Landscape Design 101: Pools of Space

By November 10, 2009November 22nd, 2011One Comment
by Julie Moir Messervy

Unify the elements of your property using a little trick from nature: learn to create an integrated and intentional pool of space in your Home Outside.

Circular “ponds” of gravel (L) and bluestone (R). Photos: Grey Crawford; Design: L: Julie Moir Messervy; R: Sukie Amory.

Nature creates pools of water effortlessly: water collects at a low point, becomes a pool, and creates a distinct place and becomes the center of the space around it. You can borrow from nature to create your own pools, using a variety of materials to either echo the look and feel of water, as with the gravel pond (above left), or carve out a pool of space in which to be, like the bluestone sitting terrace (above right). Designing the open space of a landscape as a “pool”—whether of actual water or gravel, sand, or even plantings or turf—allows you to create a pleasing form in an otherwise amorphous landscape. A pool needs a clean edge for the shoreline, so it’s important to use contrasting materials, such as steel or wood on end, or create a line of cobbles, brick, or stone.

The best way to make your pool look natural is to employ different size stones and leave spaces for plantings, just as Mother Nature does. Also, I shy away from using plastic or other manmade materials as edgings, because they tend not to lose their sheen or develop a natural patina and ultimately do not integrate well with the landscape.

Adapted from: Outside the Not So Big House (Taunton Press, 2006) by Julie Moir Messervy and Sarah Susanka. All photos by Grey Crawford.
Two different but well-edged pools. Photos: Grey Crawford; Design: L: Cynthia Knauf; R: Judy Harmon.

A pond or swimming pool offer examples for non-watery applications in our homes outside. Note the importance of the shoreline edge in these examples—At left, the pond is edged with grass; at right, the grassy “pool” is edged with plantings.

Pools of space edged with stone. Photos: Grey Crawford; Design: L: Gary Koller; R: Scott Shannon.

In this pairing, the swimming pool is edged with flat fieldstone coping; the lawn oval is delineated with bluestone pavers.


Two angular pools. Photos: Grey Crawford; Design: L: Sandra Youssef Clinton, ASLA; R: Gary Koller.

Pools can be rectangular, raised, small or large. Here two actual pools–a geometric lily pond (left) and a shallow water basin (right) echo the rectangular lawn panel set apart from surrounding plantings by a cut-stone walkway.

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