Splash down with a natural pond

21 Jul 2008

Forget about red eyes when swimming, you can now go the green route with a natural swimming pond, a new yet budding concept in South Africa.

Surprisingly for South Africa, where summers are long and hot by European standards, the natural swimming pond was pioneered in Austria, a country synonymous for many with snow-laden ski slopes and Gluhwein.

Since being pioneered in 1985 by Peter Petrich, whose company Biotop sits in Weidling outside Vienna, the natural swimming pool has made its way into thousands of homes and hotels in Europe and the USA.

However, in South Africa where outdoor living and entertainment is a way of life, it's a newcomer to the swimming scene which is dominated by blue, mosaic-tiled pools. However, local pioneer installer Mike Carver of Inxcess Projects in Gauteng expects the concept to catch on "big time" in South Africa in the next couple of years as people increasingly change their mindsets and become more environmentally aware.

So what exactly is a natural swimming pond?
It's a man-made pool that blends seamlessly with its natural surroundings, whether veld or garden, while simultaneously providing chemical-free, pure, clear water as one would find in lakes and mountain pools, says Carver. "It's an eco-friendly swimming pool, natural water feature and wildlife lure all in one."

The idea behind it is to harness nature's ability to provide purified water via a bio-filter rather than using chemicals which very often come with red eyes and blocked sinuses, not to mention a lingering smell. Carver says the bio-filter system is a highly effective method of purifying water via aquatic plants and minerals. This is complimented by the installation of a filter to catch surface leaves, and a pump to circulate the water.

Structurally, the natural swimming pond (or pool) comprises two separate areas which are divided by a low wall. The deeper pool is for unimpeded swimming, while the shallow section accommodates the bio-filter, flora and pump.

"The swimming area is kept clean and clear by a careful ecological balance in conjunction with a pump and possibly some ultra violet light," he explains, adding that he has bio-filters still running untouched after five years.

Whether the requirement is for a plunge pool or lake, size and design are entirely at the discretion of owners. Uniquely designed to blend in with their natural surrounds, the swimming pond accommodates a wide range of tastes and budgets.

Completely free of chlorine and other chemicals, which has obvious health benefits, maintenance costs are so limited that any additional expenses incurred during the building stages is sure to be offset within a year or two of its existence.

"Generally, maintenance on a natural pool is much less than a conventional pool, even though the initial cost of building tends to be slightly higher," he says. Working on a thumb-suck costing, Carver says one can expect to pay about R3k per linear running metre. This works out to around R54k for a 6 x 4m pool, inclusive of the natural rocks and water-purifying plants.

Among Carver's list of clients is Yolan Friedmann, chief executive officer of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and an ardent environmentalist. She and her veterinarian partner Ed are having their existing cement-based pool converted into a natural swimming pond by Carver.

"Ed and I love the outdoors, hence our decision to buy a property that allows us to enjoy as much of South Africa's glorious weather and natural environment as possible," she says.

"It therefore stands to reason that we prefer a swimming pond to a swimming pool as it enhances the natural beauty of the property while accommodating a wide variety of indigenous plants and wildlife such as fish, insects, terrapins, frogs and birds. It will have a minimal environmental impact, which is a bonus in urban environments where there is so little for these species to thrive on anymore."

"The design is not only far more beautiful than any pool we have ever seen, but forms part of our desire to live naturally within our environment instead of altering it to suit the needs of human beings only."

At the same time, their mostly exotic garden is being redone by indigenous landscaper and artist Tim Conradie of The Gardeners. Conradie is passionate about creating natural environments able to sustain as much life as possible while simultaneously being aesthetically pleasing.

Accordingly, his focus is on indigenous settings with the emphasis on endemic plants. "Yolan and Ed live in a predominantly grassland area of the Johannesburg Highveld, which means we're planting veld grass as well as Karees and Firethorns, which are typically found in natural bush clumps in this locale."

Conradie, who took his inspiration for their garden from one he did recently on a 10,000sq m stand in Beaulieu in Midrand, says it's a work in progress with no set date for completion. As their eco-system matures, he will be adding more locally occurring plants such as wild olives, Buddleja, wild sage, cussonias and blue bushes.

Conradie dispels any suggestions that natural swimming ponds are only for the well-heeled, saying that his clients tend to be defined more by their sense of environmental awareness than by their financial status. However, he adds, there's no arguing that it's the wealthy who can most afford to take a leap into what is still the relative unknown since they will be able to afford to change it if they don't like the final product. Then he chuckles. "Nobody has disliked the end result so far."

Not only does he specialise in new installations, but he is also able to adapt existing swimming pools such as the one he did on a farm in the Magaliesburg.

What's also heartening for those whose dreams are inclined towards the natural but who live in suburbia, a natural swimming pond can be constructed on a relatively small piece of land. This for Conradie translates to a quarter of an acre or thereabouts, which he says is big enough to create a sustainable miniature eco-system which will surprise and delight with its diverse and rich birdlife and wildlife offerings.

Predicting that demand for natural swimming pools will catch on like wild fire in South Africa, Conradie says he hopes that when it does, it's not a fad. "Fads, by definition, pass. I want this to become the norm." – Ingrid Smit

For more information contact 011 789 7056.

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