January 19, 2016
One can never think about summer early enough. Through the bursting of spring blooms and windy rains, the idea of taking a dip into the water always brings a moment of reprieve over us. Whether into a swimming pool, lake, or ocean, we can all appreciate a dip to cool off by floating around in the water. But with what medium shall we lounge around afloat in? Why not float around a backyard swimming pool immersed in nature? Natural swimming pools contain plants or a combination of plants and sand filters to maintain the water’s cleanliness and color without the use of chemicals such as chlorine. These natural swimming pools originated in Austria and Germany in the 1980s and have gained immense worldwide popularity since their inception. Some look like natural ponds, while some come disguised as standard tiled pools. Regardless of how you choose to adorn a natural swimming pool, the functions remain the same between a traditional and natural swimming pool – they allow you to take a dip, and they allow you to decorate it with outdoor patio furniture. However, because of the lack of chemicals, natural swimming pools benefit your skin and hair.
Natural swimming pools rely on a constructed wetland of plants and gravel to filter the water in an area known as the regeneration zone. Like a water garden, this zone contained a variety of plants selected by a natural pool specialist or a landscape architect to create an ecosystem that cleans the pool water. The regeneration zone’s size and depth depend on the volume of water present that can reach the zone. This planted zone has a more shallow depth that the swimming area. Clean water slowly flows from the planted zone into the swimming area. A specialized water skimmer removes large debris that falls onto the water’s surface in the swimming area. The skimmer has a fine sieve that removes small debris before circulating the water into a biological filter. Additional equipment, such as UV light filters and filters that use sand to remove phosphorous, helps to maintain the balance in a natural swimming pool.
The size of a natural swimming pool greatly depends on the available space in the yard. Something as small as an urban yard can accommodate a small pool, while a rural property can accommodate a larger pool. The available space also dictates the characteristics of the regeneration zone. For example, a designer can designate a rectilinear pool as the swimming area, with the water circulation apparatus running underground to the regeneration zone. In the most common setup, the regeneration zone runs directly adjacent to the swimming area, with edges that allow for a specific volume of water to flow over the edge, like a dam. Each zone should measure approximately the same for adequate water flow and cleansing.
Constructing the regeneration zone requires specific types of plants that will clean the water without leaving too many impurities behind. These plants depend on the climate and geographical location. The regeneration zone relies on the surface area of the plants’ roots and the gravel substrate to create a home for beneficial bacteria. Three main types of plants exist for the purpose of regeneration. Floating plants, as the name suggests, includes the lotus and water lily that floats on the water’s surface. Emergent plants occupy the water margins of the pool. Submerged plants root into the substrate and help oxygenate the water. Each type has common natives. At the edge of the regeneration zone, designers may continue the natural look with a wetland gradient of native plants. Species that thrive in moist, periodically inundated soil will perform the best around the edges of a natural pool.
The cost and maintenance of a natural swimming pool runs about the same as a classic swimming pool. However, keep in mind that a natural swimming pool comes with a regeneration zone, which means that a natural swimming pool usually takes up more space than a classic swimming pool. In the big picture, a natural pool and a classic pool should cost about the same. Natural swimming pools do not contain chemicals, which saves thousands of dollars normally required for balancing water chemistry and countless man-hours. The time and money instead goes towards care of the water garden. Daily maintenance revolves around tending the water garden, which includes clearing the skimmer and trimming the plants. Depending on the climate, the garden may require new plants in the spring. When winter arrives, cut the plants back and drain & plug the mechanical equipment to prevent freezing. You do not need to drain the pool itself. Optimally, construct the pool in the fall for a chance to plant the water garden starting in spring.
Like a blank canvas, natural pools have many available design options. Natural pools have a stone or gravel bottom with sloped sides. A gradually sloped edge leading to the water also creates an experience more akin to a wilderness adventure because you can walk into the body of water. Architectural pools made of cast-in-place concrete with horizontal sides and stairs for entry works great as well. Wood decks made a beautiful defined edge for a natural swimming pool. Other typical pool decking materials, such as travertine pavers or exposed aggregate concrete, can also create a surface for your favorite lounge chair or poolside cafe table. The pool deck can occupy the area between the swimming and regeneration zones as a way to create separation between the water garden and the swimming area. Ultimately, the shape of the pool basin, materials, and expression of the edges will determine the style of the natural pool. Search for a talented landscape architect to incorporate a natural pool into the overall backyard-oasis plan. For regular maintenance and supplies, keep in touch with a local water garden and natural pool company.