Transforming Your Swimming Pool into a Garden Pool

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by Gail Browser
(San Diego, California, USA)

Many a poured-concrete swimming pool that was once the family’s pride and joy now languishes unused in the back yard.

Time-consuming maintenance, including draining the water and scrubbing the pool in the fall, and the realization that the chemicals indispensable for keeping the water clean are not good for one’s skin or for the environment have led people to neglect their turquoise structures—in detriment to their yard’s looks. In such a situation the thought of a garden pool with lovely plants begins to look more and more attractive.

The question then comes up whether it might not be possible to have a combination swimming pool/garden pool. This is, in fact, an idea that can be turned into reality without excessive labor and at moderate expense.

What You Should Know: There are two simple methods of turning a swimming pool into a garden pool.

1. If the basin is still intact, showing neither cracks or flaking paint, you can simply paint it grayish black or earth brown, using a water¬proof paint. This creates the impression of a natural bottom. Then you set up a shallow section by partitioning some of the pool off with a wall of loosely piled rocks.

2. If there are cracks in the concrete, the paint is flaking off, or some of the tiles in a tiled pool are loose, a liner is the answer. If there areconcrete walls with a rough surface, it is a good idea to put a protective pad under the liner (available from pool supplies dealers or garden centers).

Fasten the liner to the inside of the pool’s edge with PVC-coated metal strips, pegs, and screws. After this first step, you continue as previously described under 1. Cover up the liner along the edge with plants in narrow, rectangular containers. One way to attach thecontainers is to hang them all around the pool on the type of hooks used to support flower boxes on balconies.

Special Remarks: Plants and the occasional use of a pool filter will keep the water clean enough so that you can swim in it without worry. The chemicals you used to add to the pool water are no longer needed and would be harmful to the plants. The water is, of course, not chemically pure because all kinds of creatures are bound to invade the pool.

Microscopic animals and small insects like water striders and water fleas are a natural part of a pool, and they, too, help keep the water clean because they “process” dead plant parts, algae, and other organic material. If you enjoy a swim in a wild pond or a quarry pool now and then, your pool in its new “natural” state will seem like pure heaven.

Plants: You can introduce many marsh and water plants into the shallow-water area. And if you don’t mind swimming among plants, you can plant the deep part of the pool lavishly as well (place the plant containers on pillars built of perforated bricks). Just a few plants is fine, too, if you prefer it that way.

Animals: If you use your revamped pool only rarely for swimming, it can be an ideal home for goldfish or Koi Carp. The fish won’t mind sharing the water with people now and then. A pool filter that works properly will keep the water clean enough and the oxygen level high enough for them. Generally, such a pool will be deep enough for the fish to overwinter in it.

The Pool’s Margin: In most cases a swimming pool is surrounded by lawn. If that is what you like, you can keep it that way. But if you would prefer a somewhat more natural look, you can set up a marsh garden next to the pool or plant flowers, grass¬es, or ferns. Any kind of vegetation near the pool is fine.

Upkeep: The same maintenance chores are required as for other garden pools: thinning plants, replenishing water during prolonged dry spells, changing about a third of the water once or twice during the summer.

Updated: November 11, 2012 — 9:06 pm

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