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Making a Splash

Cityscape wades into the natural swimming pool movement with Canopy Landscape Architects’ Gabe Ross and Paul Roper-Gee.

Images: Natural Pools NZ —

With greater awareness of the importance of engaging with the natural world for our physical and mental wellbeing, we are seeing many examples of natural systems being designed back into our everyday landscapes. A great example of this is the natural swimming pool concept that has been quietly spreading through backyards around the world from its origins in Germany some 30 years ago.

Imagine a pool that never needs chemicals and provides a crystal clear swimming experience complete with plants, and even fish! Natural pools essentially replicate the natural processes that occur in lake and wetland systems within a closed recirculating pool. The pools are spilt into two areas – a swim zone and a filtration zone – with the water constantly circulating between the two. The vegetated filtration zone hosts microorganisms and plants that consume the nutrients, minerals and other pathogens that would otherwise quickly lead to a rather ‘froggy’ swimming experience.

Pool designs can range from a DIY natural-looking rocky pond to a modern masterpiece complete with solar heating, robot cleaners, lighting and spouts. The system is very scalable, from a small ornamental water feature through to massive commercial scale public swimming facilities.

pano4 Image Natural Pools NZ naturalpoolsnz

A correctly designed and maintained pool will be balanced to provide a completely chemical free, clean and clear swimming experience. Maintenance can be a little more complex as you can’t just rely on harsh chemical treatments that would unbalance or kill the natural processes that we want to keep the water clean. Like a garden, the pool biology will take time to establish and adjust to changes to the system. As a minimum, a bottom cleaning will be needed 3 times a year, and wetland plants may need periodic pruning and thinning.

While commercially-built natural pools are typically similar in cost to conventional, high-quality custom pools, there are ongoing savings in chemicals and with the added bonus that the pool becomes a year-round aquatic garden feature, rather than the typical covered or drained hole in the ground over the winter.

In New Zealand there are now a number of specialist designer and contractors installing both new builds and making conversions of conventional swimming pool to natural pools. DIY projects are also possible, although engaging some expertise to make sure the hydraulics and filtration beds are optimised will save many hours of maintenance down the track. Investing in quality pumps and filters is always recommended!

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