THE CANVAS: Unwelcome slope, old growth, stately homes

THE PALETTE: Organic rock, Indian limestone, concrete-gray vinyl liner

THE MASTERPIECE: Reclaimed social center, an oasis for grandchildren, traditional Southern living

The clients’ backyard had what Gym & Swim landscape designer Doug Parker called “dead space.” A steep slope made the lawn difficult to maintain and created an environment that was not conducive to entertaining.

This was particularly troubling to the homeowners because they wanted their grandchildren to visit as often as possible.

“The backyard was unsuitable for entertaining,” Parker says. “It was shaded and steep — and constantly damp.”

The clients dreamed of a natural pool, reminiscent of a watering hole, where their grandchildren could play. They didn’t plan to use it much themselves, but hoped to create an aesthetically pleasing area, much more than the typical cookie-cutter installation.

Budgets and choices

Several factors led to the choice of a vinyl-liner pool rather than a concrete model.

The clients had a budget of approximately $100,000. That seemed like a high number until conditions in the backyard were examined.

“It was all rock,” Parker says. “We knew that 18 inches below was solid bedrock.”

Instead of regular excavation, his crew had to spend 17 days, each costing $1,600, using a rock hammer to chip away at the stone. To make matters worse, none of the rock removed from the yard was usable for the project. These extraordinary measures dictated that the builders use a vinyl liner to stay within budget.

The ground conditions prevented workers from getting deep enough to establish the grade they wanted for the pool. This quirk actually guided a key design decision.

“We created a retaining wall made from boulders between the house and the pool, and raised the pool’s elevation about 18- to 24 inches,” Parker recalls.

The crew capped off the installation with coping made of limestone imported from India. The stained and stamped concrete deck was made to blend with the stone.

Much thought was then given to the landscaping choices. The clients wanted the softscape to fit into the woodland design, and the plants had to be able to tolerate damp conditions. Parker used a lot of laurels, azaleas and rhododendrons.

Result: A backyard any grandparent — and grandchild — would love.