Poolside Planting

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If you're building a pool or installing a hot tub and you are not considering the surrounding landscape, shame on you. Please do join us in the 21st century! As anyone can see by browsing any magazine stand, the outdoor room is a hot concept these days. And while the pool or hot tub is often the centerpiece, homeowners today want the whole package.

While you probably won't be selecting plant material or preparing the beds, you are likely to be working with β€”maybe even for β€” a landscape professional. It can only make you a better builder if you take the time to understand a few of the basics about planting around the pool.

There isn't a Yellow Pages listing for "Pool and Plant Expert," but we found one anyway. Lee Anne White, former editor of Fine Gardening magazine and author of The Pool Idea Book (which you'll find reviewed on page 20), is an accomplished photographer, editor and writer with more than 15 books to her credit. She is also a passionate garden designer. We consulted her as we compiled this short backgrounder which could be called "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Poolside Planting Even Though You're Not Going To Do It Yourself."

Build An Outdoor Room

"People are spending more time outside, in fact they are finding that they can almost double the space of their home by shifting activities outdoors in nice weather, which is really great," says White. "There are a number of things that landscaping will do around the pool. Probably the most important to the homeowner is to create an inviting atmosphere for outdoor living."

And judicious planting advances the idea of a complete, unified environment. "It serves the purpose of uniting your pool with your home and the surrounding landscape so that they are not three different elements, rather they really all work together," she says.

Who's The Boss?

Pool builders are used to working with other trades. Sometimes the pool builder is the subcontractor, other times he's the general contractor. Whatever the chain of command, it's always good to know the players and what to expect from them.

"Lots of times if there's a landscape architect involved, they will sort of head up the whole project and they'll bring in a pool builder," says White. "Other times, especially if homeowners have been living in a place for a while, they'll go to a pool builder first and then the pool builder is the one who says, 'Well, you need to think about your landscaping, too.'"

In some cases on a new-construction project, the architect will design the pool. "Architects don't usually get involved in a lot of landscaping, but they will lots of times be involved in the pool design," White says.

In the landscaping world, there are several levels of expertise, from landscape architect to laborer. A landscape architect has formal training and a degree, and is almost always licensed by the state.

"Their emphasis tends to be hardscaping. In fact a lot of them design pools," says White. "Most but not all of them do not have as much plant experience. Landscape designers tend to have much more plant experience, but also deal with some hardscaping; they may or may not have formal training, and they may or may not have some kind of certification."

Garden designers usually do not get involved with hardscape or structures. "Their real specialty is plants, and creating gardens," says White.

If you're hiring the landscaper (and even if you're not), White suggests emphasizing communication and identifying goals: "How is the space going to be used by the homeowner.

Is it for entertaining. Are they really looking for a private area. Do they need a lawn for children to play on?"

What Are They Thinking?

Good designers work with the same basic elements, whether they are designing an interior, a garden, a pool or a home. Color, texture, scale, shape and function are all considerations. As a pool builder, you no doubt understand that it's important, for example, to choose pavers that give the deck the color to complement the coping and pool surface treatment, the texture to provide both visual interest and safe footing, and the scale suitable for the project. When siting a pool, you hopefully think about (among other things) the effect of the sunlight at different times of day, how and when the homeowners will use the pool and how the pool fits into the landscape.

But what about the landscape? Some dismiss landscaping as "just decoration" (although a convincing argument for the importance of decoration is easily made), but a designer deftly marries form and function, enhancing both. And whether you're hiring landscape professionals, or working alongside them, it's helpful to know how they make decisions and what they are thinking about.

Landscapers often use plantings to define spaces and delineate areas for different activities (or better still, inactivities). "You can use landscaping in particular to create a private space," says White. She suggests thinking of the landscape in much the same way one would approach an interior design. "Your .oor could be lawn, it could be alternative ground cover, it can be concrete, stone, brick, any of those kinds of materials," says White. "Walls can be fences, hedges, or mixed plantings. Outdoors your ceiling may be an arbor or a porch roof. It could be the open sky or it could be a tree canopy."

Landscapers can create green walls with the range of verdant hues found in evergreens like arborvitae, spruce, cedar, yew or holly. "There are different shades of green to consider," White says. "If you look at conifers, there are green-greens, yellow-greens, and there are trees that have almost blue foliage. And that can give a lot of interest." Especially in cold climates, she suggests a layer of trees or shrubs that change with the seasons. "In addition to the evergreens, come back in with a layer of deciduous plants β€” those that lose their leaves in winter β€” they can be small ornamental trees that maybe .ower in spring, and have beautiful leaf color in the fall, and berries in winter."

Landscapers choose plant material that enhances the style of the home and the pool. A brick fence clad in English ivy sets a formal tone for a traditional rectangular pool. The cheerful pink of a rambling rose clambering along a privacy fence sets a backdrop for an exuberant flower garden with sonorous water features nearby. The homeowner may want to screen the pool area from outside view for privacy, or because it is less attractive in the off season. On the other hand, the pool and its botanical accessories may be the star of the view from the house.

Plantings can provide texture and scent, too. Fragrant creeping thyme planted between stepping stones or pavers, or tucked into planting spots on a stone bench, soften the look of stone or masonry. The tiny leaves release a pleasant fragrance when passersby brush against the plant.

Versatile Vessels

To create a private, cozy outdoor space, White suggests using evergreens as effective screening elements and a source of all-season interest. To really add color and versatility, White uses container gardens extensively.

"Containers can move around. You can change what's in them from season to season,"says White. "But what's fun on the patio or the deck or some area overlooking the pool is you can actually take that space, whatever kind of paved space you have, and break it up into smaller areas by using containers to create sort of artificial walls.

"I'll cluster pots around posts, or I'll put a line of container plants somewhere, to help create a separate dining area away from the area where we might lounge."

Tropical plants are gaining popularity in temperate zones where they can be used as annuals. So don't assume the landscaper has made a mistake when your Chicago-area building site receives a shipment of banana trees. A container planted with fast-growing taro, brilliantly flowering canna and colorful mandevilla vine brings the tropics to temperate zones.

Choose Wisely

Not all plants are suitable for poolside planting. The landscaper will consider maintenance and safety in addition to color and form when selecting plant material.

"Plants that are very close to the pool should have a very neat habit," says White. "There are certain trees, and river birch and crepe myrtle are two that come to mind, that drop something almost every day of the year; twigs or leaves or berries or flowers. When we bought our house, there were three absolutely beautiful mature crepe myrtles that were fairly close to the pool, and all I ever did was sweep. I could sweep five times a day and I couldn't keep up."

Trees with expansive root systems should also be avoided near the pool. "They can wreak havoc on paving and the pipes beneath the ground," White says.

Landscapers can enhance safety with their choice of plant material. Messy plants β€” those that drop flowers, fruits or leaves that can become slippery on the pool deck, should be planted well back from the pool.

"I would avoid anything that has prickly leaves or thorns too close to the pool," White says. "When kids are running around barefoot, they don't like to step on those.

"I love flowers right up to the pool deck, but I would avoid any that really attract bees. Chances are the bees aren't going to sting, but they can tend to scare children."

The popularity of the outdoor room is good news for the industry. While a pool or hot tub is a must-have item, homeowners want an accessorized al fresco living space. While you might not be in the landscaping business, you're in a business that loves the landscape.

Paint With Plants

Think trees are just big and green. Think again. The bark of many deciduous trees is an oft-overlooked source of color and texture. Even better, the show goes on during winter months.


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