Top Tips For Designing A Pool, Carmen Johnston Gardens

In the past year, outdoor living and swimming pools have become a top priority for homeowners and here’re some of my top tips for designing a pool.

Function First – Tips for Designing A Pool 

Pool time creates lasting memories for friends and family but you really have to be thinking long-term when designing a pool.  Today, you may have young children but how will you use the pool in ten years? A shallow end may be a priority right now but where will you put sun loungers and an outdoor dining table?  Contemplate the expected length of the chaise lounge and be sure your pool deck can accommodate your furniture needs.

When my team and I assist in designing the shape and help site in the pool, I also like to make sure one of my pet peeves is addressed – 360 degree access.  You do not want to limit your pool accessibility for ease and safety reasons.


pool deck, Carmen Johnston Gardens

Pool Material

There are a lot of great options for pool material and you have to choose the right one for your budget and priorities.  Personally, I prefer gunite, a concrete blend of sand, cement and water applied over reinforced steel bars using a high-pressure hose. Gunite is considered to be the structurally dependable option.

Different textures on the bottom of the pool affect color.  I am a bit more traditional in my preference and love a timeless blue.


classic blue pool, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Soften The Pool Edges 

One way I like to soften the edges of the hardscape surrounding the pool is with planting beds. This is a great place to layer in evergreen shrubs like Wintergreen Boxwoods and then add in annual color in the summer.


Tips For Designing A Pool, Carmen Johnston Gardens

Artificial Turf 

Have you ever noticed how grass and mulch can get into the pool from kids playing or everyday living.  Maintenance can be tough with a real grass edge around the pool and I like to suggest artificial turf.  If you can select one with a cooling element, definitely do that.  It can get really hot.


poolside turf, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Finishing Touch – Container Garden 

Go big or go home with your containers!  Small pots turn into crock pots in the summer.  Pick a bigger container so it will also retain water better. Less is definitely more impactful when it comes to planting your container gardens around a pool. Terra cotta pots are some of my favorites!

Here’s a previous post on some of my favorite container gardens.


poolside container garden, Carmen Johnston Gardens


In new construction, if you want to prevent losing the water from the container, we like to use drain boxes. This will also keep the container from your pretty deck.


drain box, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Connect With Me Today! 

I’d love to see your pool inspiration and will be sharing some of mine on Instagram and Facebook as well as answering some of your questions!  Be sure you subscribe to my blog for all the latest tips and inspo.


Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Gatherings with friends and family are now an option again, thank goodness, and here’re my top six tips for creating summertime entertaining memories.


Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Photo by Hector Sanchez

Create Summertime Entertaining Memories

How many brunches and dinners have you been dreaming up in the past year?!  I want to inspire your events, big and small, by helping you personalize your entertaining. We are so excited its 2021!

Last summer, at a socially distanced event, we invited family and friend pods over for an Orchard Dinner at our Johnston family farm pecan orchard in Thomaston, Georgia. The goal of the evening was to support local chefs and growers who were really struggling during the pandemic while helping our guests connect in a safe environment.


2020 Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

We collaborate with Epic Restaurant chef Jamie Keating on the delicious Orchard Garden dinner! (Photo by Hector Sanchez)

It was a really special evening and I’m sharing my top tips to make my parties, events and dinners memorable. These beautiful photos were captured by a friend from my Southern Living days, talented photographer Hector Sanchez.

1. Invitation – Paper invitations are still so special and you can find great choices at your local paper goods store.  I’d also suggest you check out my friend, Kat McCall Papers, to help you really honor a moment. She’s so talented! And, if all else fails, why not create something on Canva to email your friends.  No matter the format, I think a thoughtful invitation really makes the evening special from a family reunion or birth celebration to dinner for friends in your backyard.

2. Create A Special Table – Don’t let your family pieces languish in a china cabinet or linen closet. For the Orchard Dinner, I brought out my vintage linens, heirloom silver and Italian terra cotta. Weave together pieces which mean something, maybe even collected from a trip. And, don’t worry about being matchy matchy. A table set with special family mementos will mean so much more to your guests!


Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez


3. Snip & Clip Your Center Piece – You know I have a lot of gardening philosophies and snip and click is one of my favorites for table centerpieces.  Head outdoors and gather greenery and seasonal blooms from your yard like hydrangea, iris or fresh herbs.  See what is flowering in your yard and use it.  You might want to supplement with flowers from your local vendor and consider using live plants or a small container garden.  Your guests will enjoy the flowers for the evening and you can enjoy for days after!  For the orchard dinner, I used multiple tables and made sure each had a unique theme so guests had fun exploring each one!

4. Personalize The Menu – Head to your local produce stand as you start to plan your menu.  I collaborated with my friend, chef Jamie Keating, owner of the four diamond, Triple AAA award-winning restaurant Epic, in Columbus, Georgia.  Jamie curated the menu combining seasonal pickings based on elements which mean something to our family and named the menu items to reflect our family and region’s history.  Take a look at the fun menu here!


Orchard Dinner Menu, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez



Sliders, Orchard Dinner, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Three sliders were named R.E.D. after the three individuals that bring ultimate joy to our hearts, our dogs, Rusti, Elle, and Dixie! Our dogs have such fun, individualistic personalities, we knew that our three sliders had to reflect this. (Photo by Hector Sanchez)

5. Curate A Playlist – Music brings such a special element to an evening. For bigger events, maybe check with the local symphony to see if a musician hires out for special evenings. These musicians could use your support! You can also check in with your neighborhood Facebook group to see if a young piano, guitar of fiddle player is available.  Or, create on your favorite streaming app a playlist of background music.  For our last summer’s event, I shared our playlist.  Or how about creating a DVD to take home.  Who remembers mix tapes?!


