Pool disclosure, with digressions

Town mouse confessed to having non-native plants in her garden but I have much, much worse sins to lay bare.

Non-invasive non-native plants are fine in moderation, I say - they can add a nice garnish to a native garden. They can remind you of a fond memory - as sweet peas remind me of my mother.

Also sometimes a non-native is necessary to fill a niche for which a suitable native just won't work.

Another reason for using non-natives is to provide lusher greenery for fire prevention and aesthetics, up close to the house. Especially when your native habitat is chaparral - not known for fire resistance, on the whole.

In fact one logical step is to NEVER bring in local native plants from a nursery and instead propagate what's growing here. Then for a bit of garden garnish, bring in exotics (including California natives) that won't interbreed with the local flora. That's a purist approach,and probably not worth it-in the sense that even here we don't really have an undisturbed gene pool.

And speaking of pools.... that's what I have to confess...

The pool was here when we bought the house in 2000, and it was in a mess. We went back and forth for about 4 years about what to do while the pool quietly mouldered. It would cost about the same to refurbish as to remove. I think my big hidden agenda was to have the pool as a place for grandchildren to play and splash and have fun at Granny's House. Not that that happens much as my grandchildren live 6000 miles away -but so what - emotions care nought for miles.

Other factors weighed in on the Refurbish column: exercise - water aerobics and so on, very good for you as you age. Also fire safety - the fire department will first try to save the defensible homes, and 21K gallons of water help a lot.

So we put our hi-tech-bubble-dollars into refurbishing the pool. And Mr Brush Mouse built a new pool shed, stairs, and deck. It's really very nice as you can see. Still stark but I have to work on the landscaping yet.

The pool garden was actually my first ever landscaping project, and I planned it in a class with the inestimable Fran Adams. But my ideas were very inchoate at that point and in the years following I formed a strong nativist philosophy (when it comes to flora and fauna only!). So last year I ripped out the little lawn etc. and have yet to put in something else.

We also have to work on the pool fence which is child-safe, but just barely. We have lots of cool ideas integrating solar water heating and potting sheds etc with the fence. But we no longer live in tech bubble days and have opted for a simpler hammer and nails approach.

And -- we have the down side of pool ownership to contend with: energy use, and chemical use. Energy is partly supplied by solar electric panels. And we use as little chemicals as possible but still - chlorine, diatomaceous earth - or volcanic powder that is supposed to be better - and things to adjust the pH balance go scooshing down into the valley whenever we backwash, much to my shame and chagrin.

I have to say there is no visible negative effect. Stuff grows there. But I don't know what invisible effects there might be. I think of Sal the Salamander and sigh.

Then I found out about natural pool conversions. Natural pools use plants to filter the water. They typically look lush (as opposed to our very stark pool):

We would probably add two additional pools for filtering the water through water plants.

Images are from http://www.pond-doctor-dave.com - you can find lots more on this on the Internet, more than you could a couple years ago. It was popular in Germany then, and not so much in the US.

The drawing shows the pools above the swimming pool but they could be below it. We could either use the built in hot tub for one pool, or build both into the valley down behind the pool and pump the water back up. I've seen some pictures of filtration pools that are very attractive and some that are quite natural looking. I would have fun landscaping, terracing, and putting paths and seating around the pools, and I'd add an oxygenating fountain in one, stick in the plants and Bob's your uncle - clean, living water. If I had funding. And time. And expertise.

But what do you do if the plants die? Ay there's the rub. Research ongoing!

I plan to try things out on a smaller scale, and find out what California native water plants I could use - More habitats to explore! I don't know if we'll ever implement a natural pool conversion - but I do know that learning about all this is no end of fun!


Emily said…
I do not judge you for having a pool. In fact, I'm impressed that you're researching plans to make it more environmentally friendly. I plan on having a pool if we ever own and right now saltwater seems to be the best option, but that was before I knew about the plant thing. I can't wait to see what you do! Good luck!
Town Mouse said…
Sooo, my suburban house also came with a kidney-shaped pool. In the shade under the redwoods. At the time, we had a very expensive plan made for converting it to a natural pool. The plan looked pretty convincing, though we could not grow water lilies because of the shade. But when we received the contract, the conversion guy said in so many places that he did not guarantee anything for any amount of time that we kissed the design money good-bye and had the pool professionally filled. (It was the conversion guys first conversion project, I should add)
In retrospect, we should have converted it into a cistern, but at the time, the technology wasn't there. And really, we're very happy with the resulting garden, calling it the back 42 1/2...
I have my suit and towel rolled up and will be right over!

I think pools add tremendously to quality of human life in CA, and I congratulate you on your research into making them easier on the environment.
Country Mouse said…
I talked to a pool guy about using salt and he said - it's just another way to get chlorine, but it's still chlorine so why bother. I'm not sure if that's right or not. The other way I've heard about to reduce chemicals uses some other technology with copper and ozone I think, and you use way less chemicals. I'd have to google it again.

A friend of mine has the "endless pool" and for exercise swimming they love it - less water, less space.

Pools are quite a bit of work too. We maintain our own and don't do the best of jobs. We get a lot of litter in ours.

Another point of advice - there is currently no bubble wrap type cover that is recyclable (that we have found). We have stopped using them now for that reason. Maybe they'll come out with one. A cover does make the water a lot warmer in summer.

Also - If you start from scratch with a natural pool, you design it differently, with sloping sides, and the plants in the same pool as the swim area.

Daffodil Planter - you might want to bring a wet suit too - the temp. is probably 55 degrees F right now, about like the ocean around here!
Anonymous said…
The pool conversion sounds like a thoroughly fun and interesting idea and I hope you find a way to do it (and blog about it). T. Mouse and other's comments highlight how difficult it is to do some of these things when the technology is new and/or not part of the mainstream. I had a hard time finding contractors willing to install an ET controller when I started specifying them a few years ago and they are a much simplier concept than what you are talking about.

You're making great points about firescaping. The truth is, it's not always possible to landscape for water conservation, erosion control, energy cost reductions, sustainability and firescaping simltaneously, because the strategies for achieving one are often at cross purposes with another as you discuss in your post. And these are just the practical considerations; creating something that is pleasing to the eye brings in a whole new set of issues. So, sometimes you just have to pick and choose what makes the most sense based on where you live.
Genevieve said…
That natural pool idea is super-awesome. I've never heard anything about this, as we in Humboldt County don't really "do" pools - too cold. Such a neat idea, though - I'm inspired!