by Laura Crum
I apologize in advance for boring most of you horse folks with this completely not-horse-related story. But here is the rest of my “pool saga” (with photos) for those who are interested.
I planned and schemed endlessly during the winter before we built the pond. I drew little maps showing where each boulder should go. There was an “island rock” here, and a couple of big “blocker rocks” there, and a pointy rock by the mini “dock” we would build to hide the skimmer and submersible pump. The pointy rock would be matched by another pointy rock on the nearby hillside, and there would be a dozen boulders in a sort of rocky vein on the hillside—which would help the pool tie into the landscape. Just add a constant chain of ideas and thoughts (and sketches and lists of things to think about) along these lines and you get the idea of the way I spent my time.
I left the technical aspects of the pool construction (choice of liner, pipes and other infrastructure) up to Tim of Pond Magic, figuring he would know how to do this stuff after building 300 ponds.
As the date of actual construction on my project approached, I began spending a lot of time at the local “rock yard.” My husband and son began to hate the sound of the words “rock yard,” and soon refused to accompany me. I went down there two or three times a week, choosing boulders, and “singlehead” stacking stone, and flagstone and so on. I spent hours at a time there, just looking at rocks. All the kinds of stone I thought I’d need for the project.
I learned a whole lot about buying stone. I learned the process (you tag it and then the yard guys will assemble everything you tag in a place for reserved material and then you can look at it all together in one spot—very helpful), I learned that you buy stone by the pound-or ton- and I learned to estimate the weight pretty accurately (I used to buy cattle, so estimating weight came readily to me), I learned which kinds of stone were FAR more expensive than others. Over a two month period, I selected a lot of stone for my pool.
There were boulders for the pool rim and the hillside next to it, there was stacking stone for the dry-stone walls, there was flagstone for the floor, steps and surround, there were cobbles and gravel for the planting bed and ledge-stone for the wall around the planting bed. It was a big and interesting process, learning about and selecting stone. It took a lot of time, but I very much enjoyed it. I was quite surprised when Tim told me that virtually every other client he had ever had had left this process up to him. To me, that’s like giving away the most fun and creative part, or like owning a horse and always having someone else ride it.
Anyway, I did the work, selected the rock, and, eventually, wrote a check and had it delivered. Now we were truly embarked. And I must admit, I was pretty nervous.
This was a big project for me, and it was also a rather illogical project. Not like building a house, which seems quite logical. We didn’t need a pool. As my husband pointed out, we were digging a big hole in a perfectly good driveway. But I was still pretty sure I wanted to do it. I’m the one who has always owned horses, after all. I understood the point behind making illogical dreams come true.
So construction day arrived, the crew and backhoe showed up, and everything began to happen at once. Seriously.
If you have never done a big construction project, or never done one where you were truly in charge of it, you probably can’t grasp the intensity of the process. You literally can’t look away for a second. It is tremendously creative and rewarding and also very stressful at times. Sort of like training horses.
Anyway, I had previously designed and built two small houses, a big garden, and a horse set-up, and I knew more or less what to expect and how to deal with it. I had asked for and gotten from Tim a proposed timeline for the project. I had taken EVERYTHING out of my schedule for the projected two weeks of construction and I was prepared for the intensity. I had done what you need to do—thought hard and planned for everything I could, and also accepted that some (many) things would not go according to plan and many last minute changes would happen. I also knew that these last minute changes often created the most interesting aspects of a project. I knew that the contractor and I would be at odds from time to time and that tempers would fray, and I knew this was natural and OK. We all crossed our fingers things would go relatively smoothly, and bright and early in the morning the backhoe began placing boulders on the hillside, to my directions.
By noon we were digging the hole for the pool and by the end of the day we had, as my husband said, dug a very big hole in our perfectly good driveway.
And placed some lovely rocks on the hillside nearby.
The next day the pond liner went in.
The dry stone walls were built.
The following day the backhoe began placing the large boulders around the pool.
Now I’m going to skip forward in the interests of not boring you—below you see my son and a friend on the last day the crew was here, as we watched the pool fill with water. This gives you a good view of the stone steps leading in and the wall that divides the plant area from the “swimming” area. Bear in mind that every single stone that forms the steps and is placed around the edge was individually chosen for its position. A very creative, very intense process. All the stone is natural stone, some quarried, some not. There are no concrete pavers or man-made bricks involved.
My husband adds a little water to our whisky for the celebratory drink as we finish filling the pool. This was a very happy moment.
Here you look down into the “deep hole” (about five feet deep), with its sunken patio floor.
Here’s the fountain (designed by my husband and carved from our chosen piece of stone by one of the crew) in the early morning light.
Boy in the water—my son enjoying the pool on its first day of being—which just happened to be an eighty degree day. Serendipity.
Last light and reflections of roses at the end of the day.
If you look closely at these photos you will see that we haven’t finished trimming the liner and placing gravel all around the pool, nor have we put the plants in the plant area. We are slowly but surely accomplishing these tasks ourselves, as we are well able to do these things on our own…and construction crews are expensive. We let the crew go as soon as we could and I’m happy to say that the project came in on time and very close to our estimate. So far so good.
