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Bath Time in Baton Rouge

Entertainment possibilities abound with a spa, patio, lawn and a lap pool arranged in a compact backyard space.

By Richard J. Hymel, ASLA

Variegated green Vermont slate faces the spa and accentuates the Old St. Louis brick on top of it. The spa is custom-built for the space and includes 10 therapeutic water jets for stress-relieving massage.

When Dr. Andy LeBlanc moved into his Country Club of Louisiana home in Baton Rouge 12 years ago, his backyard already had a pool --a pool of mud. "We had a lot of drainage problems because the lot wasn't graded properly," the homeowner explained.

"It was just one huge mud puddle. The existing stone patio drained out into the yard and the water really just sat."That wasn't exactly the kind of pool LeBlanc had in mind when he envisioned sunny summer afternoons with his high-school and college-aged children Marcus, Anna, and Amy.

"It was a complete disaster," he says. "We had to do something about it." A sparkling swimming pool was the logical choice. "My children love swimming and have earned a lot of medals for it," LeBlanc said.

The doctor hired Landscape Architect Richard J. Hymel and Ferris Land Design to turn his diminutive backyard into a suitable spot for fun in the shade and sun.

A painted iron rocking bench offers a place to rest and look over the yard's rectangular pool. The tripod at right is a sculpture that can hold a pot of flowers. A wall of warm-climate plants (including Indian hawthorn and crepe myrtle) turns the space into a private retreat.

In the Designer's Words

A recent president of Louisiana's ASLA chapter, Hymel recalled the design process.

I was given no restrictions and was instructed to design whatever I wanted to. This was great to have a client to give you carte blanche in terms of the overall design. Upon presentation of the first preliminary drawings, the design was a hit and Andy said to move forward with getting it built. The backyard was not very large, only about 25 feet to the fence of the adjacent lot behind us.

The client, a Baton Rouge, La. doctor, bought the home with a flagstone patio and other existing features. The Landscape Architect came up with a plan that fits a medium-sized pool into the narrow rectangular back yard. The designer also managed to create a cozy hang-out space with a spa, arbor and raised platform at upper left.

We wanted to create a space that seemed larger and also create some outdoor rooms. First we removed some of the existing stone patio and created some terraced planters surrounding a brick pillar. The pillar is intended to be a base for future piece of sculpture for the garden. These planters helped to divide the back yard into 2 distinct areas.

To the left, we created a lounging area in the pool next to a raised spa.

Adjacent to the spa is a raised terrace with an arbor. This serves as a great place to hang out for parties. The terrace and steps are Tennessee Crab Orchard stone that matches the existing stone patio. The arbor is equipped with satellite TV and stereo sound from the house's sound system. To the right is a quiet, formal camellia garden with a small patch of lawn surrounded by a brick edge. There are fountains on each side of the pool. The spa has two spillouts, while there is a raised brick wall with bronze lions' heads spitting into the pool. This wall fountain is on axis from the front door entry to the house and is the main view as you enter from the front door.

A view from the house side towards the spa offers a good look at the drainage system at the bottom of this image that keeps the patio dry. Note how a live oak here at far left helps keep the gathering spot shadier and cooler than the arbor could by itself.

Drainage was a challenge since the new pool butts up to the existing patio, which drains away from the house, right back to the pool. To handle this in an aesthetically-pleasing way, we provided a brick trench drain along the edge of the pool coping (you can see this in the photos, it occurs on both sides of the tiered planters). This gave us the clean look of the brick instead of some sort of grating. This is a very nice detail and is not difficult to construct. The materials were chosen to complement the detailing of the house, which has a very traditional southern character, lots of old brick, hefty exposed wood beams, slate, and copper.

The finished project was completed just as I had envisioned it. Rarely have I had an opportunity with such design freedom. It has continued to mature year after year, that's why it's a very special project to me.

A sweet bay magnolia provides a softer texture on the other side of the big sago palm. A Chine hat path light is placed in the center bed to add visibility at night. The faux boulder next to it is actually a water-resistant speaker for an outdoor sound system.

Elements in Concert

These days, what was once a murky mess is a well-manicured tropical playground with a combination lap and lounge pool, as well as a spa and intimate spaces designed for entertaining, relaxing and lounging. The entire project took only six months to finish, from drawing board to inaugural pool party.

The warm, red brick patio and planters give the space the feel of an old Louisiana courtyard. A raised brick planter housing mature sago palms is the focal point of the yard. A raised terrace with an arbor lies to one side, while a formal camellia garden adorns the other. A whirlpool--also raised--overlooks the asymmetric swimming pool. Hymel decided to not only build out but also up in LeBlanc's landscape. "Building everything at different heights is the key to creating the illusion of a bigger yard," Hymel explained.

A compact plot of St. Augustine turfgrass keeps irrigation requirements to a minimum. A band of pansies at lower left adds color to the green-dominated scene. The brick pedestal at rear was created to show off the iron tripod.

