By Markus Winkler and Karen J. Williams
What does a gold rush cabin from the 1800s, mining cart, putting green, and a natural swimming pool (NSP/swim pond) all have in common? They are the focal point of an award-winning landscape design in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. This project was not only filled with some challenging tasks, but was also highly rewarding in that a tranquil, beautiful setting was created for the client who was seeking something unique and environmentally friendly. So, what goes into a project of this undertaking, which won several design/build and environmental awards?
This project was aptly named the Okanagan gold rush as the client had a gold rush cabin they always wanted next to a lakeside setting. Living within a large-scale city, the client wanted to feel as though they could step out of their home and be one with nature without losing some of the luxuries city life affords. That said, it was quite clear a conventional swimming pool would not work for them, but rather something more natural to go hand-in-hand with the existing landscape and rustic-looking cabin. Therefore, a NSP, or swim pond as they are commonly referred, was a more viable option.
Many more questions needed answering; therefore, the steps involved in making this a successful project included: getting the answers, educating all parties involved, and then starting the project. The combination of rustic nature and modern luxury could be seen as a clash of the titans; however, when executed properly, there can be a seamless transition between the two to create a softening of the hardscape.
What is a NSP and how does it differ from a traditional pool?
Like all projects, there are hot buttons (e.g. items or features, which evoke an emotional attachment) from the clients as well as the design/build teams. Marrying the two together can sometimes be more of a challenge for the master (lead) designer than the project itself as things such as client needs and desires along with project feasibility, logistics, capabilities, timelines, budget, and maintenance all need to be kept in mind. A NSP is not unlike its traditional counterpart in many ways, but is built to leave a smaller environmental footprint, while preserving natural resources. There are ways in which a NSP will change the client’s thought processes as well. For example, plant life is one of the main components of a swim pond; therefore, maintenance is more like water gardening rather than cleaning as one would a traditional swimming pool.
With the introduction of plant life and natural filtration techniques to clarify the water, NSPs provide a waterway of enjoyment without the use of chemicals. There are similarities, however, as both pool types use skimmers, pumps, and water circulation to help keep them clean. As the water in a NSP is naturally filtered via plant life it becomes soft (as opposed to hard water in a traditional pool). Although NSPs may be a new concept within the North American market, they have existed for more than 30 years with more than 40,000 currently in use worldwide—both residential and commercial.
Educating the client and supplier
It is important to stress not just any plants can be used in a NSP. For instance, greenhouse plants at a typical nursery, which are given a healthy regiment of fertilizer so they grow faster for quicker turnaround, cannot be used. Introducing this type of vegetation into a NSP could have disastrous results as fertilizers can be full of phosphates (PO43-) and nitrates (NO3–)—two things that should never be in the water at high levels. Therefore, it was important to educate the vegetation supplier, who was highly experienced in growing specific types of water plants, not only on what specific vegetation was required, but also what the plants needed to provide to the NSP. This is the basis of a balanced ecosystem and one of the reasons the water remains clean and clear.
In terms of the client, after explaining the details about the two types of swimming pools, once they understood the differences it was an easy choice for them to go with the NSP. Now came the fun part—prepping for the design.