Natural Swimming Pools

 In Garden Design, News

I first came across Ellicar Natural Pools when I attended a talk that Sarah Murch gave. It was a fascinating talk. However, more recently, whilst I was filming for Garden of the Year, I was even luckier to come across a natural pool that Ellicar had designed and built for one of their clients. It was stunning and I remember the whole crew just wanted to jump in it. I was so impressed with the pool that I invited Sarah to write a guest blog so that I could share this with you all.

Are you looking for a change in lifestyle? Why a Natural pool may hold the answer…

Almost everyone wants to enjoy more outdoor living. And if you want to truly embrace a different way of life a natural pool takes outdoor living to another level for everyone and is the perfect antidote to modern life.

Natural pools provide the perfect setting for outdoor living. They can be naturalistic or contemporary in design. Here our Welshpool project is finished with stone coping and decking to blend into its surroundings.

What is a natural swimming pool?

A natural pool is a chemical-free swimming pool with a swim zone separated from a regeneration zone, usually by submerged walls, where aquatic plants carry out hydro-botanical filtration.

The water is crystal clear, balanced and hygienically filtered. It’s like swimming in a mountain lake.

Our natural swimming pools are filtered using Biotop’s water balancing technology- an Austrian company which pioneered the world’s first swimming pond over 30 years ago.

Natural pools or swimming ponds can start from a 20m2 plunge pool up to a swimming lake. Most domestic natural pools are around 100m2 in size.

They can be naturalistic and curving in outline, or rectilinear with a contemporary feel, which works especially well adjacent to the house.

Expect a long swimming season with temperatures of 22-26C in summer, naturally heated by the sun.

Our Lincolnshire natural pool and garden project. The pool is a getaway, surrounded by naturalistic planting and meadows with a deck and paved area in readiness for a pool house and sauna.

Pools without plants

Living Pools are chemical free, just like natural swimming pools, but they look like a conventional pool. There is no regeneration zone with water plants, instead biological filters carry out the filtration process. They can be indoors, covered and heated to 30C.

An antidote to modern life

It’s just like wild swimming in your back garden!

Sliding into crystal clear water at the end of a day literally washes away the day’s stress.

And a morning dip is the best start to the day.

Highly addictive, a natural pool isn’t just for the warmer months either. Cold water swimming has proven health benefits – a winter’s day dip before plunging into the hot tub is a luxurious treat for all your senses.

But it’s more than just swimming

Water brings a garden alive. And a natural swimming pool becomes the focal point of outdoor living.

It’s a space to sit and relax, reconnect with nature. Watch wildlife and listen to birdsong.

Or the perfect setting for picnics, parties, family get-togethers, and glorious afternoon gatherings with friends.

Whether you’re BBQing on the sun deck or indulging in an al-fresco sit-down dinner, your natural pool is the perfect backdrop to relax and unwind at home.

Ecological Benefits

When you consider the excitement a tiny bird bath brings to your garden, just imagine the biodiversity a 100m2 natural pool will bring!
In summer swallows dip and dragonflies dart by as you swim. Watch bats hunting over the water in the evenings. Birds splash in the shallows all year. A Kingfisher regularly visits our natural pool, perching on a deck chair by the water.

You will see amphibians in early spring, spawning in the regeneration zone, while newts peform their courtship dance along the submerged walls.

Goldfinch bathing amongst the shallow marginals

Hidden away amongst the deep aquatic plants is a world of wierd and wonderful pond life including whirlygigs, water boatmen, pondskaters, backstriders, diving beetles, caddis fly larvae… great fun to discover with a mask and snorkel.

Even as we are filling a new pool the pondlife arrives. And it’s wonderful seeing our clients’ joy as the first dragonfly or swallow appears.

It gives me the greatest pleasure to revisit our pool projects and discover how the site has changed with an increase in wildlife and biodioversity even in the first year. In fact we monitor and record the site’s ecology before and after, data we utilise for planning applications.

I also love the way we construct these pools for our clients and the wildlife just comes along and sets up home- I sometimes wonder who we are working for!

And the best thing is natural pools are a unique space for both people and wildlife – they are a place where people can reconnect with nature and where nature lives along side people.

