This novel concept in water gardens
is very refreshing!

Derek Fell's Dipping Pool

by Derek Fell, Cedaridge Farm, Pennsylvania USA
Click images to enlarge

I had often wished for a swimming pool, but disliked the idea of staring at an ugly expanse of fenced-in blue water glaring at me like a blue tarp spread across the lawn. Therefore, I designed a water feature to satisfy my desire to swim, provide the beauty and sound of a gurgling stream, include a series of splashing waterfalls, and support a colorful waterlily collection. This I accomplished by creating a natural-looking pool with a swimming zone, sufficient space for a waterlily and lotus collection and a place to raise Japanese koi (Cyprinus carpio). I call it my dipping pool because it looks like a small natural swimming hole. Bordered by boulders, it resembles a rock pool you might find along a mountain stream.
I chose a site at the back of a barn that had once been a horse paddock next to natural woodland composed mostly of evergreen, juniper and oak. I had to cut down several undesirable trees; once they were uprooted, a backhoe easily excavated the area.
My 12-foot (3.7 meter) diameter dipping pool does not allow space to swim laps. However, I can submerge my body and float about with my toes under the waterfalls, to cool off. The fish thrive in a series of deep smaller pools meant strictly for paddling. Without heating the water, I find it warm enough to use from late April until mid-September. It certainly looks more attractive than a conventional swimming pool, and it needs less maintenance because the water runs year-round, re-circulated through a filter to keep it clear. When evaporation lowers the water level, I top it off with water from a nearby independent well. The system includes a couple of floating de-icers that automatically prevent ice from covering the entire surface during the coldest winter weather.

Remarkably, the whole installation of waterfalls, dipping pool, and natural-looking rocky streams feeding into it took only two days of construction by water garden specialist Aquascape Designs of Batavia, Illinois (USA). They polished up my original design and did the installation. After that, it took another two days of planting to make it look as if it had been there forever. They hired a local contractor for earth-moving and for installing boulders, waterproof flexible liners, pumps, filters and other paraphernalia to make everything rather carefree and virtually maintenance-free year round. They also selected the boulders from local stone yards to match my rough sketch. These include huge flanking stones to create the height of the waterfall, facing stones for the sheets of water to cascade down and edging stones to hold back soil. We used magnificent boulders to direct the water flow to left and right like a natural rocky stream, smooth pebbles to form beaches, observation stones from which to admire the falls, and stepping stones for crossing the streams.

The project required two rolls of 35 ft. liner; 45 tons of boulders, rock and gravel (some of the flanking stones weigh over two tons each); a 10,000 gph pump, a 7,500 gph pump and a 4,500 gph pump to re-circulate water to a grand waterfall, a smaller waterfall, and an independent stream with cascades and an island. The system includes three skimmers and a bog filtration system.



Of course, spring, summer and autumn are wonderful seasons for water features because of the procession of enjoyable color that they display. Moreover, I thoroughly enjoy my dipping pool in winter even though the water is too cold to take a dip. Ice forms on the waterfalls and blankets of snow periodically accentuate the rock ledges and make it a Christmas card scene. Sometimes I sit facing it for hours mesmerized by the tranquility of a fresh fall of snow, soothed by the thundering sound of the waterfalls and the murmuring sound of the water as it gushes along the streams. 

Though the water feature looks decorative in its own right, initially embellished with ornamental grasses and water irises to make it look part of the natural landscape, subsequent plantings of trees and shrubs produce a lush, wilderness effect. For example, I obtained from a local tree nursery three large weeping white pines and a weeping spruce to form a background curtain of evergreen leaves. I have also strategically planted creeping ground cover plants like 'Blue Rug' juniper, dragon's blood Sedum, many kinds of Hosta, and a bronze-leaf bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) to crawl over boulders and soften their hard lines.

However, predominantly around the pool, are mostly plants with golden or yellow leaves. This includes gold variegated Yucca, golden creeping Euonymus, and 'Bowles Golden' grass (Carex elata). A type of hardy perennial sedge grass, it grows with its roots permanently submerged in shallow water. These not only contrast well with the dark greens of indigenous oak and juniper trees in the background, but also help to create exquisite golden water reflections, for in all of nature there are few more uplifting sights than golden leaves reflected in company with a blue-sky reflection.

The Impressionist painter, Claude Monet, alerted the world to the charm of a pond with plantings deliberately placed to create sensational water reflections. Toward the end of his life, it was the pond surface that he most liked to paint. What he accomplished with paint, I emulate with photography.

My dipping pool not only has high, well-drained areas for planting trees and shrubs, but also several low boggy areas for bog-loving plants like Japanese Primula and ostrich ferns. I also have a collection of bog-loving insectivorous plants like pitcher plants and sundews. 

Along the feeder stream, there is a colony of watercress for harvesting fresh edible greens year round, and the tree plantings include a grove of 'Heritage' river birch with decorative, honey-colored, flaking bark. I have also planted around the pool a group of a dozen winterberry shrubs, a favorite winter food of bluebirds, plus azaleas and Rhododendrons that love the environment of a pool, and drifts of daffodils that have naturalized freely for flowering early in the season. Strategically placed Japanese thread-leaf maples extend their fleecy branches to the water's edge and ensure vibrant orange leaf coloration in fall in harmony with the amber blades of the ornamental grasses.

A nature trail surrounds the entire area, with wood chip paths winding in and out of adjacent woodland, with a small bridge to cross a boggy section. Thriving already are colonies of Virginia bluebells, Trillium, English primroses and blue woodland Phlox.

Cedaridge Farm has a number of theme areas, including a vegetable garden, herb garden, sunny perennial borders, a rock garden, patio garden and orchard, but nothing gives me more pleasure than to come home from the office, put on a snorkel mask and dive beneath my pool to observe my collection of koi under water. They are friendly fish, and will feed right out of my hand. They also like to play a game of tag - swimming up to me then darting off when I try to touch them. Even if I do manage to touch them, they immediately swim back and look at me as if to say, "Try that again!" 

Renowned garden writer and photographer Derek Fell's
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