Hot tubs – garden designer heaven or hell?

Spa-at-nightWhenever a client utters the magic words ‘hot tub’ my heart immediately sinks. I cannot stand them, especially in UK gardens! For me they are an eyesore that can be difficult to incorporate successfully into a garden.

My biggest issue with them is they can often stick out like a sore thumb. You have to have good access, so it makes them very difficult to screen.

So as you can imagine, I’m not really someone that spends time on websites checking out the latest design of hot tubs and spas. One of the Successful Garden Design readers, however, is. Danielle, wrote to me a few weeks ago on the topic and basically challenged me to change my mind.

She’s written the article below listing her tips and tricks for making a hot tub a garden feature, not an eyesore. Will she convince me on the merits of hot tubs? I’ll let you know at the end of the article!

Over to Danielle…

Designing a Relaxing Backyard with a Luxurious Spa

A hot tub can be a great addition to your backyard patio, as it provides a wonderful way to reconnect with your spouse, enjoy quality family time, and relax after a long day.

In-ground or above-ground?

When it comes to incorporating a pool or hot tub into your landscaping, there are lots of options to ensure your design is cohesive. The first decision to make is whether you want an in-ground or above-ground spa.

One of my favorite looks is to sink a hot tub into your deck so that the top of the spa aligns with the top of the deck. This can be accomplished with both custom, in-ground spas and vaulted, portable models. This look allows for a streamlined look and prevents the body of the spa from clashing with or overshadowing your yard’s existing design.


With this option, your deck’s railings can serve as an excellent privacy screen. If you choose to sink your spa into your deck, make sure to leave easy access to the spa’s structure for annual maintenance and servicing.

As an alternative, you have the option to install your spa above ground. Most spa manufacturers offer a wide range of colors and finishes for both the exterior and interior of the spa. If going this route, be sure to request samples or swatches of the materials to coordinate with your fencing and other landscaping fixtures.

Add a touch of personality

Some simple accessories can go a long way in making your spa feel like a retreat. Add some large pots of greenery and flowers for a tropical look, or as we head into the autumn months, decorate your spa area with some pumpkins and other seasonal accessories. Create an ambiance of relaxation with decorative pots, a colorful rug, and even a stereo system.

Around my pool area, I’ve added grapevines to grow along my fence. What I love about this look is it hides the fence and provides me with a little extra privacy. Include some tiki torches and a glass of wine (side note: only plastic glasses should be brought to the pool area) for a wonderful night under the stars.

Location, location, location

When choosing where to place your hot tub, pick a place where you and your family will have easy access to encourage the most use.

I’ve positioned my hot tub close to my home. I prefer to use it in the winter, when my backyard is covered in snow, so I want to make a quick dash to and from my house. When positioning your spa, find a place near a door for fast re-entry. If the door is near a bathroom, even better, as you’ll avoid tracking water throughout your home.


Don’t forget the health benefits…

After a long day at work, a hot tub can help you relax and improve your health. Hot tubs are a great way to slow down, reduce stress, and sleep soundly. Studies ( have also shown spending time in a hot tub can strengthen your heart and reduce the effects of arthritis. Before using a hot tub you should always consult with your doctor.

My conclusion!

She’s rather persuasive, isn’t she! I hadn’t realised the health benefits were so great and I must admit I am rather taken with the round spas and those that are installed at the same height as the deck. She’s also definitely won me round with creating a material-clad pavillion style setting with lighting.

So congratulations Danielle, you have persuaded me hot tubs are not the most evil thing put on earth to test garden designers to the limit! The newer models, I begrudgingly will say, can look pretty good, but I’m still going to hate the older style ones!

BUT do be warned, features alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

Water features – Part 2

Last time we looked at ponds in detail, this time we are going to look at water features.


Contemporary water features

Water features tend to have a lot less water than ponds. This is because, usually, there is a reservoir underneath the feature which pumps the water into it and it recirculates.

Because there’s less water on show, it means it easier to keep it clean and because there isn’t the plant and wildlife aspect with most water features, you can also clean them out each year and start again with fresh water.

Where to place a water feature in your garden

With ponds, you do need to take into account how much sunlight etc that they are getting, but not so with a water feature. This gives you considerably more options for where you place it.

I like to think of a water feature as a focal point. So try to line up your water feature with either the view from the window you look out from the most, or perhaps at the end of the path, or sight line down the garden.


Water features work well raised up in decks and patios – you can then sit on the edge for extra seating.

