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Project Highlights


  • Style: Mediterranean
  • Intended use: To extend the view from the indoors, sunbathing, and entertaining
  • Features: Vanishing-edge pool, succulent garden, stone pathway, irrigation system, low-voltage landscape lighting, curved steps
  • Awards: 2010 Residential Merit Award, Association of Professional Landscape Designers
  • Contractor: Amelia B. Lima & Associates, San Diego

The design for this dramatic vanishing-edge pool for a hillside home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., gives the owner an uninterrupted view of a lake below, blurring the division between the water surfaces of pool and lake. A garden of aloes, agaves, succulents, and ornamental grasses creates color and textural contrast with the smooth expanse of water. Further drama is added by curved steps that connect an existing patio to a sunbathing area and echo the curved lines of the pool.

View towards the house at dusk. "In this project, the pool remains the focal point while the landscape and hardscape work together to complement and frame the view. The resulting overall feel is one of simplicity and elegance," says landscape designer Amelia Lima of Amelia B. Lima & Associates, San Diego.

Photo Credit: PanoramaUSA

Stepping stones connect the pool deck to the rest of the landscape and an existing stone path. "The homeowners were looking for a design that would connect the existing upper stone patio to the new pool. My intent was to create a seamless transition between three levels: the existing patio, the new pool deck, and a garden that connects to the existing landscape," says Lima.

A carpet of thyme is planted around the garden stepping stones. Steel edges installed in a sinuous pattern create a contrast with the gravel mulch and keep the thyme within its borders. At night, subtle illumination is provided by low-profile path lights placed outside the steel edge border.

Design tip:
Make your landscape a restful place. "People want to create more inviting backyards as a way to extend their living space, but also to have a resting and restorative place to go after their busy days," says Lima.

Low-voltage lighting (from Aurora) is hung from the nearby oak trees, and rope lights (from Tube Lighting Products) illuminate each step. "In the evening, the steps' curved lines become very distinct, and seem to float off into the night. The lights hung higher among the oak branches have a light-blue filter, and the final effect is of full moonlight shining down in rays, creating an intricate design on the walkway and garden," says Lima.

Design tip:
Use lighting to invite people to explore and prolong the enjoyment of your outdoor space.

Photo Credit: PanoramaUSA

Plants were chosen for their form, adaptability to the local climate, and to create color contrast. A drip irrigation system and a soaker hose buried under the soil around the stepping stones will provide the moisture necessary for the plantings to thrive without over-spraying the walkway.

Design tip:
Consider water requirements when selecting plant material. "In a Mediterranean-type climate, water is a luxury," says Lima. "The designer should always consider how efficiently such a precious resource is utilized. A plant palate that is in tune with the environment's limitations helps to minimize water and maintenance needs."

The new steps and pool deck were formed in concrete. The original stone patio was sawcut to create the curved lines.

Night view looking toward the house. The curved steps echo the curved lines of the new pool. French limestone, used for the coping on the steps, is a light cream color that contrasts beautifully with the water in the dark plaster pool.

Photo Credit: PanoramaUSA

The new pool was built on top of an existing pool that was about 7 or 8 feet below the house elevation. Decomposed granite was used to backfill around the new pool and to build the raised garden. Drains installed in strategic places around the landscape will guarantee fast drainage in case of heavy downpours.

Design tip:
Choose the right soil. "The selection of decomposed granite was largely motivated by my desire to populate the new landscape with mostly succulent plants. The material allows for good compaction when needed, while maintaining satisfactory drainage for the selected plant material," says Lima.

The use of agaves and other plants with strong architectural qualities creates a stark contrast when viewed against the water in the background. The entire garden was top dressed with light-colored gravel to reinforce continuity.

View the pool garden plan (PDF).

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