THE CANVAS: Thick, clay soil rich in moisture, 30-year-old maple trees, a sea of majestic, green woods

THE PALETTE: Sun-kissed stone, passionate hues, hidden pathways, wild flora

THE MASTERPIECE: Secret garden with a tender heart, the wilds of Eden intersect with the formality of New England style

The yard was begging for a pool. It had a small patio, slightly sloping area and dramatic maple trees.

However, the homeowners had competing desires. They wanted an architectural pool, but insisted on maintaining the natural wilderness of the property. Enter Michael Giordano and Thomas G. Fitzsimons, partners at Artisan Pools. As a division of Chux Landscaping Inc., the Pinebrook, N.J.-based company regularly combines contemporary pool design with lush vegetation to create idyllic backyards.

“This contemporary pool design utilized geometric, well-defined edges [while] the landscape and large plant masses softened the far edge, adding a very elegant touch,” Giordano says.

A private terrace

The clients wanted the pool closer to the house than Giordano and landscape designer Jason Usnick would’ve liked. But Usnick, Chux’s operations manager for landscape/construction and the project’s lead designer, was able to create a tiered effect that gave the pool the sense that it was farther away from the residence.

To achieve the grades, the site first had to be leveled and excavated. A 30-foot-long moss rock retaining wall was constructed, and the elevation of the entire site was raised with fill from the excavation.

Still, the clay soil was resplendent with ground water. “The pool caved in a couple of times while we were digging it because of the wet conditions. We had to reform it in certain areas because the walls kept yielding,” Giordano says.

The crew also had to remove five of the old maple trees that sat in the yard. In their place, an 800-square-foot rectangular pool rises above the existing patio. Wide stone steps were constructed to join the existing patio, with its muted gray pavers, to the brighter deck of Tennessee crab orchard stone. Around the patio, willowy perennials create a soft, light texture against the deep, dark woods in the distance.

One of the poolscape’s more arresting features is its private spa nook. On either side of the spa are two planters bursting with lavender-colored catmint. Pathways between the surrounding garden and planters create a quiet space.

“Along the length of the pool, we usually put some sort of planting buffer, an interesting color palette to serve as a background for the pool,” says Shawn Heslin, a senior landscape designer at Chux Landscaping. “In this project, we were able to create pathways around the back to get to the spa.

“It feels nice to walk through that corridor with the flowers around you. It’s like walking through an English garden,” Heslin says.

Riding the color wheel

The project’s simplicity and natural beauty are heightened by the surrounding environs. The thick forest transports visitors to a land of fairy tales and adventure. But the project’s sweet crescendo lies in the rainbow of hues that grace the landscape.

To contrast the rose and peach Tennessee stone, cream-colored furniture with stark white cushions was hand-selected by the homeowner, who is a furniture dealer. Creating a grid of sherbet-colored decking, the stone stays cool in the hot summer months. Its colors continue into the water, where it lines the pool’s stairway entry as well as the interior of the spa. The bright color is subtly contrasted by the gray interior finish. Stone tile is set into a small bench along the waterline, adding deeper shades to an otherwise sunny, gardenlike setting.

“I would consider this a formal pool, but it has a lot of nooks and crannies in it, like benches and steps built inside the pool, and a spa centered with the backdoors of the house,” Giordano says. “A lot of blue hues used in the landscaping around it reflect the pool and also help enhance the color of the water.”

The designers tried to make the plantings as diverse as possible, considering the limitations of the Northeast’s environmental conditions. Bright daisies, purple echinacea, silvery Russian sage, black-eyed Susans and shallow inkberry hedges were selected to create a perennial palette. Speckled yellow flowers separate the deck from the patio and line the entrance to the pool.

However, the landscape’s layout does not end with color. There’s also some foliage from the mint family, which Usnick added for its fragrance.

The project cost approximately $150,000 and took two months to complete. “It’s one of our best projects,” Heslin says. “The overall color palette combined with the decking, along with being able to establish these beautiful soft edges where it would otherwise be a hard-edged architectural pool — that’s what makes it unique.”

Michael Giordano (left), partner, Artisan Pools, and Jason Usnick, landscape designer, Chux Landscaping Inc., Pinebrook, N.J.
Michael Giordano (left), partner, Artisan Pools, and Jason Usnick, landscape designer, Chux Landscaping Inc., Pinebrook, N.J.