Pool side marginals and water lilies frame a green oak jety at our Nottinghamshire swimming pond

The beauty of aquatic plants

A natural pool is like a garden, it changes with the seasons.

Along the water’s edge, we plant mostly native marginals including Yellow flag iris, Water forget me nots, Ragged Robin, Purple loosestrife, Marsh marigold, and Water arvens, which flower March to September. I like to plant aromatic Watermint at acess points where swimmers brush past to release its uplifting minty fragrance.

In the deep regeneration zone we plant deep aquatics such as Water hawthorne, which scatters its fragrant, white flowers like confetti across the water’s suface in winter.

We use water lilies sparingly – while attractive when flowering, they are of no benefit to the pool and in fact supress oxygenator growth, so no Monet pools!

The oxygenators plants play a vital role in balancing the water. We plant a selection of native oxygenators. Bare root oxys are attached to pebbles and dropped into the water- a fiddly process but we avoid using lead weighted bunches which are harmful to wildfowel.

Our own natural pool, surrounded by nauralistic planting, blends seamlessly into our garden here at Ellicar

Blending pool and garden seamlessly

There are wonderful planting opportunities around the water’s edge to blur the boundaries between pool and garden, with beaches spilling onto gravel gardens, pool side planting merging into bog gardens, meadowscapes wrapping around the water.
Many of the marginal plants can be repeated in the borders around the water’s edge such as Loosestrife and Irises. Plants such as Dierama and grasses have an affility with water.

Trees should be positioned with care. Beware of deciduous trees too close to the water. Leaves are detrimental to a natural pool. They decay and cause a nutrient surge in spring which results in algae. We position specimen deciduous trees on the leeward side of the pool. Buffer planting around the water’s edge helps snarl leaves and prevent them blowing into the water.

Design Process

Designing a natural pool is a complex process combining our client’s wishes, site biodynamics, aesthetics, construction, filtration and more.

Our design process starts with a site assessment and consultation.

Our Southwell natural pool with a swim zone 10m x 3m, with side regenerationzone, play beach and decking edge. With a living space and cabin adjacent to the water it is the perfect retreat for get togethers with family and friends

Working with the site’s biodynamics

During a site assessment we investigate the site’s biodynamics. We study the movement of water through the site- both surface and subterranean water. We may dig deep trial pits which indicate ground water levels and soil make up. This is vital when designing concete-free earth shaped pools and wildlife ponds and for planning construction and subterranean drainage.

We exlore the sun and shadow patterns, wind direction, and take into consideration existing features in the garden such as deciduous trees, site topography, noise and site aesthetics.

In addition we explore acess for materials and machinery during construction phase – which can have a knock on effect to pool design and position, construction materials and final installation costs.

Concept plans and calculations

Then we take all this information, together with our client’s brief and draw up concept plans for the pool. We produce a 3D model of the pool, sections and an overview which may be submitted for planning applications.

What looks like a pretty concept plan of the pool is actually the result of serious number crunching and caulculations. Every m2 of water is accounted for. We calculate the water volume, size and position of the filter chamber, biological filters and location of the skimmers. We position pipework runs and flanges, even the number of 90 degree pipe bends, to calculate pressure loss in the pipe runs.

A 100m2 natural swimming pool at Cleveland with coping on the submerged walls, beach, jetty and deck area

We set water level, design the pool outline, swim zone and regeneration zones, in-pool features such as jetties and water boulders and incorporate living spaces ex-pool such as decking and paving, cabins and saunas, BBQ areas and sunloungers. We will have an idea at concept stage of how these features all interact in terms of construction and footings.

We design the pool to incorporate views across the water, improve natural thermal gain, with screening, wind breaks and we detail planting ex pool.

Often we design the wider garden and enjoy collaborating on projects with Garden Designers, Architects and Landscape Architects.

