Natural Pools: The Future!

By Olly Wills

A Moment of Clarity:

“Nature is a playground where our inner child can roam around.” Wim Hoff

During the summer of 2020, whilst camping with friends in the Cotswolds, I had my first chance to spend time in a natural swimming pool and the experience was transformational. The water was refreshing, crystal clear, totally free of chemicals and whilst I swam, swallows dived and swooped. In the shallows that surrounded the pool my son spent hours chasing butterflies, bugs and newts, completely immersed in a wild experience that he still talks about today. I had swam in rivers and lakes before and always found it freeing and invigorating. This experience gave me the same feeling. This pool was inviting nature in rather than shutting it out with chemicals, and the swimming experience was far richer for this.

It was a moment of clarity. What have we been doing all these years? Why choose to swim in sterile, chlorinated water when you can swim in chemical-free crystal-clear water instead? Birds will swoop and dive, dragonflies will weave and bob, butterflies will move from plant to plant and the shallows will be a playground for any inquisitive child, young and old. With a natural pool, you can invite nature into your garden and create a beautiful aesthetic element to compliment your landscape throughout the year.

Approach & Aesthetic:

At Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt, we are now working hard to move away from chlorine pools built using significant amounts of concrete, instead striving to build natural pools with little-to-no use of this carbon-heavy material. We are collaborating with experts in the field to guide our approach and strongly feel that now is the right time to be taking this leap.

Style-wise, natural pools can be built in a myriad of ways and the natural approach does not mean that a pool cannot have the sharp and smart finish that we are accustomed to seeing from the traditional method of pool building. In many ways, the natural pool approach opens huge opportunities on the design side as these pools and ponds can be made to blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.

How do they work:

A typical natural swimming pool will have two zones – a swimming zone and a regeneration zone – and it is the relationship between these two zones that will determine the development of a healthy, balanced and self-cleaning pool.

In the natural environment, ponds, pools and lakes are kept clean by a combination of aquatic and marginal planting working alongside micro-organisms. Organic waste is broken down by these micro-organisms so that the surrounding plants can absorb this waste in the form of nutrients. As these plants continue to thrive, they will to work to keep the water around them clean.

Natural swimming pools are designed to replicate these processes, with water passing through the filtration zone before being re-circulated back into the bottom of the swimming zone to start the cycle once again. Any surface debris that builds up (such as leaves from surrounding trees) is then removed using a skimmer to keep the surface of the swimming zone clear. Plants, pumps, and filtration zones can be used in natural pools and swimming ponds to create a healthy balance of nutrient levels within the water so that algae will not grow in an unbalanced environment.

Water lilies, water hyacinth, sweet flag, flowering rush, water forget-me-not and marsh marigold are just a few of the many stunning aquatics and semi-aquatics that can be planted into the marginal zone of natural swimming pools. As the water level in the regeneration zone is relatively shallow, it warms up quickly on a sunny day before being re-circulated back into the swimming zone through a network of filtration pipes. Therefore, the regeneration zone acts as both a biological filter and a natural heating system for the pool that will keep it at a very pleasant swimming temperature during the main swimming months.

Water lillies

Water hyacinth

Change is coming fast

Starting in Austria and the USA in the mid-1950s, natural pools then spread widely to mainland Europe in the decades that followed. Natural swimming pools are so prevalent in Germany that it is said that one in every two pools built now is a natural swimming pool. Natural landscape architect and environmental planner, Michael Littlewood, built the first natural swimming pool in the UK in 2001. From that year on there has been a steady growth in the popularity of this way of working with nature to bring the wild swimming experience into people’s gardens.

It is time to embrace this new way of swimming at home and we at Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt are excited to be getting involved!