We are really enjoying our little pool, and though I know the future will hold challenges—natural pools are living things, just like horses, and they have their ups and downs—I very much look forward to living with/by/in water.
(Hope I didn’t bore you all too much. Those who are interested, feel free to ask questions. I sort of abbreviated much that went into the planning and building, because I felt the post would just become too tedious.)
Not boring at all, I love this, just so lovely. I'm a lap swimmer for exercise, but like your family, search for water everywhere I go. Your little pool really feels just right, and I love the huge rocks. All that work totally paid off.
My friend built a similar natural pool. He had always liked to go the local river, where there are many nudists. He got to an age where he didn't want to share that any more, so built his own pool from the river in his backyard. Then he said he could be naked and not scare anyone!
irish horse--Thank you! I am pretty much on the same page as your friend...
I'm interested to see what it looks like in a year or so - how you will manage algae and such. I love this idea.
I have never seen anything like this before. Your pool is stunningly beautiful.
Will the floor eventually be covered by sediment or soil? How will you control algae and mosquitoes?
Thank you all. Glad you like it. I'm very happy with it.
Becky and Val--Very astute of you guys. Because yes, those are THE questions. Since I've had my small fish pond for about seventeen years (see my previous post for a photo) I can pretty much say that we will have ups and downs with algae. At the same time, I still think my fish pond is lovely and overall the water is quite clear, so I also have some confidence we can deal with the issues that will come up. There are many products for algae control, but so far I've not needed to use them in the fish pond. There is typically an algae bloom in the spring and then the water gets in balance and is quite clear for the rest of the year. In general, the theory is that if the pool is in balance, the algae will not become a problem. But there WILL be some algae. I think that if this is a deal breaker for a person, that person had better not go for a pond/natural swimming pool.
I do think that the floor will eventually get a buildup of sediment. Not sure how long it will take. But my guess is that in five to seven years we will want to pump the pool out and clean it--this is something my pond builder/contractor suggested, and I think it will probably happen.
I will be bringing home a dozen mosquito fish tomorrow to control mosquitos. There are no mosquito wigglers in the goldfish pond--the fish eat them. But I don't want goldfish in the new pool--they are a very messy fish (they poop a LOT). Mosquito fish are small (one to two inches) and not nearly as messy as carp. And they will eat the wigglers. So we'll see how that works.
Really, this is all a big experiment. I've read a lot about these natural swimming pools, and some people have a lot of problems and some people don't. I'm hoping to be in the first group, but who knows? I told myself before I took the project on that I shouldn't do it if I wasn't prepared to cope with some "bad hair days" from the pool. So I hope I'm prepared.
I'll post a few photos from time to time so you can see how it evolves.
It looks like it goes perfectly with your house. Please post more pictures when you get the plants in place.
Simply beautiful!! My husband is HEAVILY into planted tanks......fish tanks with NO artificial plants allowed, sometimes NOTHING artificial except for the filter anyway (we currently have 3 planted fish tanks).......and he's been researching the idea of a natural pond. We like your idea where the pond just "fits", it belongs and has been there for ages.
As far as the algae is concerned, I believe my husband told me that some algae is *good*, beneficial but not sure how that works in a pool. But as you said, with plants added, they'll do their job purifying and possibly keep the algae down.
As far as the mosquitoes are concerned, my husband bought "mosquitoes dunks" for my bird bath and for his outside tanks when he was growing water plants. The package says safe for livestock water tanks, so I'd assume they'd be fine where you swim.....at least it's something to xheck in to.
I look forward to seeing your pool in all its natural beauty once you put the finishing touches. How neat to have something that beautiful right in your own backyard.....err driveway ;-)
Love the mosquito fish strategy. Your pool will most definitely be alive with a food web and all. Now who will visit to snack on the fish? I look forward to hearing about how your pool evolves.
I think it looks fantastic. Great design and job. Now that the hard work is done, you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Thanks all. I will post more photos as we get the water plants in. I put the mosquito fish in yesterday--they look happy. And Val--there is a great blue heron that visits us regularly, hoping to snack on the goldfish in the small pond. So far have not seen him at the new pool. And raccoons have, over the years, taken quite a few of my goldfish, so I know they'll be coming around. Yesterday morning I saw a doe drink out of the new pool--just as if it had been there for years.
*sigh* That is just BEAUTIFUL! And yes, it looks exactly like it has always been there. All your thought and planning re: the rocks definitely paid off. I don't know if I would be quite that involved but I'd want SOME say. I bet you are the "pool guy's" most unique customer so far!
I am trying to grasp something, though. In some photos the pool looks quite large - like, 20' long. In others it looks a lot smaller. Can you tell us the dimensions?
I totally understand why you wanted this, BTW. I am a water girl myself and have always wanted my own swimming pool (my dad got sick of me asking when I was a kid). I have a plenty big enough yard for one now but no $$, sadly. I'd have to spend a fortune on landscaping, too as it's just flat grass right now. Ah well, something else for when I win the lottery...
RiderWriter--Yes, the pond guy did say that my pool was "unique" and that he had not had anyone else who did all the work of designing and choosing the materials. Good guess. The pool is about ten by sixteen. Thanks for your interest--it's been a very engaging project for me.
What a beautiful sanctuary you've created., Laura It looks amazing!
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