Sitting on the deck beside our natural pool, with a backdrop of birdsong and bubbling water, a gentle breeze sending ripples of light across the pool’s surface, already SARAH MURCH, director of Ensata Natural Pools, feels relaxed, recharged and clearheaded after a day cooped in the office.
In the last five minutes a starling has flown down to the beach for a drink, a charm of goldfinches splashed beside the jetty, I’ve just seen the first swallows dip and two pied wagtails are bobbing up and down territorially on the giant boulders set amongst newly emerging reeds.
This time of year our natural pool is fringed with pale blue water forget-me-nots and bright yellow marsh marigolds, which have seeded gently between arrow shaped irises, aromatic water mint, and linear reeds.
Clumps of sunshine coloured Carex elata contrast with pools of dark blue cammasias flowering in the surrounding borders – even this early in the season it is hard to see where the water stops and the garden begins. The first water lily leaves are floating on the pool’s surface amid waxy, white flowers of fragrant water hawthorn, cast about like confetti.
It is idyllic, a watery retreat, the place we enjoy spending time together as a family, but I’ll be honest – it is the UK, the middle of May so I’ll admit to sitting here in a coat – we have yet to build our pool cabin.
Drawn to water for some inspiration for this feature here are Ensata’s top 10 reasons for choosing a Natural Pool.
1. Chemical Free Water
The crystal clear water is chemical free, filtered by water plants and biological filtration. This pure, living water does not sting your eyes, irritate your skin or dry your hair. Sliding into the silky smooth water at the end of a hard day is a truly sensuous experience.
2. Health Benefits
Like wild swimming in your own garden, swimming in fresh water has proven health benefits and releases endorphins- you emerge feeling uplifted. Spending time beside the water is relaxing, allows us to wind down and connect with nature – of great value in today’s fast pace of life.
3. Outdoor Living
A natural pool is more than just a swimming pool. The perfect setting for alfresco dining, outdoor living and entertaining friends and family. Adding a pool cabin with a log burner allows clients to enjoy the water throughout winter.
4. No Heating costs:
With their shallow filtration areas, natural pools warm up quickly with natural solar gain, meaning no heating requirements and a long swimming season. Our own natural pool in Yorkshire was 17C at the end of March (= North Sea in summer). It is consistently 21C throughout a typical mediocre summer and during the course of one sunny day rises easily to 23C by mid afternoon (= Mediterranean Sea in summer). We swim from April to October. Some of our clients install hot tubs and saunas as incentive to winter swimming. Clients wishing for a consistently warmer pool can boost the temperature with an air source heat system and solar/thermal covers work well with Living Pools and Hybrid Pools.
5. Low maintenance
Natural pools require regular, low level maintenance during the swimming season and can be left alone while a client is on holiday. The balanced, living system requires management and we provide a professional pool service in winter. Key to success is a well-designed, accessible pool that is easy and quick to maintain with a pool robot.
6. Part of the Garden
Gone are the days of blue rectangles! A natural pool is an extension of the house and garden – formal, contemporary or naturalistic in style, plunge pool or lake size – even adjacent to the house. Think glass walls, reflective sheet of water, patios stepping down to the pool. Pool design embraces form and function with diving platforms, sun decks, cascades, waterfalls, jetties, floating stepping stones, boulders, fountains and rills all playing their part in the hydraulics and enhancing our clients’ enjoyment of the pool. We use a variety of hard materials to finish the pool, or simply run soft landscaping up to the water’s edge. Planting in and around the water is a designer’s dream- we merge the boundaries between pool and garden- surrounding the water with wild flower meadows, linear grasses, bog gardens, gravel gardens – repeating plants in the pool and garden to unify the scheme.
A Natural Pool is a magnet for wildlife. We swim with swallows dipping, iridescent dragonflies darting across the water’s surface. Children spend hours with a mask and snorkel exploring the remarkable world of pond life that remains in the regeneration zones- leaving the swim zone free for swimming.
Looking into the crystal clear water is like looking into a giant aquarium- we observe newts like miniature dragons, and tiny bats patrol the water in the evenings. Frogs and toads have built up in numbers in the surrounding garden and our resident garden birds now include 23 species from the Red and Amber Birds of Conservation Concern list. We love seeing the kingfisher perched on a deck chair. In short the benefits for wildlife are immense.
8 Changes with the seasons
Like a garden, a Natural Pool changes with the seasons, with fresh spring marginals, summer water lilies and magical autumnal mists rising from the water. In winter the pool becomes a huge Sky Mirror, reflecting light and tree silhouettes.
9 To Plant or not to Plant?
Natural Pools are filtered and purified by beautiful water plants known as Regeneration Zones.
An alternative pool requiring less space and no water plants is the Living Pool Still chemical free water, using biological filtration, a Living Pool can be as small as a plunge pool. For those clients wanting the feel of a Natural Pool but where space is at a premium, the Hybrid Pool comes into its own- essentially a Living Pool with a small area of water plants incorporated.
In addition to no heating requirements, our Natural Pools have low energy requirements meaning low running costs. In winter the pumps are switched off. The ecological benefits of a Natural Pool are of positive value with planning applications- we have constructed Natural Pools for Grade 1 listed properties in conservation areas where a conventional pool was simply refused planning permission.
Sarah Murch is a natural pool designer and director of Ensata, a specialist natural pool design and construction company, and accredited Biotop partner. Ensata’s acclaimed show pool, set in five acres of award winning Ellicar Gardens is open to the public throughout summer. See www.ensata.co.uk for opening times and dates. On 16th June 10am-1pm Ensata is holding a Natural Pool CPD for Architects, Landscape Architects and Garden Designers see: http://www.ensata.co.uk/open-day-for-architects