Cool Pools

Beautiful plantings make outdoor design go swimmingly.




Lake Sunapee is the splendid backdrop for Miriam and Charlie Nelson’s backyard pool and cheery garden featuring Shasta daisies, low-growing juniper and a bubbling fountain. 

Swimming pools are for much more than swimming. Increasingly, they are focal points of outdoor spaces; together with an outdoor kitchen and seating area, swimming pools create comfortable spaces to entertain guests.

Recently, two Granite State homeowners used lush landscaping to seamlessly integrate their backyard pools into natural spaces, creating enjoyable entertainment space for themselves and guests.

New landscape incorporates pool

Miriam and Charlie Nelson’s backyard pool was an opportunity to build out their existing landscape and enhance the property’s sweeping views of Lake Sunapee. The couple purchased their twenty-seven-year-old home, located on Burpee Hill in New London, in 2011. They also purchased the abutting property, removing an old farmhouse as well as some trees, and replacing an old garage with a new post-and-beam barn. “It opened up views from the street and our property,” Charlie says. The home had existing gardens and an in-ground swimming pool in the back yard, but the couple wanted to refresh the landscaping.

Now it’s not just the views of Lake Sunapee from their property that make local drivers take notice: the home’s gardens are equally showstopping.

Miriam Nelson enjoys creating colorful container gardens, like this urn with ornamental grass, pink calibrachoa and white sweet alyssum.

In the back yard, where cows can be seen grazing just beyond the stone walls bordering the property, the couple expanded the stone terrace around the pool, installing a hot tub. “The former homeowners put in the pool, but we wanted to enhance the lovely property and add our own colors and tastes,” Miriam says.

Landscaper Joanna Murphy, of JP Murphy in South Sutton, worked with the property’s prior owners and works with the current owners as well: “I came with the property,” she laughs. She works closely with Miriam to plan and plant the gardens, which mix perennials and annuals in a simple color palette that strikes a balance between Murphy’s preference for hot colors and Miriam’s love of pink and yellow. “I grew up on the Cape, and this home reminds me of the old-fashioned houses there,” Murphy says. “So when I planned the garden, I thought of the flowers you see on the Cape, like daisies. I wanted to make it cheery and pleasing to the eye, especially in places where you’re sitting and enjoying the pool.”

In the back yard, the original garden between the pool and the house was mostly yellow daylilies. A few still remain, but most were replaced with an assortment of plants, including Shasta daisies, low-growing juniper, Russian sage, Shenandoah switchgrass, Roseanne geranium and petunias, Miriam’s favorite. “We really spiffed that area up,” she says. “The Shasta daisies love it there, and the petunias add color.”

Doug Sassaman and Lorena Hart relax in the Larsons’ plunge pool. 

There’s also an herb garden— including oregano, basil and lavender—right off the kitchen, and another garden on the side of the house blooming with perennials and annuals, including Shasta daisies and delphinium. Miriam also plants container gardens that are placed throughout the property.

Now the Nelsons’ garden reflects their tastes and, together with their pool, helps frame the lake views. “We love our backyard views,” Miriam says. “We’re so lucky.”

A pool that’s part of the landscape

Karen and Brian Larson discovered the joys of an outdoor, saltwater, plunge pool while vacationing at a Vermont resort several years ago. Deeper than a hot tub and smaller than a regular backyard pool, a plunge pool is for relaxing and lounging—not swimming laps. The couple wanted a similar pool for their Madbury home but couldn’t find affordable options. So they decided to design and build one themselves; Brian worked with engineers to design and build a workable concept. “He designed the pool with the idea that if we proved the concept at our own house, we could develop a business,” Karen says.

They succeeded. The couple now owns Soake Pools, manufacturing and installing pre-cast concrete plunge pools; Karen is president of the company. Soake Pools are less expensive than in-ground pools because they’re prefabricated, and come pre-tiled and ready to install. Depending on the look homeowners want, pools can be installed flush to the ground or raised to create more seating.

The Larsons’ bluestone-topped pool is not only a relaxing retreat but a focal point for their expansive back yard. “We have a huge yard,” Karen says. “The biggest challenge was making sure the pool wasn’t dwarfed by it.”

The Larsons worked with Robbi Woodburn and Victoria Martel­—of Woodburn & Company Landscape Architecture, LLC in Newmarket—to create an inviting backyard environment. “Karen and Brian already had a bluestone patio and they wanted it to inform the location of the pool,” Martel says. The Larsons’ pool is seven feet by thirteen feet. “We decided to install the pool raised eighteen inches off the ground, making it easier to get in and out of,” Martel says. “We also wanted the surrounding landscape to provide year-round interest, since Karen and Brian are in and out of the pool all year.”

Bluestone pavers and stairs lead to the pool, which is veneered on all four sides with natural stone (all stone is from Atlas Stoneworks of Cape Neddick, Maine, which also supplied the bluestone coping around the pool). The pool interior, lined with earthy-gray porcelain tile, appears blue in the sun. Surrounded by tall grasses and plants—including catnip, black-eyed Susans, Knockout roses, salvia and hydrangea—the pool blends naturally into the Larsons’ landscape. “The pool adds beauty and a social center to our back yard,” Karen says. “Now we have a gathering area to sit, and plantings that bloom throughout the season. It’s a great place to be.”



Landscaper Joanna Murphy, of JP Murphy in South Sutton, was inspired by the colors and flowers found on Cape Cod when she helped the Nelsons plan and plant their gardens. 


The brick walkway leading to the Nelsons’ home is lined with colorful perennials, such as white Shasta daisies, blue delphinium, Raspberry Wine bee balm, yellow Moonshine yarrow and purple salvia. 

To open up views from the street and also from their property, the Nelsons replaced an old garage with a new post-and-beam barn (left) Red hollyhocks (right) are among the perennials growing along the barn’s façade.

Left: The Larsons’ pool is a perfect backdrop for a gathering on the patio that included, from left, Melissa Walker (seated), landscape architect Robbi Woodburn, Lorena Hart, Doug Sassaman, Karen Parr, Mark Henderson, Sybli Clark, Kristan Bishop, Karen Larson and Brian Larson. Furnishings are by Madbury Road.

Right: Partners on the Larsons’ pool project included, from left, homeowners Karen Larson and Brian Larson; and Robbi Woodburn and Victoria Martel of Woodburn & Company Landscape Architecture, LLC in Newmarket.


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