Natural pools: 10 stunning designs and ideas for backyard swimming ponds
Get back to basics with these natural pools – they're perfect for a refreshing swim and are chemical-free
Natural pools and swimming ponds are becoming increasingly popular in gardens. And, as there are so many benefits to them, we're totally unsurprised. Not only are they better for wildlife, but natural swimming ponds are better for humans too. There are no harsh chemicals such as chlorine involved. Plus, you get to swim alongside beautiful plants and the odd dragonfly or two – surely a boost to anyone's wellbeing.
What's more, although there are plenty of stunning backyard pool ideas out there, a traditional design can look bulky and lacklustre over the colder season when it's undercover and not in use. Natural pools, on the other hand, blend in seamlessly to a garden and make a lovely feature all year-round.
We've rounded up a collection of stunning swimming ponds below. If you're thinking about adding a pool to your plot, then a natural version may well be on the agenda once you've looked through these.
How do natural pools work?
Without chemicals, you may be wondering how natural pools stay clean. Well, when bodies of water are large and deep enough and kept in a low-nutrient state, nature can take care of the cleanliness itself.
Micro-organisms and the power of plants work together to purify and filter the water, resulting in a clear and clean place to swim. In swimming ponds, there is what's known as a 'regeneration area' present, which includes all these important aquatic plants.
Where this area is positioned depends on the design of the pool, explains Tim Evans, Director of Gartenart. For organic-shaped ponds, it could make up a border around the edge of the pool, whilst in formal designs, the planting area can be positioned to one side or at one end. Whatever style you go for, it needs to make up at least 20% of the total water surface area, Tim adds.
Small pumps, shingle, and other non-chemical means can also be used as part of the filtration system, to ensure the water stays clean and more-or-less algae-free.
1. Surround a natural pool with a meadow
With the lack of chemicals and abundance of plants, natural pools are a fantastic addition to wildlife garden ideas. As Tim Evans from Gartenart says, they will bring more diversity into your garden, attracting the likes of water boatman, beetles and dragonflies, as well as birds coming to drink.
And, if you've got the space, surrounding it with meadow-style planting will encourage even more pretty pollinators to your plot. High grasses positioned around the pool will also offer an element of privacy and shelter, as well as a relaxing rustle in the breeze. This circular design from Gartenart is a dreamy example – perfect for a summertime dip.
One thing to avoid, however, is letting ducks or other waterfowl inhabit your pool. This is due to their waste being high in nutrients, which will affect the pool's ability to stay clean, as explains Tim.
The team at Poolscape also advise against bringing fish into natural pools – again, due to the high-nutrient nature of their waste.
2. Or, for a more formal look, border your pool with paving
Prefer more contemporary pool landscaping ideas? It's perfectly possible to go for a more formal look with natural ponds.
This design from Gartenart is surrounded by sleek paving for a crisp and clean finish. And, it includes chic stepping stones and a wooden jetty, which cross over the regeneration border for easy access to the main swimming area.
Plenty of tall, colorful planting softens the edges alongside large stones, evoking an organic feel. And naturally, the vast view elevates the scene even further.
3. Add a jetty complete with a pool house
Pool house ideas are fabulous additions for all types of pool, swimming ponds included. This wooden design provides a shaded spot for retreating from the midday sun and looks positively charming. A ladder leads to a small room up top, ideal for changing or storing towels.
Accessed via a wooden jetty, it gives the space an exclusive edge – perfect for a sense of privacy and peace. And, when you fancy a dip, you can simply jump straight in – bliss!
4. Take in the view from a seating spot
A seating spot near a natural pool is a must-have – either to relax and enjoy the sun's rays post-swim come summer, or to enjoy the view of the water during winter. Decking ideas are a great choice – their natural appearance will complement the organic style of a swimming pond well. And, if you position them to jut out over the water, then they'll provide a handy platform for jumping from, or at least for dipping in your feet.
Add some sturdy and low-maintenance furniture and it'll be your new favorite entertaining spot in no time – our guide to the best wooden garden furniture has plenty of stylish picks.
5. Divide up the design
If you prefer to keep the divide between plants and pool more defined, then take a cue from this design above. Here, the plant-filled filtration zone is separated from the main swimming pool using a wall, which reaches above the water line for a smart and structural look.
What's more, splitting the pool into two distinct zones in this way allowed the creators at Gartenart to add insulation panels to the swimming area, which keeps the water warmer.
The curved wooden pathway around the back of the plants enhances the natural look further, and provides a smart edge to the lawn ideas beyond.
