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Natural Swimming Ponds

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Janine Pattison Janine Pattison | 07:00 UK time, Wednesday, 9 November 2011

On a cold, frosty morning like today the idea of diving into a cold garden pond for a swim isn't my idea of fun. But these natural swimming ponds are becoming quite popular as people like the idea of swimming in clean, chemical-free water. Perhaps in the summer when the water temperature was higher I might be tempted.

They function and look exactly like a pond but have a large plant-free area which is the swimming zone. This can be deep or shallow and usually has steps down into the water. The planting is confined to a 'regeneration zone' outside the swimming space and that is where the filtering and cleaning of the water takes place. Crucially this is also the area that any wildlife stays, as the thought of coming face to face with a frog during a morning swim isn't my cup of tea!

water garden feature

These specially designed ponds first appeared in Germany and Austria during the 1980s and have since become popular across the Continent. They arrived in the UK about a decade ago and there are now an estimated 20,000 across Europe including several open to the public.

Despite my reservations, we are currently designing a natural swimming pond (NSP) for a client in the New Forest and so have been finding out a bit more about them. The two zones need to be roughly equal in size to achieve a balance and a pump keeps the water moving around the system.

The plants and the gravel they are grown in act as biological filters so that the water in the swimming area is clean and soft on the skin and hair. No chemicals need ever be added making the running costs significantly lower than a conventional pool as well as much more environmentally-friendly.

We are designing the pond to look as natural as possible with soft curves and lawn, gravel and rocks around the edges to make it look as though it has always been there. You can also make them more formal with decking or paving. We'll make sure there is a seating area next to the water because it is likely to get plenty of use either as a diving platform or for those who don't want to swim but who can't resist the temptation to paddle or sit with their legs in the water.

water garden feature

Both styles will look amazing after dark with careful lighting. The planting in the regeneration zone can be selected from a huge list of suitable moisture-loving plants. We are choosing low-growing water lilies as well as huge leaved arums and hostas, with flag irises and bullrushes for height.

Regular maintenance will be reduced compared to a normal pool but leaves still need to be skimmed off and there will be need for some gardening to be done as the the regeneration zone does need to be tended like any garden area. Some plants will have to be cut back occasionally, some lifted and divided as they grow too large and there will be some weeding.

My biggest concern is what the water temperature will be and how often swimming in the pond would be comfortable. It seems that the larger the body of water, the more it will retain warmth during the year but there are also options to add some background heating through the use of solar panels or ground-source heat pumps. We are going to find out more about them and that might just be enough to persuade me that I want a natural swimming pond too.

Janine Pattison MSGD is a award-winning garden designer.

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