Clean & Natural

Garden_Design_6-0602 (2015_08_25 12_01_50 UTC)Chlorine doesn't have to be a part of the summer swim season

SWIMMING IN LAKES, RIVERS AND PONDS TENDS TO DIVIDE PEOPLE into country folk and townies, with fears of pollution, snapping turtles and mud-dwelling creepy crawlies vexatious to the suburban soul. But fearless free spirits in Europe (mainly Germans, Swiss and Austrians) have reinvented the whole idea as a backyard feature the natural swimming pool (NSP).

The classic NSP dispenses with toxic pool chemicals such as chlorine and does not need annual or biannual refilling, thus saving water. It functions as a self-contained ecosystem that consists of a pool with two zones, one for swimming and one for plants. The aquatic plants are rooted in a shallow base of aggregate, shingle and gravel and they act as living filters, drawing food from the water in the form¬ of decomposing vegetation, pollutants and bacteria, thereby cleansing it. a_Garden_Design_6-06-04 (2015_08_25 12_01_50 UTC)

The result is a clear pool for swimming surrounded by a natural fringe of plants. A deck, stone slabs or paved area can give access to the water. The pool looks attractive all year and adds to the garden, rather than being a glaringly artificial blue element that is out of commission all winter.

So far, so good. But, although there is no reason why a European-style NSP shouldn't work anywhere, hot climates included, the a_Garden_Design_6-06-03 (2015_08_25 12_01_50 UTC)tolerance of the end user for the occasional leaf in the water and a layer of silt on the pond floor is key. Two U.S. builders of NSPs have tweaked the principles to reassure their clients. Mick Hilleary of Kansas-based Total Habitat includes a small amount of UV sterilizers as added insurance, but notes that biological filters do kill most bacteria. Bryan Morse of Expanding Horizons in Vista, California, builds modified NSPs that include concrete walls, a pond sweep, and low level doses of copper, silver and chlorine ("about the amount you'd find in drinking water") to guarantee clarity.

In certain hot spots around the country, such as northern Minnesota, Arizona and northern California, people have grown up swimming in natural lakes, ponds and creeks, and demand for NSPs is high. But in southern Florida and Southern California, where the cult of the turquoise pool is strong, chlorine lovers have yet to overcome their inhibitions. However, Hilleary conjectures that this idea will take off: "In 50 years' time this is how we'll all be doing swimming pools," he says.

Resources: English landscape architect Michael Littlewood, author of  “Natural Swimming Pools” (see, is an expert in this field; see Target=New See also and


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