6. Border your natural pool with rocks
If you're after a lagoon-like vibe for your natural pool, then don't be afraid to incorporate larger stones and rocks around the edges. Plenty of perennial plants nearby, including lots of leafy foliage, will transform the space into an oasis that feels like it's straight out of the jungle.
Can you spot the sculpture in this scene, too? It's a simple way to give a space an extra level of interest and personality.
If you love this look, our feature on tropical garden ideas has lots more styles and tips for creating a holiday-feel in your backyard.
7. Keep it small and chic
You don't necessarily need a huge great space for natural pools. This design by Gartenart is petite yet perfectly-formed, and fits beautifully into a sunken patio.
Curved steps descend enticingly into the cool water. Meanwhile, the attractive planting area is neatly tucked to the far end, where a large rock makes a pleasing focal point. We love the addition of garden gravel ideas to the scene too, which offer a laid-back edge and complement the surrounding stone wall beautifully.
8. Or, go for a large lake
Alternatively, if you're looking for large garden ideas, then swimming ponds are a surefire way to make an impressive impact. And if you've got the space, why not?
This luxurious design cuts across the lawn with its organic shape and is bordered with pockets of colorful aquatic plants. There's even a small waterfall, too.
9. Add plenty of plants
One of the greatest parts of a natural pool is all the best pond plants available to pick from. Water lilies with their elegant flowers and jolly round leaves are a classic choice, and as demonstrated here, look nothing short of striking when used en masse.
Here, they are gently divided from the main swimming pool zone, creating a verdant frame of foliage. That way, they won't get in the way if you want to do laps, but still provide a beautiful view (and will help keep the water clean, too).
10. Illuminate natural pools for night-time swims
If you bring outdoor lighting ideas to your pool and its surroundings, then you'll open up the opportunity to bathe in it at night. And, what could be more relaxing than a dip beneath the stars?
This sophisticated design has no chlorine filter installation – instead it is what the creators at Biotop call a 'Living Pool'. Unlike many other swimming ponds, there are no plants included. Instead, these keep themselves clean due to the economically-efficient and energy-saving use of pumps, as well as hidden sieve skimmers, and biofilters which use purifying micro-organisms. They're a great alternative choice if you're after distinctly modern garden ideas.
What are the benefits of natural pools?
There are many benefits to a natural pool, as Tim Evans from Gartenart explains.
Clients often decide on a natural pond because they look beautiful and fit into the garden in an organic way, he says. In other words, natural pools combine both practical and aesthetic aspects – they can be used for swimming but look great, too.
Once clients have their new swimming ponds, they realize that there are benefits beyond these factors, continues Tim. Swimming in natural water is very different to being in chlorinated water or the sea – it feels better on the skin as has a silkier, softer quality, and is overall a very pleasurable and beautiful experience.
Of course, the lack of chemicals is great for the ecosystem and wildlife too. Plus, once they're in, natural pools are much easier to maintain.
How do you maintain a natural pool?
The team at Poolscape provide some insight into the maintenance of natural pools. Generally, maintenance is less costly for these designs in comparison to normal pools. First, there's no need to splash out on all the noxious chemicals which are otherwise frequently added to traditional styles. Running costs also tend to be low, especially if low-wattage pumps within low water-lift architecture are used.
Oxygenating plants need to be cut back at the end of spring and top growth should be removed in the early winter. Removing floating leaves and other matter with a hand net should also be done periodically. But, all of this can be done by the pool-owners themselves, and is free to do.
Some jobs, however, may call for the professionals. For instance, the bottom of the main swimming area should be vacuumed two to three times a year, and skimmer sieves will need emptying. Every few years, the planted areas will need overhauling, too.
Overall, living and natural pools are simple to maintain – we'd even go as far as to suggest them for your low maintenance garden ideas.
How much does a natural pool cost?
Natural pools are often more expensive to install than normal ones due to their unique design. Many installation companies will create them bespoke to the client's needs.
As the team at Poolscape explain, there is no simple way to give an overall cost of swimming ponds, as every design is different. They suggest a ballpark figure of £500 to £700 per square meter (approximately $700–$1,000), depending on all the variables.
For instance, a smaller, regular-shaped pool, placed on level, stable ground with good access for building may cost around £30,000+VAT (the equivalent to around $42,367), estimates the team. However, if you're looking to add a large, irregular-shaped natural pool to your sloping garden ideas, maybe with some additional equipment for water cleaning, then you'll be looking at a larger cost of around £70,000–£100,000 or more (around $98,862–$141,232).
According to Gartenart, formal designs can also cost more, due to the blockwork wall, coping, and the more labor-intensive liner application process that's involved.
The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.
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