Associates who consults with The Clearwater Company said some popular features around pools include “interesting pool decks made with decorative paving materials or simply scored concrete. The style of the house or budget considerations may determine these choices.”
Other features may consist of fountains and other water features, such as waterfalls, water jets, slides, beach entry, etc.; fire pits, fireplaces, or conversation areas; outdoor kitchens and cooking areas; outdoor furniture; shade structures such as pavilions, arbors, cabanas or umbrellas, shade sails or awnings; sculpture pieces to be reflected in the pool and serve as focal points; landscape lighting to provide dramatic night-time settings and to light pathways. Most pools also include some sort of fencing (mandated in most counties in South Carolina) as a safety barrier for children. “Some owners opt for privacy fences or walls made from a variety of materials, depending on budget and style considerations,” Cotterill said.
Landscaping around your swimming pool can be a low-cost option and provides features from pure practicality to absolutely aesthetic. “The practical reason is to cover the dirt with grass to hold the predetermined set grade for drainage, then for aesthetics. Privacy is the first question that comes up in most of our landscape design sessions. We use different trees to screen our outdoor living areas,” Lee said.
“We never recommend fruit trees or fruit bearing bushes in a yard with a swimming pool for insect purposes, and in some cases, bad smells from fallen fruit, and for yard maintenance reasons as well,” she continued. “The most popular trees I warn people about are crepe myrtle, Bradford pear, willow, and river birch trees. I love all these; however, in the spring or fall the debris produced will cause many problems for the pool’s operation. The trees produce very small debris that can break down and pass through the primary skimmer baskets and then pass through the pump basket causing the pump impeller to stop up and cause costly repairs to the pump.”
If these decorative trees are a must in your backyard, try to place them in an area that will not allow foliage to drop directly into the pool. Lee said a good rule of thumb is to never place plant material that has very small blooms or leaves near a pool unless you put them in moveable planters. “One or two planters with this kind of plant material will not cause much of a problem. A tree with small debris will,” she said.
Cotterill said whether you use your pool simply for swimming and sunbathing, a place to play water sports, or for grander purposes such as group gatherings and entertaining, landscaping can add significantly to the ambiance you wish to create. He takes a variety of things into consideration when he creates a landscape plan. “The things I consider for planting are providing privacy, an aesthetic setting, and interest through color and textural changes, fragrance/aroma, and a cooling effect; planting to provide a focal point, i.e., a Japanese maple; strategically placing a shade tree to provide an area to sit away from the sun; planting for year-round interest; trying not to overly attract bees; and planting annuals in an interesting variety of pots, allowing for easily changing for seasonal color while providing some architectural detail.”
Lee pointed out that the way you maintain the landscaping around your pool is extremely important. Rainwater and potting soil runoff from planters can cause fertilizer and other contaminants to get into your pool. If you use planters make sure water drains from the bottom of them easily. “Something as simple as wind blowing potting soil into the pool’s step area will cause algae bloom, which causes the pool to turn green and then in turn, many dollars spent on algaecides could be saved by simply moving the planter or putting a media in the planter over the potting soil to prevent potting soil from blowing into the pool,” she added.