Creating a backyard oasis takes considered planning and good design.
With the right plant selections a backyard pool area is transformed into a private oasis, providing luscious shade and setting the scene for memorable outdoor entertaining and enjoyment. However, the choice of plants can be the difference between hours of pleasure or pain for pool owners — so it’s important to learn more about plantings that drastically reduce pool maintenance and optimise the joys of pool ownership, leaving more time to dive in and enjoy.
Consulting a professional landscape designer can add value to your project and ensure a coordinated and structured plan. However, if you are going it alone, here are some suggestions to make it easier. There are a few fundamentals to consider when choosing poolside plantings.
Size, position and maintenance
Firstly, the design and plant placement should consider the size and position of the pool in relation to boundary fences and structure. It must also ensure plans are compliant with local building authority and council regulations. When choosing poolside plants, check growing guides to ensure the new tree or shrub won’t outgrow the space. Plants will ideally be there for a while, so make sure you aren’t planting a tree that will reach 10 metres in a few years’ time.
Secondly, consider the maintenance and pruning required to keep plants manageable. Steer clear of plants with invasive root systems that might interfere with the pool structure, paving or underground plumbing. Select plants that will be hardy enough to withstand the harsh conditions of reflective heat from the pool and surrounding areas.
Finally, keeping the pool pristine and crystal clear is a high priority. Consider the effect that falling leaves, flowers or berries may have on filtration and cleaning equipment, as well as possible staining of paving or coping.
Picture the scene
Once all potential sources of headache for pool owners have been mitigated, the next step is to consider the landscape. Imagine a beautiful, naturally shaded seating area around the pool, with tall evergreen screening to maintain privacy and attractive flowering ground cover and shrubs adding perfume and colour.
Let’s start with setting the stage for the garden design. Large trees and hedging are a great way to create cooling shade, build a backdrop to smaller plantings and provide screening from the neighbour’s yard. Laurus ‘Green Stem’ is a Bay Laurel that creates a fantastic hedge and is particularly suited to the temperate south-eastern climate. It features dark-green foliage and stunning bright green new growth and just needs a clip twice a year to maintain a manicured formal look.
Acmena ‘Firescreen’ is a low-maintenance lilly pilly featuring glossy mid-green foliage and coppery new growth that fades to bronze. It has few berries and is quick growing, making it ideal for privacy. For a classic design, Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’ and Magnolia ‘St Mary’ are evergreen magnolias that grow in a wide variety of conditions. Both produce beautiful fragrant flowers during the warmer months. Prunus lusitanica is another hedging shrub that produces glossy dark-green leaves with slender spikes of small, scented white flowers in late spring and creates a dense, thick dark-green screen when clipped. Any flower drop can be limited with a little summer pruning.
For a bigger block, Magnolia alba is a large evergreen tree featuring delicate small flowers and grows to around six metres tall. It’s ideal as a large informal screen and on a warm humid night, the scent from the flowers will fill the garden with its fragrant perfume.
Create some depth with secondary hedging or interest with more informal plantings. Ficus ‘Figaro’ is a super-tough evergreen shrub with lush green foliage producing very little mess from dropping leaves or dead flowers. It can be grown and shaped into tight narrow positions. Viburnum odoratissimum 'Dense Fence' is another dense, fast growing, evergreen shrub featuring rounded olive-green foliage with subtle red new growth. It is excellent for creating privacy and ideal for coastal gardens.
Cycas revoluta — also known as the sago palm — is another exceptionally hardy plant featuring dark-green foliage. It will grow in most conditions and is ideal for recreating a tropical resort ‘look and feel’ garden.
It is important to create a refuge from the sun near the pool. This can be achieved through built structures or by incorporating specific plants that create cool shelter from the heat. Grown from deciduous Plane Trees or large-leafed Maples, Living Pergolas stand approximately three metres tall. The foliage is trained horizontally along a trellised wire, creating a living roof structure that provides shade in summer and dappled sun in winter. It is ideal for creating an entertaining area near the pool and a proud sculptural statement.
It is tempting to assume that evergreen varieties have a natural advantage over deciduous trees when planted near pools. While deciduous trees do drop their leaves, they tend to do so only once a year in late autumn, when the pool is less likely to be used. Meanwhile, some evergreen varieties drop small leaf amounts all year round, so it’s important to carefully select the right varieties and minimise the need for leaf skimming through the summer months.
Use smaller underplantings to create a contemporary look and visually soften the hard lines of pool paving and fencing. Philodendron ‘Xanadu’ is popular for its lush foliage and dramatically lobed leaves and can be planted in drifts for a mass tropical display. Buxus microphylla is another small, rounded evergreen shrub that is densely foliated with bright-green, glossy leaves. It is ideal for planting individually under trees or as a small clipped hedge and performs well in semi-shaded areas. It also grows well in decorative pots or containers for a formal look.
Other smaller plantings to create texture and colour close to ground are Liriope ‘El Marco’, an evergreen perennial, perfect for use in modern native, tropical and formal designs and Rhaphiolepis ‘Spring Pearl’, which features dark-green leathery leaves. This evergreen shrub is a great low-maintenance choice for beside the pool. You can add texture to the garden with the stunning and sculptural Ligularia reniformis; a lush perennial that features large, glossy, dark-green ‘tractor seat’ foliage and is great for underplanting a pleached hedge or feature tree. Remember, when selecting any flowering plants, look for summer blooming varieties that can be enjoyed at their best during the pool season.
By getting the foundations right, the backyard pool is transformed into a backyard sanctuary. An escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy weekday just a few steps away from the back door. Without a garden to complement it, the outdoor pool is simply an amenity, so it is important to take the time to create a design that works best and choose healthy, well-grown plants from a quality nursery. Speak with knowledgeable staff at garden centres and consider all the key points covered above to create the perfect poolside garden that will be enjoyed for years to come.
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