Pool landscape ideas can be tricky to get right. But if done well, a pool can serve as a unique water feature that enhances the experience of a property.
“A pool has quite the presence, which has to be carefully mediated so it doesn’t compete with the garden,” explains landscape designer Frederico Azevedo of Unlimited Earth Care. “I like to use strategically placed and scaled plant beds, either blending the corners or the pool with rectangular flower beds or installing a long plant bed that runs parallel to the pool. I don’t like it when the pool feels like a completely different space, so I enclose the area with plants to bring color to the water.”
There are, however, factors beyond aesthetics that should be factored in, including maintenance and the user experience. “People always want flowers, but keep in mind that with flowers come insects,” cautions landscape architect Janet Cavanagh. “Make sure to think about whether anyone living there is allergic to insects, because no one wants to get stung while swimming. Beyond that, consider the bloom times and maintenance of various plants. There is a trend toward using a mix of grasses, since they are low maintenance and always look good.”
Read on for more designer tips for realizing the ultimate pool ideas.
Pool landscape ideas
1. Consider the experience from inside the pool
A flowerbed studded with colorful perennials runs the length of this pool, providing “full floral views while swimming and interrupts the rectangular flatness pools normally impose,” says landscape designer Frederico Azevedo of Unlimited Earth Care.
Additionally, pink crepe myrtle lends interest to a row of hedges, a trick which can also be used for small backyard pools to make the space feel more full, and therefore larger. “In August, these plants are awash in sparkling pinks,” adds Frederico.
2. Take design cues from the site's existing elements
For the surrounding pool area of this modern farmhouse designed by Smith & Vansant Architects, landscape architect Janet Cavanagh made the most of the site grade changes to separate the upper terrace and the lower pool terrace, creating distinct zones within the backyard. This is a trick we often recommend for narrow gardens, too.
To complement the rugged site—which features large outcrops of ledge—Cavanagh kept the planting scheme to green foliage and grasses, avoiding flowers altogether. Birch trees, juniper, and coral bell round out the mix. “This site is harsh, with full sun, so we kept the scheme minimal and incorporated lots of texture,” says Cavanagh.
3. Think outside the rectangular box
Landscape architect Edmund Hollander envisioned a sleek infinity pool that integrates an elevated spa and a lounging pool deck. A planting bed containing a weeping Japanese maple and ornamental grasses cuts into the pool, visually dividing the deep and shallow ends.
“The grasses tie into the meadow in the background, and the infinity edge helps create the feeling of a reflecting pool,” explains Hollander. “The key to knitting this into the property is thinking of the pool, lounging area, and plantings as part of a larger composition.”
4. Select plants that are both beautiful and functional
Frederico Azevedo of Unlimited Earth Care used white Calamintha to construct a border around this raised pool deck, helping to veil the elevation change and blending the pool deck into the rest of the garden.
“Calamintha is an appropriate plant to have near water because its herbaceous scent repels mosquitoes,” notes Azevedo. Terracotta planters filled with purple Scaevolas accent the stairs and corners, while a cluster of Annabelle hydrangeas serves as a focal point at the far edge.
5. Choose plants suitable for their environment
On one side of this clean and simple pool area is a stone wall that divides the upper terrace from the pool terrace. Because the plantings are located against the masonry wall and are exposed to full sun, Janet Cavanagh selected hearty catnip and grasses to separate the two areas. These are also great for low maintenance gardens as they take little work to keep going.
“Catnip grows fast and well in a hot environment, and if you cut it back it will actually bloom for a second time during the summer,” she says. “It’s also a good alternative to lavender in areas where that doesn’t grow well. It’s always a good idea to mass-plant something that will be in bloom for an extended period.”
6. Incorporate multifunctional plantings and materials
Landscape architect Janice Parker cleverly disguised required pool safety fencing by layering hedges, crabapples, and hydrangeas. “These lush plantings also serve as a simple and beautiful privacy solution,” explains Parker.
Immediately surrounding the pool are bluestone paths and terraces with grass jointing “that create a strong verdant framework based on axial lines.”
7. Be experimental
Frederico Azevedo placed a series of identical flower beds at the edge of the pool, curating views of the water from the home, the pool house, and the rest of the garden.
“This is my interpretation of a formal garden, which traditionally features geometric axes,” explains the landscape designer. “Framed views of the pool act as the centerpieces, and the axes are formed by the straight grass paths between the flowerbeds.”
8. Use design elements to enhance the property
The curved lines of the landscaping at this hilltop property - which drops off beyond the pool area - informed the shape of the pool itself, which features a rounded corner that mimics the contour of the land.
Three types of daylilies deliver beautiful yellow color from early spring through the fall, while roses provide a pop of red.
“These clients are tremendous gardeners, so this simple pool area is all about summer blooms and maximum color,” says Janet Cavanagh.
9. Take advantage of the pool's reflective quality
Colorful perennials and a hedge are planted on a berm at the far end of this elegant L-shaped pool and spa area. “The raised plantings paint the water with bright reflections,” says Frederico Azevedo.
A retaining wall supports the plantings and prevents them from sloping to the lower level, where another flower bed makes for a pretty view for swimmers looking over the edge of the pool.
10. Tailor the pool area to your needs
Honey locust trees add a sculptural element near the pool at this hilltop residence. Janet Cavanagh enhanced the existing pool area—previously designed by Shepard Butler Landscape Associates—by extending the coping on one end to accommodate both a dining area and a new pergola large enough for a sitting area and two umbrellas. Anyone else thinking about a garden bar?!
“We added some native plantings that include various types of ferns as well as a small area of grass between the sitting and dining areas where young children can crawl and play,” notes Cavanagh.
How do I landscape around my pool on a budget?
“Pools are double the cost of what they once were,” says Janet Cavanagh. “However, the planting budget is hardly anything compared to the entire cost of the pool area. The pool itself, masonry work, and practical issues like water and electricity can run up the price per square foot.”
To avoid this, Cavanagh suggests limiting the coping and masonry work such as stone walls and terraces. When it comes to saving on plantings, Cavanagh favors a minimalist aesthetic, which, she says, “is what many clients are wanting right now anyway.”
Alyssa Bird is a New York−based freelance writer and editor with experience covering architecture, interior design, travel, hospitality, and real estate. She has held editorial positions at Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Hamptons Cottages & Gardens, and New York Cottages &Gardens. When she’s not writing about dreamy spaces, you can find her tweaking the decor in her own Brooklyn home, honing her green thumb, testing out a new recipe, or scouring for antiques.
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