Dream Acres week eight: Outdoor pursuits

 * For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create your perfect outdoor pursuits

Anyone for tennis? Or, for that matter, a swim in the pool or a game of croquet? How much richer country life is when you have your own dedicated sports facilities. If you feel like privacy, you and your family can indulge yourselves in a favourite outdoor activity without leaving home. If you feel sociable, you can throw a party. At Dream Acres, the imaginary estate designed for Country Life by Arabella Lennox-Boyd, we have made it a priority to include the perfect tennis court, swimming pool and croquet lawn, and site them expertly, of course.

Landscaping an area dedicated to a sport requires considerable thought. On the one hand, it needs to be in a convenient location for the house. However, you don’t want any of your main views or perspectives to be impaired. Noise is another issue to be considered. Some people love hearing the happy shouts of younger swimmers, the gentle thwack of a friendly tennis match or the rather high-spirited debate that sometimes accompanies a game of croquet. Yet others don’t, so, at Dream Acres, we’ve come up with solutions that ensure nothing interferes with our enjoyment of the garden and its grounds.

Speaking of enjoyment, you’ll see that we’ve also designed an elegant pavilion for the tennis court and a striking changing room for the swimming pool so that maximum pleasure can be derived from using  both. The croquet lawn has been located close to the west terrace, ideal for a late-afternoon match over tea or, perhaps, a glass of Pimm’s.

Swimming pools

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The best way to ensure that a swimming pool adds to rather than detracts from the landscape is to emphasise its single most attractive feature: its water. A wide tiled or stone strip around the pool, an obvious filtration system, exposed working elements and swimmers’ paraphernalia all serve to make it functional rather than alluring.

Enclosing it with a hedge or wall, running the lawn nearly to the edge of the pool, lining it with plain blue or grey and keeping the water so high that it almost overflows will greatly enhance its appearance. Pools should be in calm, clear, clutter-free spaces. Even planting should be kept to a minimum.

At Dream Acres, the chosen location is the side of a hill, allowing us to install an infinity pool. As a result, the beech hedge only runs around three sides, leaving the fourth side open and letting swimmers gaze out at the landscape as they exercise.

 * For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains  how to create your perfect outdoor pursuits

Pool houses

If you’re putting in a swimming pool, why not splash out and add a really splendid pool house? Features to incorporate include changing rooms, a laundry, a linen cupboard, a galley kitchen, storage for a barbeque and perhaps even a small shower room and loo. At Dream Acres, we commissioned architect Adam Richards (www.adamrichards.co.uk) to create a pool-house folly for us.

Croquet lawns

‘I startled a man filling up one corner in the garden to make a flat lawn,’ wrote Beatrix Potter in 1905. ‘I could not think why he was taking such a time and now discover a thing big enough to play football.’ Which was exactly my experience years ago when I asked a gardener to make me
a croquet lawn.

What I expected was an area of well-mown grass that had had a roller run over it. What I got was a completely flat field some 35 yards by 28 yards, with special grass, drains and a fall of less than 6in. Oh, and a large invoice. Furthermore, it turned out that this was the minimum size, and that there really ought to have been additional space to move the wickets when the grass became worn.

With hindsight, I see that the cost was relatively low when compared to the use we got from it and, especially, the pleasure of playing with my children and houseguests. Also, out of season, we upped wickets and stakes and turned it back into an exceptionally nice bit of lawn.

Tennis courts

How can a tennis court cross the divide from being an ugly eyesore to a thing of beauty? To begin with, it mustn’t interfere with the natural loveliness of the rest of the garden. In other words, it must be hidden. This can be done by sinking it into the lawn, covering the fencing with climbing plants, and surrounding the area of its location with shrubs and trees.

Next, the space in the immediate vicinity of the court must be suitably dressed. A charming pavilion, somewhere pleasant for spectators to sit and even a traditional raised chair for the umpire will make the court much more appealing. Finally, the surface of the court has a major effect on its appearance.

Natural grass is, of course, the best choice from an aesthetic perspective, with clay coming a close second. If you prefer to play on a more modern surface, then the relatively minor extra cost of choosing the best quality will be well worth it. An added benefit to landscaping it in this way is that visiting it becomes more exciting.

There’s a certain thrill to following a path through woods to a secret tennis court. And, even if the beauty of your surroundings doesn’t improve your game, at least no passing strangers will be able to see your John McEnroe impersonation.

What would be your country-house sport of choice? Let us know at  countrylife_letters@ipcmedia.com

 * For more Dream Acres and to find out how to create your own Dream Acres please see our microsite which explains 

how to create your perfect outdoor pursuits