Swimming on the hottest of summer days for many of us is one of life’s greatest pleasures. What is not so enjoyable is the consequences of exposure to chlorine and other chemicals a traditional pool requires to be ‘healthy’. Sore eyes and itchy skin are experienced by most. Others suffer more extreme effects such as eczema, rashes, asthma, allergy and breathing problems.
Our alternative can be to mimic natural healthy water systems and instead of suffering the toxic effects of chlorine, we are nourishing our skin and hair and experiencing the holistic full sensory benefits of water that is bursting with life and colour, buzzing with dragonflies and other insects and soothing the soul with the tranquillity of a mountain pond or stream.
If extremely close proximity to swimming, flying and buzzing creatures is not for you, the design of your pool can keep the wildlife at a distance (literally). You can still have a pool with a traditional aesthetic combined with the benefits of the plant filtration process the natural pool provides. Your design is limited only by your imagination! Re-creations of the rustic old swimming hole are very popular but contemporary designs are equally adaptable.
Essentially, whatever the design you need to ensure that the planted area is roughly 50% of your swimming area. You can integrate the plants into the swimming section, have them alongside or even around the corner! As long as you install a pump that can move the water the required distance you can create any look you desire.
How does it work?
The planted area also known as the ‘regeneration area’ is responsible for cleaning, filtering and oxygenating the water that passes through it. Native (indigenous) aquatics also consume nutrients that could otherwise create algae bloom. Animals and insects will be attracted to this area for its plant life, but these in turn will control any pest issues such as mosquitoes from laying their larvae into the water. Plants are anchored in gravel and this assists with filtration as well.
Providing for water circulation is vital. It will clean and oxygenate the water and additionally add to an environment that mosquitoes do not enjoy. Without adequate oxygen, your pool could become stagnant, harbouring odoriferous anaerobic bacteria.
Carefully consider your volumes and distances of movement as this will inform the size of the pump you will need. Visualize how waterfalls or fountains can be introduced into the design as in addition to looking beautiful they sound lovely and can mask the sound of traffic or noisy neighbours.
Ensure that your regeneration zone receives plenty of sunlight. Most aquatic plants need good quantities to thrive. The healthier your plants the healthier your water. Your goal should be to achieve crystal clear drinking standard water!
Your options are vast. People are creating natural pools by simply digging a hole, lining it with bentonite, synthetic material or rubber and then covering the bottom with 10 – 15 cm of gravel. Not everyone is comfortable with the rustic (but very economical option) so more standard pool materials are also used. If you can, it is advisable to line the pool the with fiberglass rather than marbelite as it repels algae far more effectively.
Care and Maintenance
No more PH testing and constant addition of chemicals. But with all things a little care makes them work better. Position your weir on the side of the pool that the wind normally blows the leaves to. You can still use a conventional automatic pool cleaner and insert a leaf catcher like the Gator to collect surface debris.
Some people install a UV filter to assist with killing of algae. It is possible that they may also kill off many beneficial organisms so we have not done so.
The plants will at times need thinning out and excessive decaying material should be removed. Overall though, once your system is established you will discover that you have far more time to enjoy your mini wetland rather than work it. If you live in the Northern hemisphere you do not need to drain the pool in Autumn. Except for topping up now and then, you’ll fill the pool only once.
Be sure to choose plants suited to your climate. Your best bet is to obtain your plants from a native (indigenous) plant supplier as they will fare best. Try and get as much diversity of species as you are able as different plants offer different cleaning and filtration properties. Be sure to include submergent plants such as for their high oxygen output.
Diversity of species will also attract diversity of wildlife for you to enjoy.
My pool is in Durban, South Africa and these are the species I have managed to source so far:
Ethulia conyzoides subsp. Kraussii .
Ethulia conyzoides subsp. Cypes
Isolepsis Live Wire Grass Seeds
Now we are just waiting for Spring when the water will be warm enough to jump into. In the meantime we are already enjoying the plants and the wildlife and are amazed out how clear the water is in just a few short weeks since we planted.