Gatherings with friends and family are now an option again, thank goodness, and here’re my top six tips for creating summertime entertaining memories.


6. Serci – Departing Gift – In addition to providing guests with my favorite music list, Jamie create a special serci for me, homemade pralines.  In addition to weaving into the evening meal, our guests had to have Johnston farm pecans and wow, this was a sweet treat!  We also had a basket of fresh produce on each table and included recipes for guests to take as well.


Johnston Farm Pralines, Carmen Johnston Gardens


Personalizing Entertaining Makes Memories

My main goal is to help you honor your family history and journey by weaving your experiences into your entertaining.  This will charm your guests and help you relieve those moments. It will also help you remember those special people in your life who’ve passed on those keepsakes.

The Orchard Dinner was pretty spectacular and took a lot of hands, energy and talent to create.  I want to know big and small ways you are creating special memories for your family and friends.  Head over to my Instagram where I’m sharing more of the Orchard Dinner.  Comment and inspire me and my followers!


Carmen Johnston, Orchard Dinner, Photo by Hector Sanchez

Coming Up Next – Kayak Giveaway

If you’ve been following along my 2021 HGTV Smart Home adventure, you’ll know I took the water in Naples with Ty Pennington!


Carmen Johnston, Ty Pennington, HGTV Smart Home Film Crew


Staring Tuesday, May 25 through June 1, I will be giving away a kayak in honor of that epic moment!  When you see my kayak social media post, check out details on entering for a chance to win!  Be sure and tune in on May 26 at 11 a.m. EDT and May 31 at 8 a.m. EDT for an encore of the HGTV Smart Home 2021 special.  It was SO much fun filming with rock star interior designer Tiffany Brooks and Ty!

Finally, through June 11, 5 p.m. EDT, you’ll be able to enter online for a chance to win the HGTV Smart Home 2021. The grand prize is worth over $1.1 million and includes the home and all furnishings, a 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet and $100,000 from LendingTree!

Taking the time for winter prep can result in a beautiful spring garden so check out these great tips and then grab that coat and gloves and get to work!

Photo by Carmen Johnston Gardens

Winter Prep For Beautiful Spring Garden – Perennials

It is important to consider your location and the current weather your area is experiencing. Located here in South Georgia, we have mild winters. If you live in a cooler region, you will want to delay the following garden tasks until just before spring but begin with perennials.


Perennials are nature’s gift that keep giving year after year. To keep them looking their best, prune back perennials to the form and size you desire. This will allow the plant to fill in with new, lush growth when spring arrives. Avoid pruning certain plants that bloom on old wood. These types of plants formed their buds the previous year and if they are removed, will not flower.

Photo by Carmen Johnston Gardens

Roses – Start Pruning Late Winter

Roses are an essential component to any garden. Late winter is the best time to prune your roses back allowing for new, fresh growth to occur when spring arrives. Remove any dead canes and cut healthy stems back to approximately 1/3 to 2/3 of the size of the plant. Remove any suckers from the plant as these will steal nutrients and stunt overall growth.


Spray the rose plant thoroughly with horticultural oil to rid of insects as well as their eggs before they become active again in the spring. Reward all of your hard work with buying yourself a new beautiful rose bush to add to your garden as now is a great time to plant them.

Photo by Carmen Johnston Gardens

New Plantings

Now is the perfect time to get new perennials, shrubs, and trees planted in your garden, as long as your area is safe from freezes. Planting now allows plants’ root structures to form well before the intense summer heat arrives.


Some of my favorite perennials to bring gorgeous spring color into the garden are foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), peony (Paeonia lactiflora), African iris (Dietes iridioides), coneflower (Echinaceae sp.), and larkspur (Delphinium sp.). My favorite evergreens to incorporate are Wintergreen boxwoods (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Wintergreen’), dwarf bur ford hollies (Ilex cornuta ‘Dwarf Burford’), and distylium.


Photo by Carmen Johnston Gardens


If you are looking forward to a gorgeous spring, make it even more beautiful by fertilizing everything from curb to foundation including your lawn, shrubs, and trees.


Choose a fertilizer that is of good quality because it truly makes a difference. I like to my secret “go-go juice” Nelson plant food Nelson plant food. You will want a complete fertilizer, meaning it has both macronutrients and micronutrients.

Photo by Carmen Johnston Gardens


Last but not least, make sure to give your lawn the love and attention it deserves. I recommend having a soil test completed with your local extension office to assess your lawn’s nutrient needs.

Here in the South, our soils tend be quite acidic which most plants are not fond of. It is likely your lawn needs to be limed which will neutralize the soil pH. This will improve nutrient availability to your plants and improve the overall health and structure of the soil.


One of the most important things you can do for your lawn is known as scalping. This involves lowering your lawn mower setting each time the grass is cut in order to clean up the thatch. Thatch is the area of dead and living grass that is between the soil and the lush green grass that graces your lawn. By cleaning up the thatch, you improve aeration, drainage, and nutrient absorption. Also, when the grass is cut, make sure that the grass clippings are not left on the lawn during this time of scalping.


Photo by Carmen Johnston Gardens

Looking For Garden Inspiration

Did you see my last blog on a beautiful outdoor living and garden installation by the gorgeous Savannah River in Augusta, Georgia.  Click here to see this stunning project with a fun video.

And, f you need some spring-time inspiration, be sure and follow along via our emails, blogs or on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest!


Boxwood Shrubs, Carmen Johnston Gardens, Thomaston GA