If you’ve ever been wild swimming, you’ll know how great it is to swim in crystal clear, and importantly, chlorine-free water. Natural pools aim to capture this experience, by getting rid of the chemicals and instead use the power of plants to filter and clean the water. 

Ellicar Gardens was definitely one of the best venues I’ve been to for a CPD course, hosted by Sarah Murch, the talk included a visit to their Natural Pool located in their garden. 

A natural pool works in a similar way to conventional pools, with filters and circulation systems, however does so with planting. The pool is divided into two areas, the swimming area and the ‘restoration area’ where oxygenating plants live and clean the water. The restorative area needs to be approximately the same area as the swimming area, so the extra size needs to be considered, but the planted area can be considered as part of the garden. The pool is engineered in such a way that water flows towards a pump house to a skimmer, where large bits are filtered out, and then released back into the pool by jets of water. Once the basics have been understood, the pool itself can be of any style, contemporary, formal, naturalistic, large or small.

By creating a natural pool, you are creating an entirely new space, in some regards it is a far more complex procedure than designing a standard straight sided pool (although, something similar can be achieved with plants), consideration has to be made to light, both to enhance reflections, as well as to limit shading onto the surface of water. The way light can reflect on the water can bring a whole new dynamic to the garden, creating a play of light, an effect that is enhanced by the designed flow of the water which flows slowly towards the filter. As with most pools and ponds shading must be avoided as it will promote the growth of bacterial and other organisms, as well as acting to cool the water. Ultimately, with a natural pool ends up being more than a place to swim, its become a place to entertain, eat and relax, particularly if a cabin is included in the design.

A natural pool, nestled amongst planting, both in an out of the water, can be restorative and fun, and is a delight to see. The temporary natural pool at King’s Cross is a good example of how water could be used in an urban environment, and its popularity reflects how successful, and sustainable a permanent pool could be, all without the use of environmentally harmful chemicals.

The CPD was hosted by Sarah Murch, at Ellicar Gardens, Doncaster and organised by the Society of Garden Designers.