Story by Ann Butenas
Even though your backyard may have a spectacular swimming pool that is the star of the show, pool landscape design is a vital and highly integral player on that particular stage. Landscape designers can bring creativity and design expertise to appropriately and artfully provide the framework for that masterpiece. It’s nice to know there are proven experts in the field to show you exactly what works and what might not work when it comes to the ambiance, privacy, color, texture and overall environment in which your backyard oasis will thrive.
Landscape design adds another layer of intense beauty to the area to complement the relaxing effect of the swimming pool. This is the place where you want to gather with your family to relax and spend quality time. It will also add tremendous luxury and elegance to your home while simultaneously offering a casual and welcoming vibe. And, if well executed, it will naturally increase the resale value of your home considerably.
Gilbert Hermes, Residential Division Manager for Hermes Landscaping, typically asks the question, “What will bring folks outside and engage them in the landscape?” Clearly, the pool in and of itself is a huge draw, but there are other engaging elements that can make the space even more exciting.
KCH&S: Why should I consider incorporating landscape designs into my backyard swimming pool area? Isn’t the pool itself enough?
HERMES: Having a pool gives you the opportunity to interact with people and nature, and landscape design experts know exactly how to incorporate a blend of landscape and hardscape, creating a true outdoor living space that might even include a grill, bar and kitchen area. It’s all about the fun.
KCH&S: Before I make my list of what plants I’d like to install in my backyard landscape design, are there some I should avoid in this particular region of the country?
HERMES: There are functional questions in addition to aesthetic considerations. For instance, even though roses are commonly used in landscapes – and it’s great to use them – it’s best to put them at a distance from the pool because of their thorns. You also have to be careful about flowers that will attract bees and butterflies, which you probably don’t want buzzing around too close to you while you are relaxing poolside. For example, the Rose of Sharon is one plant that greatly attracts bees and ants. Flowering perennials are also tricky in that they give off too much debris which will ultimately end up in your pool.
KCH&S: What types of plants and flowers are best to use here in the Midwest?
HERMES: We like to incorporate plants that have leaves with vibrant color even if there aren’t flowers. It is important to use plants that provide a tropical feel and pops of color but are still hardy for our climate. The Tiger Eye Sumac, for example, has foliage that is extremely colorful. We also like to use Summer Wine Ninebark for its deep purple leaves and hardy native characteristics. Some other favorite plants include Fineline Buckthorn, Yews, Boxwood, Upright Juniper, ornamental grasses and hydrangea.
KCH&S: What types of trees work best for backyard pool design in this particular climate?
HERMES: Small ornamental evergreen trees work well, such as the Blue Atlas Cedar, upright Juniper, or Globe Blue Spruce. It is also important to take into consideration the size and stature of plant material. Try to avoid using plants that will grow too large over time. You should take into consideration the mature height of the plant, because if it’s five or six feet tall now, it may grow to 20 feet and become a problem. Additionally, it is a good idea to add a bit of evergreen, as that will provide the space some focus and color in the winter months. You should also use plants that are somewhat tolerant to chlorine, and a lot of the native plants and grasses tend to hold up to that fairly well.
KCH&S: Important question: Rock or mulch?
HERMES: We always like to go with river rock in areas close to the pool. Mulch tends to be a bit messier and can end up in the water.
KCH&S: What other tips and ideas can you share when designing the landscape in and around a backyard pool area?
HERMES: There are a lot of elements at work where an experienced designer can bring a great outcome. For instance, part of being by the pool is about enjoying the sun. But sometimes you need a gentle retreat from it. And if so, the placement of a pergola should be thought through from the beginning. Or perhaps trees that offer dappled shade. And if you think you will enjoy the pool at dusk, what is the best way to integrate lighting?
Finally for me personally, quick access to citrus and herbs is totally key. I like fresh lime in my margaritas; fresh mint in my mojitos; and basil, rosemary and dill should be available for a number of things that come off the grill poolside.