You can also incorporate a water feature into your patio or deck. This can be a very pleasant addition, as you have not only the visual aspect, but you also have the sound of running water. Do be careful on the size of feature you have though, you don’t want the running water sound to be too overpowering or you will need frequent trips to the bathroom!

If you do decide to add a water feature into a patio or deck area, consider having raised sides to it, so that it can double up as some where to sit.

Water features also lend themselves to being lit up. By adding a few lights around the water feature and in it as well, you can create some absolutely stunning effects at night.

What type of water feature should you have?

There are so many different styles of water features you can choose, from drilled rocks, that have the water pumped up through the centre of them which trickles down the sides, to old-fashioned water pumps and pots overflowing with water etc. The limit really is down to your imagination, or what’s available in the garden centres if you’re going to buy one. Though do consider making something yourself.


Drilled natural stone water features (available from Creative Stone Ltd in UK)

The main thing with water features, is to have the right size reservoir of water beneath it. The reservoirs are usually a really strong, large plastic container with a plastic lid with holes drilled in it, or a heavy duty galvanised metal mesh over the top. The feature then sits on top of the reservoir, which is hidden with cobbles etc.

It’s usually a really sensible precaution to get a stopcock put in the reservoir, because on a windy day, or really hot weather, there’s a lot of water loss and you don’t want to burn the pump out if the water level gets too low. Also, some water features do splash water outside of the area of the reservoir.


Rustic style water features

BUT do be warned, water features alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

Pond and water feature ideas – Part 1

Water in the garden can bring an exciting element into your design. Moving water has both the visual and auditory component to it and is good to take your mind away from surrounding noises of the urban environment.


You can of course put in a still water pond, but for most gardens, with smaller water size features, it’s worth getting a pond pump to keep the water aerated.

I’m not going to go to heavily into the technical aspects of pond and water feature construction,because there are lots of specialist websites that are experts on the technical side of things. Here, we’re going to focus on design and how it relates to your garden.

What are the most important things to think about when adding water in the garden?

  1. Where are you going to locate this said area of water?
  2. Do you want a pond or a water feature?

Ponds tend to have larger open area of water, whereas water features tend to have a cascade of water that goes down into a reservoir, that’s usually underground.

Let’s first take a look at ponds, as they tend to be a little bit more work than having a simple water feature.


The main trick with making a pond look good in the garden, comes down to size. The mass of water needs to be visually the right size and also the right depth. The depth will come down to whether you’re having fish and other wildlife in it or have small children’s safety to consider.

It’s important to get the overall size of the pond correct so that it looks in proportion to the rest of your garden. Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific formula, that’s why it’s best to put it on paper before you build it, so you can check you’ve visually got the right size.

What style of pond do you want?

Ponds come in all different shapes and sizes and styles. There’s everything from formal rectangular ponds that can be either raised up or flat to the ground. Then there is the very natural looking ponds which have varying depths for different plant and wildlife species and have irregular edges, with no straight lines. The varying depths help accommodate the different needs of a variety of wildlife. Having one end shallower, also helps them get out!


How to get the right position for a pond in your garden

Ponds have a larger open area of water than water features, so you have to take a little bit more care with placing them in the garden. Ideally, you do not want to put them somewhere where they can get too many leaves falling into them, so avoid directly under a tree for example. Sunlight is also important to consider, there is no right answer, it will depend upon the needs of what you have in your pond.

Your pond has to to work with the rest of the garden. So if you’ve got a very contemporary style of garden, then adding in a natural pond probably isn’t going to look right, unless it’s well away from all the areas of hard landscaping.


The biggest mistake with pond design…

The mistake that most people make is they focus all their attention on the pond and not the rest of the garden.  Then, once they’ve built it, it looks like someone dropped it from outer space and it landed in the garden!

It’s absolutely critical, if you want to incorporate any feature into your garden be it a pond, water feature or anything else, to take into account the overall design shape of everything you include in your garden.

A well-designed garden is like a jigsaw puzzle, everything has to fit in place or doesn’t work. Great looking gardens don’t happen by accident, they are not a series of unrelated features. Everything ties in together and has been thought about. If you’d like to see this demonstrated, then take a look at the garden design workshop where I will show you how to design a garden from start to finish, and you’ll soon see how dramatic a difference planning a garden this way makes.

Next time we will look at water features and how to place them.

BUT do be warned, nice water features alone will NOT give you a stunning garden – you have to get the design layout right first. If you don’t know how to do that then…

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

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