Plants and Design

A Second Life For Swimming Pools

"A pool is a like a pyramid," writes Bill Lowe, "balanced on its tip. It wants to fall over and become a pond." His recent e-mail continues, "You work all the time to keep it clean, clear and blue. I quit trying."

And so another homeowner eschews the joys of backyard swimming and instead turns it into a habitat for a few large koi, a ton of goldfish and "a number of shebumpkins." Bill continues, "This is a real knee-slapper joke in the koi community; they're koi-goldfish crosses."

And what used to be his hot tub now has lotus, giant reed, papyrus, and a few water lilies growing, all of which seem to be faring quite well in our TP member's Shreveport, La. home. "It should have been a part of Texas," writes our irrepressible Louisiana gardener, "but isn't."

bee in lotus

I can't imagine there could have been anything as gorgeous as this before the hot tub became a pond (no offense, Lowe family). "I like her little hook," Bill says about the bee. "And I also like the yellow of the pollen on the leaves; it had rained the night before." photo credit: Bill Lowe hide caption

itoggle caption photo credit: Bill Lowe

This conversion from pool to pond has any number of precedents, but the one I'm most familiar with is in the otherworldly Montecito garden once the home of Ganna Walska. It's called Lotusland, and if you've never heard of it, this is your lucky day.

You may also think yourself lucky if you're among those who've switched from swimming pool to water feature. Or maybe you converted back? Do tell us your story.



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While sounding very pretty, it sounds very dangerous to have a 100,000 gallon pool filled with stagnant water. A child could fall in and you couldn't see or mosquitos will lay eggs and can spread disease.

Sent by Laura | 12:47 PM | 8-5-2008

Let's see what Bill has to say...HEY BILL! You around?

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 1:03 PM | 8-5-2008

I love this idea (with safety considerations of course). What is the beautiful flower pictured? It looks like a flower/lemon curd sundae for bees. I hope to see more pictures of this retired pool.
Thank you.

Sent by mick | 1:23 PM | 8-5-2008

How interesting the default assumptions that people will make. (1) It's not 100,000 gallons (it's 25,000) (2) It's not "filled with stagnant water" anymore than any pond or lake (I've been in it in the last 3 days to clean the edges of algae and I have no buboes yet) (3) my yard is fenced by 2 chain link fences and 2 cedar picket fences (should I have guard towers with sharpshooters and "release the hounds" like Mr. Burns?) (4) there are no children in or around my house (5) koi and goldfish eat mosquito larvae (they are used for that purpose in construction sites that have concrete subsurface structures poured before the building is finished, which accumulate water)and (finally) any minimal impact that my pool might have as a disease vector is outweighed by the dishes under my potted plants, and doesn't even approach the massive number of water bodies in my area (Louisiana, remember?)
Now, Laura, do you feel better?

Sent by Bill Lowe | 1:30 PM | 8-5-2008

I am slowly filling in my huge 36,000 gallon pool (Laura obviously doesn't have a clue how large 100,000 gallons is) and am looking forward to the pond that will be created at the shallow end. The steps will be converted into a waterfall and a small foot bridge will connect the pond area to the garden in the former deep end of the pool. Here's to home grown vegetables!

Sent by Julie Fazlollah | 2:06 PM | 8-5-2008

Turns out a guy right here in Portland converted a pool and documented it extensively:

If anyone's interested or has any q's, I'll see if I can track him down and
find out how it's going.

Oh, Mick - that's a lotus.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 4:03 PM | 8-5-2008

Mick, it's a lotus flower. You often see the dried pods (brown, with rattling seeds) in flower arrangements. They are heavy feeders but quite easy to grow in the south. There is an almost closed one on Ketzel's flikr group (see with the still green pods in view.

Sent by Bill Lowe | 4:10 PM | 8-5-2008

Wow, you guys are nasty. I said I thought it sounded very pretty; I was just concerned about safety. I didn't intend to come across as so critical. I'll stay away from your little garden from now on!

Sent by Laura | 4:15 PM | 8-5-2008

Hang on, Laura. I think we can settle this amicably. After all, it's MY little garden and I invited you in. Maybe Bill hit the send button a bit prematurely. Perhaps I should have asked him to edit his comments before I agreed to post them. I'm not sure. But ours is a big pond and ALL are welcome unless anybody's too rude or mean. I hadn't thought we'd crossed that line yet but I'm sorry you do. Please know I am ever-watchful and won't let anybody be bullied...except by ME.

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 4:28 PM | 8-5-2008

Nasty? I thought I was being (a) direct and (b) funny. No offense was intended, Laura.
(Now, I can't speak for Julie - that's it! get Julie - release the hounds on Julie.)

Sent by bill | 5:20 PM | 8-5-2008

I went to Lotusland this spring. It was a truly impressive garden. Here's a picture of the swimming pool that's been converted to a pond:

Sent by sarcozona | 7:49 AM | 8-12-2008

bill, thanks for the info on the lotus floers. I've never seen one in bloom like that and now understand why I've only seen the dried pods. I'm up north and they wouldn't be happy here. Oh well I have pictures now.
Thanks again.

Sent by mick | 2:48 PM | 8-13-2008

There is a third option, that of a combination pool and pond, such as with natural swimming pools. There's a line drawn: the plants have their territory and the people have their space. The plant roots filter the water instead of chemicals and the people swim around to their heart's content.

Sent by Heidi Mull | 1:04 AM | 8-19-2008