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Landscape Ideas: Garden Design for a Swimming Pool Area

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Landscape Ideas: Garden Design for a Swimming Pool Area

July 8, 2018

Landscaping a swimming pool area is a different challenge for everyone, just as the design of each house and garden is unique. But when it comes to choosing pool landscape plants there are some universal considerations: easy maintenance, privacy, safety, the right size, and scent.

Many swimming pool owners aren’t sure where to start to create the desired look, whether it’s a tropical oasis or a modern, minimalist retreat. Here we answer a few questions to help you begin your pool landscaping journey.

(N.B.: Coming next week—a list of our favorite landscape plants for swimming pool areas, with suggestions for every climate.)

Photography by Matthew Williams for Gardenista, except where noted.

What is the first step to take when landscaping a pool area?

Succulents are a good design choice; they stay green year-round and won&#8
Above: Succulents are a good design choice; they stay green year-round and won’t shed leaves into the water.

Design is the starting point. Choose a planting theme, such as modern or tropical, and of course, keep in mind your existing landscape and home architecture so that all the elements complement one another. Your pool area still requires the consideration of basic garden design elements of scale, proportion, balance, color, and texture.

What are the best low-maintenance pool landscape plants?

Tropical plants are suitable for a swimming pool area in a warm climate such as Los Angeles.
Above: Tropical plants are suitable for a swimming pool area in a warm climate such as Los Angeles.

Choose plants that keep their leaves all year so that you don’t have a leaf mess. Also choose evergreen grass-like plants such as lomandra, phormium, and liriope, which don’t need to be cut back (and you won’t be chasing cut blades around the garden after pruning).

Avoid messy plants that drop leaves, needles, fruits, or nuts. A key goal should be to minimize the amount of leaf debris. Not only do certain paper-thin and tiny flowers (crepe myrtle, bougainvillea, azalea) clog pool filters, but fruits and berries from trees can drop and stain the pool hardscape.

What are the best pool landscape plants for privacy?

Edging a swimming pool in Los Angeles, black Cantera stone pavers set in a herringbone pattern are “grouted” with plugs of turfgrass. For more of this project, see our new book Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylist Outdoor Spaces.
Above: Edging a swimming pool in Los Angeles, black Cantera stone pavers set in a herringbone pattern are “grouted” with plugs of turfgrass. For more of this project, see our new book Gardenista: The Definitive Guide to Stylist Outdoor Spaces.

Consider the perimeter area of your space, and be aware of any exposed views. Relaxing in your swimsuit in full view of the neighbors feels like swimming in a fishbowl. Start at the fence line and landscape your way in, incorporating different layers and heights and being mindful of deciduous trees that in winter may suddenly open up an unwanted view.

What safety issues should I consider when choosing pool landscape plants?

A tightly clipped hedge of Pittosporum tobira at water&#8
Above: A tightly clipped hedge of Pittosporum tobira at water’s edge creates privacy without blocking views.

Despite my deep loyalty and support for pollinators, I suggest avoiding plants adored by bees to minimize accidental stings. Also, as mentioned above, avoid any plant with spikes, thorns, or sharp blades that may hang into the pool (that means you Miscanthus, yucca, and cactus). Another point to remember: Any ground covers planted around the pool should not attract our buzzy friends.

What size plants are best for a swimming pool area?

Garden designer Matthew Brown judiciously pruned mature California pepper trees (Schinus molle) to create an airy canopy around a new swimming pool in Los Angeles.
Above: Garden designer Matthew Brown judiciously pruned mature California pepper trees (Schinus molle) to create an airy canopy around a new swimming pool in Los Angeles.

Do your homework and find out how far a certain plant’s root system travels so you won’t get roots in your water pipes or cracks in your hardscape. Also, consider a plant’s height at maturity so your chosen plant does not overtake the pool space or become a pool intruder that hangs over the edge of the water.

Related, make sure walkways and the lounging area are not too crowded with plants. There is a fine line between a tropical oasis and an overgrown jungle.

What fragrant plants are best for a swimming pool area?

Jasmine and roses. Photograph by Olga Berrio via Flickr.
Above: Jasmine and roses. Photograph by Olga Berrio via Flickr.

Nothing smells lovelier than nature’s own perfume, so be sure to add a few scented plants near the pool, spa, or patio. Also consider night-scented flowers: Your after-hour swims could be enhanced by flowers that release their sweetness at night and add a luminous glow.

N.B.: Looking for more ideas? See more pool landscape schemes:

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