Natural Swim Ponds Are Growing


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Ireland-based Ellen Landscape Design created this natural swim pool design, which uses plants instead of chemicals to filter water. A lap pool configuration, as seen here, is one of many possible shapes.

Ellen Landscape’s “Eco-garden” grabbed attention at the renowned Chelsea Flower Show this May in London.

The Irish landscape architect Elma Fenton created a wildflower meadow-land and a topiary home for wildlife. Old apple trees lent the garden a mature feel while the sculpted land-forms mimicked a natural landscape.

The most unique feature, however, was a natural swimming pond, bordered by plants that organically filtered the water-removing the need for chemicals.

Fenton explained the appeal to the British garden website “The beauty of this garden is its diversity,” she said. “A body of water organically filtered, a sculptured land-form creating garden micro-climates for work, play, relaxation, sustenance and physical connection.”

The ‘Moat and Castle’ garden was a collaboration between landscape architect and garden designer Fenton and landscape architect Neil Malachy Black.

Designer and contractor Bryan Morse built this swim pond in his backyard. Note the beach-style entry with inlaid pebbles in the foreground. The palapa, or shelter structure, sits between two bog filtration reservoirs that are separated from the swim area by stacked flagstone walls.

Close to 5,000 natural pools already exist on the European mainland, many constructed by BioNova (Germany), BioTop (Austria) and BioTeich (Switzerland). The idea is new to the U.S., but a number of installers are building natural pools here, including Expanding Horizons of Vista, Calif. and Kansas-based Total Habitat.

Expanding Horizons founder Bryan Morse says he’s only built three swim ponds so far, including one in his own backyard. Naturally-filtered swimming pools take close to twice the square footage of regular pools (for plant-driven filtration) and some legislative issues remain to be worked out, he explained.

“It’s very complicated in the U.S.,’ he told “Because the (Environmental Protection Agency) won’t accept that a natural swimming pool is safe without chemicals.”

In Germany, several large natural public swimming pools have operated without major problems for years, Morse said. The Vista, California resident recently helped edit a book by British natural pool proponent Michel Littlewood that should be published by the end of the year. Total Habitat’s Mick Hilleary is offering a guide to natural pool construction on the company’s website.

More information is available at Expanding Horizons’ website, and at Total Habitat’s,

–Erik Skindrud

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