Hymel chose a variety of low maintenance plants -- many are evergreens -- that would give the yard a lush look without the hassle of constant upkeep. East Palatka Holly help to form a screen across the back of the pool. Chinese fan palms mix with agapanthus, sago palms, green and variegated gingers, rare "milky way" aspidistras and split-leaf philodendrons. Blue Plumbago trails over the raised wall across the back, providing nearly year round color. We are fortunate to have a 'sub-tropical' environment here in south Louisiana and it allows us to use a larger pallet of plants. Even if the tropicals freeze back, they usually return in the spring. Baton Rouge rarely experiences extended periods of freezing temperatures.

There is a live oak by the arbor and dwarf crepe myrtles--normally a no-no in pool areas--draping over the wall fountain.

"Usually you wouldn't want crepe myrtles next to a pool because their flowers tend to stain the pool deck when they drop," Hymel said. "But these 'Acoma' dwarf varieties aren't as prolific a bloomer and they are behind the pool. The state of the art 'in-floor' cleaning system helped in deciding on the plant choice, which is an elegant, graceful look."

The brick wall that borders the pool includes an attractive frieze band of tiles made by Pineapple Grove Designs. Bronze lions' heads purchased from a New Orleans specialty shop add an intriguing detail as they stream water into the pool.

There is, however, more to LeBlanc's backyard than beautiful plants and clever use of space. It's not only a lush garden and pool area, it's also a high-tech playground.

LeBlanc took the site to the next level with a waterfall, a fiber optic lighting system that casts shades of green, red and blue over the water, as well as a remote control system that lets the family turn on the whirlpool, the music or the lights via telephone or from controls located inside.

"It's nice to have a warm whirlpool waiting for me when I get home," LeBlanc says. "I just press a button and everything comes on. It's just so easy."

Mike's Audio in Baton Rouge also installed a state-of-the-art sound system that coordinates with LeBlanc's indoor system so the same music can be heard seamlessly indoors and out.

From the look of it, it's hard to believe this high-tech tropical paradise requires very little upkeep. Most of the plants take care of themselves, as does the pool. It has a unique in-floor cleaning system; jets push sediment and debris to the floor of the deep end, where it is filtered and removed. LeBlanc then has a maintenance man stop by every couple of weeks to check the pool chemicals.

For LeBlanc, this is an ideal arrangement. "I'm not a big fan of yard work," he says. "I'm too busy chasing my kids around and running my medical practice to worry about it."

Now, between pool parties and LSU football game after-parties, LeBlanc plans to ask Hymel to come back for one more project -- a new front yard. His golden retriever, Jeaux, keeps digging holes in it. In the meantime, LeBlanc is more than satisfied to spend time poolside with his puppy, because he says his backyard "is awesome."

Water spilling from the spa into the pool creates calming white noise. The pool's irregular polygon shape includes room to swim laps from the shallow, 3.5-foot-deep end (near camera) to the six-foot-deep-end opposite.

Richard J. Hymel, Design Philosophy

Rich Hymel wants to dispel a few myths about what he does for a living. "The biggest misconception is that landscape architects only deal with plants," says Hymel, a Baton Rouge landscape architect and a co-owner of Ferris Land Design, LLC. "Really, we design anything that is outdoors, from gardens and pools to cities and entire communities."

This scope of vision is impressive for a man who a little more than 15 years ago didn't even know what a landscape architect was. "I was studying pharmacy in school, but I knew that I really wanted to be in a design field, whether it was graphic design or architecture," Hymel says.

Then he met Dr. Neil Odenwald, a professor of landscape architecture at LSU, and Hymel found his calling. "I knew immediately that I wanted to be a Landscape Architect. It was a combination of everything I'd always wanted to do -- designing, creating, and building while also using my passion for nature and plants."

He changed majors and dove head first into the field. After graduating from LSU, Hymel went to work for Eduardo Jenkins, who had just added designer Micah Bennett to his design staff--two men he says are top-notch designers and gave him the skills and experience he needed to succeed.

An ingenious drainage system keeps splashed pool water from accumulating on the patio. The band of groutless bricks to the right of the pool lets spilled water enter a covered gutter that runs to the local storm drain.

Through the years, Hymel -- who has 15 years of experience and has been a licensed Landscape Architect for the past 13 years--has worked on a variety of commercial and residential projects in Louisiana. He has designed green spaces, tennis courts, spa and pool areas for residential subdivisions such as the Lake Beau Pre townhomes and Lakeshore Gardens in Baton Rouge and has also designed swimming pools and backyard oases for private homes throughout the area. He was also president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2004.

"I am humbled by the compliments that I receive," Hymel says. "But I've learned from some of the best in the field and I think I'm equally talented. I believe my experience working on projects from a few thousand dollars to over a million dollars is a great asset. My goal is for my clients to get the most 'bang for their buck.' I let my work speak for itself."

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December 6, 2019, 12:36 pm PDT

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