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Swimming in Nature

Natural Pools Filter with Plants, Not Chemicals

by Monette Friedlander

Natural Pools 1Natural swimming pools are a healthy, eco-friendly alternative to traditional pools that require hefty applications of chemicals. Europe, where such pools have been popular since the mid-1980s, boasts more than 20,000 of them, 100 of which are public pools in Germany. Today, these sustainable oases of recreation and pleasure are gaining popularity in the U.S.

Natural pools can be constructed to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings or built to accentuate the architecture of an adjacent home. While design and construction options are limitless, natural pools all share certain green characteristics: they are free of the chemicals, additives and energy-depleting filtration and heating systems common to most backyard pools.

Natural swimming pools are designed with two main areas: a swimming zone that resembles a conventional swimming pool or pond, and a regeneration zone that contains a lined overflow pool filled with gravel, sand or lavastone for filtration, and aquatic plants. The plants provide a working eco-system for the pool, supporting beneficial bacteria, water regeneration and an attractive natural aesthetic. Pool owners and their designers can also choose to supplement the “working” plants with decorative species.

Installation costs for these self-cleaning, mini-ecosystems are about the same as traditional, chemical-based pools, but they are easier and less expensive to maintain. Natural pools don’t require covers during the winter (they provide a scenic backdrop when frozen over) or the constant addition of chlorine and other chemicals. Skimming fallen leaves off the surface is the biggest upkeep job that owners face.

Natural Pools 2Because the regeneration zone of a natural pool is outside of the swimming area, aquatic life remains separate from swimmers. Frogs, dragonflies and birds keep mosquitoes and their larvae at bay. An aeration system oxygenates the water to prevent the buildup of unwanted film and helps circulate water through the plant roots for cleansing. If designed and managed properly, natural pools remain just as clean and safe as their conventional counterparts, while leaving a much lower “pool print” on Mother Earth.

Monette Friedlander is an Ohio-based independent landscape designer and consultant. Connect with her at

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