Sink or Swim
A homeowner’s wish for a natural swimming pool and a lush garden in a private wooded setting is granted.
A footpath bordered by large white spruces leads to the back of Michèle Pilotte and Ajit Gopalkrishna’s property. opposite: This sunny spot along the house features various hydrangea cultivars, Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis ‘Veronika Klose’) and a container brimming with spike dracena (Dracaena marginata), pelargoniums and redflowered trailing verbena.
In 1992, Michèle Pilotte and her partner, Ajit Gopalkrishna, purchased a charming mid-1800s farmhouse on a secluded wooded property that runs alongside the Yamaska River in Farnham, Quebec. As an emergency room physician who works nights, Michèle longed for a peaceful retreat where she could swim on sunny afternoons: “The river’s great for fishing, but not for swimming, so I wanted to integrate a water feature,” she says. Thinking that an in-ground pool would be out of place in the forest, Michèle began researching natural swimming pools. She thought it would be the perfect replacement for her vegetable garden, which had been an exercise in frustration. (“I’d had a lovehate relationship with that vegetable garden for 10 years,” says Michèle.) Since natural swimming pools are not as well-known in Canada as they are in Europe, few companies specialized in them. And insisting that the pool be heated added to the challenge. Enter Westmount, Quebec-based landscape architect Myke Hodgins of Hodgins & Associés. Together with his associate, landscape architect Éric Fleury, Myke brought in all the people needed for the six-month project, including Le Grenouille Blue (now closed), which did most of the pool building. The project began in April 2009 with the clearing of many of the trees. “Michèle was very specific about the things she wanted to experience in her yard,” says Myke.
“The idea of natural swimming pools is still new, and the fact that she wanted it heated left us scratching our heads.” “At first, we wanted to find a natural way to purify the running water with a marsh and waterlilies, but to treat the warm water, we had to use an ozone UV system,” explains Éric. Now, the water is so clean, you can drink it – no chemicals or salts are added. “It’s like swimming in a lake – you’re in contact with nature, you see frogs looking at you, and you feel the plants. It’s special,” says Michèle. Once the pool was finished, Myke and Éric focused on creating different sensory environments in the surrounding areas, playing with colour and texture. They decided on a combination of grasses, flowering shrubs and indigenous plants to create a lush haven. “We wanted things going on from the moment the ice started to melt in the spring through to the end of autumn,” says Myke. Michèle appreciates the array of low-maintenance, shade-loving perennials carpeting her yard – including several varieties of ferns and hostas – and has enjoyed discovering aquatic plants. “They’re lovely, they grow well and hardly have any pests,” she says.
“Every pink lotus blossom only lasts a few days, but they’re magnificent.” Since its completion, an entire ecosystem has developed around the pool, including frogs and grass snakes. To reduce the number of tadpoles, Michèle bought three smallmouth bass, which can withstand varying water temperatures year-round. “But there wasn’t enough food for them, so they started to bite me! Now we just have one. I see him when I wear my mask, so it’s perfect,” she says. “Whenever I used to walk past my troublesome vegetable garden, it would put me in a bad mood; now, I feel like I’m in paradise,” says Michèle, who has lately embraced her inner polar bear. “I never thought I’d do this, but as soon as the water gets up to 19˚C, I start swimming. This pool has really changed my relationship with my land.” A case in point of nature’s power to lift the spirits.
left: Landscape architect Myke Hodgins and his team created an oval flower garden focusing on pink, violet, mauve and white plants, including echinacea, garden phlox, hydrangea, astilbe, campanula and annual cosmos and zinnias. White spruce (Picea glauca) and a weeping willow provide a lovely canopy above.
opposite: A large golden weeping willow towers over the natural swimming pool, which is surrounded by ornamental grasses, hardy perennials and floating water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). clockwise from above: An iron bench provides a spot to rest; spiky iris foliage, robust Peegee hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’) and ‘Goldsturm’ blackeyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’) are among the many plants around the swimming pool; sturdy Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’.
left: Michèle loves the property’s mature trees and expansive grounds. clockwise from right: A charming picket fence encircles a large oval flowerbed planted over a new septic tank system; golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and echinacea; lavender Penny Series violas add a splash of colour and have vigorous root systems, making them easy to overwinter.