An Honest Case Study of Owning a Natural Swimming Pond
31st July 2016
In April 2014 we swam in our new swimming pond for the first time. Since that delightful first swim I have been asked so many times about the difference between conventional pools and swimming ponds that I thought I would set out some thoughts in writing.
I also thought it might be interesting to note the ongoing fun and challenges, as one of the most interesting things about swimming ponds is that no two seasons are the same. It would be no exaggeration to say that every week feels different. That is both a great positive and a challenge. In this first scribbling, I'll mainly focus on what I consider to be the biggest least-well understood area.
All of the positives that you will hear about swimming ponds are true. There is no doubt at all about the joy of swimming in chemical-free pure water, surrounded by plants and small wildlife. It is sublime.
However, this aquatic bliss does come at a price and not just a financial one (it is nearly always cheaper to go the conventional route). The real price is in the time needed for maintaining the pond. This is not really about pumps or filters and there are no chemicals to add, so it is hard to imagine where this time goes. The answer is elbow-grease. The systems have all been dependable, but they can only do so much. Gartenart built our pond (although the beautiful design was done by Andy and Jon at Ecopools) and I have been very impressed by the build quality, everything that Gartenart installed has functioned as it should and we are well into our third summer of swimming now.
The thing that if I'm honest I underestimated and the thing that all would-be pond owners might want to know is about the challenge with algae. In truth, after owning and looking after our pond for a couple of years, it is easy to see why people invented chlorinated pools. I think it is fair to say that one is not 'better' than another, but the challenges are very different and the swimming experiences are too. If you want to swim with nature, then you can't turn around and ask for a menu too: you get all the nature that wants to make a home there. Most of it is delightful: dragonflies, newts, tadpoles and many more add so much to a swim. But the main unwelcome culprit is ALGAE.
I'll try not to bang on about it, but to my mind it is one of the main things to consider if you are weighing up whether to build a swimming pond. The hours it takes in summer to stay on top of the algae situation can be quite daunting if you don't learn to enjoy it. During a warm spell in July or August, I would ideally need to spend about an hour a day on our pond to make it clean enough for a nice swim for the family. Realistically, work makes that impractical, so playing catch-up takes up much of a weekend day. I'll be honest, if I go away for a week during warm summer weather, I do approach the pond with slight trepidation on returning - creeping up to the edge to peer in and see what shape the algae tussle is going to take. (There are myriad different types of algae, and each one thrives in different conditions).
On the flip side, in winter maintenance shrinks to a very manageable level and it is possible to go a couple of weeks without giving the pond a thought. And one of the great positives of a pond is that it is just as beautiful in winter as in summer - many conventional pools are something of an eyesore in winter. This was one of our smaller reasons for going the pond route - our garden isn't big enough to tuck a pool away out of sight. The main reason was that we all love swimming and nature. (I'm so keen on water that I wrote a book about it.)
In brief, I'm convinced that the trick with a swimming pond is to learn to enjoy the maintenance. Brushing, skimming, netting, these are all time-consuming tasks, but they needn't be unpleasant. Just as gardening can be seen as an irksome chore or a relaxing pastime, so the work on the pond can be seen between these posts.
And this is probably the best qualifier as to whether a swimming pond is for you. Do you honestly enjoy tinkering and outdoor jobs?
Ask yourself the two following questions and answer them honestly and you'll probably have a good idea of whether a swimming pond is for you:
Does the idea of brushing algae in a pond for a couple of hours sound like a pleasant or unpleasant addition to a Sunday?
If you have to pause to pull a clump of blanketweed off your face during a swim, is that a small disaster or just the way things are in nature?
There are no shortage of images of swimming ponds looking idyllic, so I thought I'd share a few more realistic mid-summer ones to give a more balanced view of the algae challenge.
All the hard work is worth it though, as the swimming, especially in the mornings before the algae begins to rise, is as wonderful as it gets.
I'll try to update this page as things develop and especially if I learn any tricks for turning the tide - forgive the inappropriate pun - against the algae.
If you have any questions about swimming ponds or any observations or tips you'd like to share, please do get in touch.
Thanks for reading,