Bathing - Outdoor Experiences - Garden Design (2015)

Garden Design (2015)

Outdoor Experiences


SWIMMING AND BATHING facilities add shimmering features to a design, and heighten the enjoyment of a garden, providing space for exercise and relaxation.


Swimming in your own pool offers unrivalled opportunities for exercise, relaxation, therapy and, most of all, fun. But they can be expensive to install and run, so take time to plan a pool and consider the cost and time of the maintenance required before you buy.

Swimming pools in the UK are generally considered ‘permitted development’ if not positioned beyond the principle elevation fronting a highway, such as a front garden, but it’s worth checking that your proposals meet local regulations just in case. Particularly in temperate areas, pools are best sited in a sunny, sheltered spot, shielded for privacy by hedges or fences.

There are many styles on offer, ranging from formal geometric pools to free-form and naturalistic shapes. Pools can be raised from the ground or partially or completely sunken. Or you can choose an infinity pool (where the water surface seems to flow out seamlessly into the landscape, usually from a dramatic vantage point) or brimming pools. This style will require additional balancing tanks and pumps to maintain the effect.

Pools can be heated to extend usage, especially valuable in cooler areas, but will need covering when not in use and in winter. If the pool is some distance from the house, a changing room may also be needed. This could form an extension to a glazed summerhouse, ideal for relaxing in on cooler days, and for providing shade from hot sun. A garden building next to a pool also offers the perfect venue for parties and other social occasions.

Prices are influenced by the pool style and specifications, construction materials, which include concrete, fibreglass or vinyl, location, access to the site, and underlying ground conditions. Your supplier will advise you on the costs.

Swimming pools: points to consider

Balance what you need the pool for with how often it will be used and by whom.

Shop around for solutions that best meet your needs, and which are appropriate for your site.

Include all the elements that will make using the pool as comfortable as possible, such as changing facilities, sun terrace and lighting for evening use.

Consider the additional costs of upkeep and maintaining the pool to high standards of cleanliness.

Ensure adequate provisions for the safe use of the facility by all age groups and users.

Employ contractors with expertise in pool construction to build the pool and surrounding landscaping.

“Heat exchange pumps are energy- and cost-effective pool heaters, and consider an electronic dosage system, which accurately monitors and adjusts the chemicals in the water, avoiding unnecessary treatments.”



Even small gardens can include a pool to add to the enjoyment of the garden. The simplest products are made from moulded plastic or vinyl-lined metal-plated tanks, and models can be sunk into, or partially or fully raised above the ground. For more energetic exercise, consider a lap pool, where swimmers encounter a strong pump-generated current that holds them in position. Other options include spas and plunge pools with heated and jetted water for hydrotherapy or exercise via submerged treadmills. Units can either be dismantled and stored for the winter or remain outdoors as permanent installations, perhaps located in heated garden rooms for year-round use, or under roofed structures to provide shelter in inclement summer weather.

Pools for small spaces: points to consider

Calculate who is to use the pool, the nature of the activities required and amount of use it will receive.

If the pool will be temporarily installed for summer use, ensure you have adequate facilities to store it in winter.

Consider whether it is best sunk into, partially raised or free standing above the ground.

Determine whether the pool will be on show or shrouded from view with appropriate landscaping and plants, which will need to be planned into the build.

Assess the maintenance and running costs of the pool.

Purchase products from a reputable company that offers guarantees and after-sales service.


Hot tubs are popular and suitable for most gardens, especially when used to complement other bathing facilities or where a swimming pool would be too large or expensive. The tanks of temperature-controlled water include submerged seating and adjustable jets that create a range of sensations. Units made from moulded plastic or wood are widely available, and they can be freestanding or submerged into the ground, often inset into raised timber-decked patios or dedicated bathing areas. LED lighting facilitates their use at night. Hot tub prices are determined by the design, functions, and degree of innovation, but also remember to factor in the on-going costs of chemicals and maintenance.

Hot tubs: points to consider

Appraise the size and design of various units for one that best suits your purpose and style of garden.

Decide where it would be best located to work in concert with other features and your garden setting.

Determine whether it should be free standing or sunk into decking or a patio.

Evaluate the time involved and cost of running and maintaining the unit to requisite standards of health and safety - a hot tub can be a health hazard if the unit and water are not clean.

Consider a roofed or covered structure to extend its use.

Always buy from reputable companies that provide a guarantee or warranty and after-sales service.


Natural pools marry the lifestyle attractions of a traditional swimming pool with the environmental attributes of a natural pond, with aquatic plants and wildlife forming an integral part of the system. Rather than using chemical purifiers, water in natural pools is pumped through biological filters and plant roots in an area known as a ‘regeneration zone’, which keep the water clean, clear and pure enough for bathing. The plants grow in a walled bed, the top of which is 20cm (8in) below the water level. Some natural pools can be heated, depending on the size and technical design, and the surface area available for swimming can be anywhere between 20 to 75 per cent. In small gardens, you could opt for a chlorine-free, unplanted pool, sometimes referred to as a ‘living’ pool. This uses a system of biological filters, and 100 per cent of the surface area is available for swimming.

A natural pool generally costs as much as a conventional pool to build but, when properly installed in the right location, avoiding trees and shade, the maintenance and running costs are lower. You can also convert a conventional pool into a natural one; existing ponds may also be converted, but you will need to get them evaluated for suitability.

Before committing to a natural pool, investigate manufacturers and suppliers, the range of products on offer, and the various technologies available, as well as guarantees and after-sales service. Also ask to look at mature examples of suppliers’ work.


This natural pool, in a garden designed by Wilson McWilliam, provides a chlorine-free swimming experience.


A freeform-shaped swimming pool is mirrored by the curves of the lawn, visually anchoring the features together in the space.



A brimming pool where the water level is continually kept topped up to the edge creates a serene and charismatic feature.



Compact ‘endless’ exercise pools and swim spas, which allow users to swim against a controllable current, can fit into tiny gardens and courtyards.


A changing room, pool and lounge built into a slope allow unimpeded views of the landscape from the house above.



An infinity pool conveys a seamless transition between the water and landscape beyond and is best sited where the pool overlooks the sea or a lake, or in an elevated position.



An automatic pool cover is well worth the extra expense; it helps to keep the water clean and prevents heat from escaping when it is not in use and over winter.



A sunken hot tub in a timber-decked patio provides breathtaking panoramic views of the seascape beyond. Sinking a pool or tub into a patio integrates it into the setting and enhances the design style.



Hot tubs can be intrusive but the timber cladding on this one melds into the screen behind, transforming it into a decorative design feature. A pergola clad with climbing plants further shrouds the bathing area.