Construction detailing

Next up we detail the technical construction drawings. Working together with our structural engineer we design the reinforced raft and walls of the swim zone, subterranean and surface water drainage, we position wall perforations and cut outs for flanges and equipment; the filter chamber, filters, drainage, services, pipework and hydraulics. We specify pumps and flow rates, a lining plan, a planting plan, detail the pool aggregates, the pool edge and work out the construction of in-pool features such as jetties, beaches, stepping stones, boulders plus any relevant hard landscaping plans such as a decking plan with hatches over the filters.

Often the natural pool is part of a wider house and garden development and it is important to consider the site as a whole for services, drainage and infrastructure.

Finishing the water’s edge

For an organic, naturalistric looking pool we finish the liner with gravel, spilling this onto a gravel path, gravel garden or border.
For a formal finish, stone coping and paving can be laid over the pool wall to create living spaces.

Decking works well adjacent to water and provides a warm, soft edge for sitting and dangling feet into the pool. It’s also great for sun loungers and allows us to construct access hatches when placed over the filter chamber.

A green oak Rope Bridge cleading to a floating pontoon at our Nottinghamshire natural pool project

Pool Features

Each natural pool is bespoke. The possibilities are endless. Last year we constructed a natural pool for a family with a rope bridge leading to a floating pontoon. The technical design for this was challenging!

We can incorporate jetties, penny decks, platforms, walkways.

Play beaches are a geat way for small children to access the water – they also improve thermal gain and are an excellent way to get into the pool slowly in winter!

Boulders look geat in naturalistic pools; cobbles and smaller pebbles can be scattered around the marginals and pool edge.
Each pool needs an access and exit point. These can be wooden ladders for a soft, natural feel, or stainless steel for a slicker look. Paved steps need regular maintenance to prevent them becoming slippery.

Filtered play beaches are perfect for small children to enjoy the water

Still waters or mesmerising ripples?

We even design with the pool’s hydraulics, bringing water back into the pool through boulders, millstones, jets, cascades, rills and streams. The sound of moving water can mask traffic in urban settings.

We use jets positioned under water to create ripples on the pool’s surface. Watching these backlit by the evening sun is mesmerising.

For a still, reflective pool water is returned deep down through flanges.

How much maintenance is involved?

Natural Pools and Swimming Ponds are easy to look after but require little, regular maintenance during the swimming season.

As a guide we recommend the pool’s swim zone is cleaned using a pool robot once every 2-3 weeks during the swimming season.

During summer surface skimmers need checking daily- a two minute job. If you are going away on holiday the skimmer pump can by switched off. In Autumn, during heavy leaf fall, skimmers may need emptying twice a day.

During winter we professionally service our client’s pools. The swim zone is industrially cleaned, marginals and aquatic plants are cut back and foliage removed. Hydraulics and pumps are checked. Filtration mats are replaced and we test the fill water.

Two access points into the water at or Southwell natural pool. A sloping beach with water boulder, or wooden stairs leading into a shallow end

The pool’s skimmer pump is switched off in winter and the water becomes still and atmospheric.

It is like a giant sky mirror refecting tree silhouettes and light in the winter garden.

Water cascade part of the pool’s return hydraulics, we constructed especially from an old slate water trough, it helps mask the sound of trafic in the valley below

Are you ready to take the plunge?

About Ellicar

15 years ago my husband Will and I trained as water specialists, constructed our first natural pool in our garden and set up our company, Ellicar, to design and build natural swimming pools.

What started as our shared love for wild swimming and passion for wildlife and plants has taken us on a journey and shaped our ecological approach to pool and landscape design.

Winter beauty. Ellicar natural pool surrounded by coloured willows and cornus reflects the winter sky

Now a dynamic family business, we live and breath pools and gardens.

After building natural pools for our clients all week we come together at weekends around our own natural pool here at Ellicar and enjoy spending family time together in and around the water.

Today we specialise in the design and installation of some of the most beautiful natural swimming pools in the world.

Working with nature we utililse Biotop’s water balancing technology to filter our pools biologically and we relish the challenges of each unique pool project.

We hope our enthusiasm and experiences of natural pools have inspired you to find our more:

Discover us:
Visit us: Ellicar, Carr Road, Gringley on the Hill, Doncaster DN10 4SN
Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook: @ellicarpools
Email us: [email protected]
Call us: 01777 933108

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