Imagine a swimming pool, and what do you see? A slab of sterile blue water, surrounded by tiles? It doesn’t have to be like that: imagine instead a pool of fresh, clear water, fringed by native plants and visited by dragonflies.
Conceived in Austria more than 20 years ago, natural swimming pools are now in demand all over the world. A natural pool is an inspiring and healthier alternative to a conventional swimming pool and a beautiful addition to a garden – even in winter, when a conventional pool can become an eyesore. It stays clean without any chemical treatment, its natural cleaning system emulating the regeneration process of a healthy pond. The result is a serene swimming environment which is also a working aquatic garden. This seamless blending of environments makes a natural pool unique; being surrounded by plants as you swim creates a very special kind of mood.
A typical private pool is a minimum of 50 square metres and features one body of water separated into two zones, one for swimming and one for cleaning. The regeneration zone, in which all the biological cleaning takes place, contains marsh and water plants in a bed of gravel, minerals and loamy sand. The plants create a habitat for the micro-organisms which keep the water clean and break down potential pollutants, while the gravel bed acts as a natural filter. Natural swimming pools are typically built from eco-friendly materials, and they provide a protected habitat for wildlife including amphibians, insects like dragonflies, and many species of birds.
The environmental advantages of natural swimming pools are huge, and there are also major financial savings. No chemicals are required, maintenance is cheaper, there are huge savings on water as, unlike conventional pools, natural pools do not have to be emptied every year, and artificial heating is not needed. Because the shallow warmer water of the regeneration zone circulates with the cooler deeper water of the swimming zone, the water temperature rises much more quickly than in a conventional pool. It is therefore possible to go swimming much earlier in the year.
With the emphasis today on a more holistic lifestyle which incorporates organic food and alternative medicine, it makes absolute sense to choose to swim in natural water. The chlorine used in conventional pools is a skin irritant, associated with conditions such as eczema, and has also been documented to aggravate asthma. Chlorinated water also contains chemical compounds called trihalomethanes, which are carcinogenic.
Natural swimming pools are especially good for families with children. In addition to the reassurance of knowing that they are swimming in non-chemical water, natural pools are also much more inspiring places for children to swim and play than conventional pools. A natural pool, complete with beach, boulders, rock pools and shallow areas, is an environment that will keep them entertained for hours, both in and out of the water, and they love to celebrate special days in summer with a pool party. They are fascinated by the wildlife in a natural pool, and will enjoy using it as a resource for pond dipping and wildlife watching even when it is too cold for swimming. Safety is of course paramount, but having a natural pool in their garden will mean that children will quickly learn to swim and be confident in water.
The natural system has many other benefits. You get not just a swimming pool but a complete water garden which is beautiful all year round and which provides a wonderful habitat for wildlife. Many species are endangered as a result of the destruction of aquatic habitats, so natural swimming pools have an important ecological role to play. The water is clear but not sterilised, as in a traditional pool, so natural swimming pools provide an attractive biosphere for various kinds of wildlife. They play host to the normal range of pond life, from microscopic organisms to invertebrates to frogs and toads, and their presence is a good indicator of the fact that the natural system is working effectively. They stay mostly in the regeneration zone, which serves them well with food and shelter.
The plants in the regeneration zone are essential to the correct biological functioning of the system, and while technical factors are paramount in the selection of plants, aesthetics also play an important part. It is best to choose plants which do not require any special feeding so that they will use up the nutrients in the water as quickly as possible, but the wide range of aquatic plants available provides the opportunity to create a wonderful water garden.
Some conventional pools are elegantly designed, but most are visually uninspiring. In winter most are emptied and covered over, making an intrusive impact on the garden scene. A natural swimming pool, on the other hand, is an attractive garden feature all year round. While estate agents routinely warn householders that a conventional pool cannot be expected to add value to their home – potential buyers may view it as a liability rather than an asset – a natural pool can enhance the appeal of your property.
Creating a natural swimming pool is generally a job for a specialist designer and contractor, but many people have built their own with the help of all the information contained in my books on the subject. As long as there is space within or alongside it to create a regeneration zone, an existing swimming pool can be converted into a natural one. A typical pool takes six to seven weeks to complete; after that it is just sheer bliss.
THOUGHTS FROM A NATURAL POOL OWNER
“Having a natural swimming pool has enriched our lives. While you are separated from the plants, you still feel surrounded by them as you swim. Natural pools are a joy to see and pure bliss in which to swim, and at the same time they provide considerable benefits for wildlife.
Listening to the chorus of the frogs and the birds, hearing the sound of the water falling over rocks and boulders, and seeing the colour of the flowers from spring through to autumn, makes people feel closer to nature.
A natural swimming pool provides you with a very special place to be at any time of day or night, throughout the year. It becomes your very own natural oasis.”
What to read:
Michael Littlewood is a chartered landscape architect and the author of many landscape and gardening publications, including Natural Swimming Pools – Inspiration for Harmony with Nature, Natural Swimming Pools – A Guide for Building and Natural Swimming Pools – Conventional Pool Conversion. These comprehensively illustrated books are an essential resource for anyone considering a natural swimming pool, guiding you through planning, design, biology, materials, construction, planting and maintenance. He has also written a series of four books on Landscape Detailing, including Water, which covers ponds and pools, streams and waterfalls, fountains, edges, bank protection, islands, rafts and jetties.
Want to know more?
Visit www.ecodesignscape.co.uk or call 01460 75515.