Sink or Swim

A home­owner’s wish for a nat­u­ral swim­ming pool and a lush gar­den in a pri­vate wooded set­ting is granted.

Canadian Gardening Annual 2016 - - Great Garden Ideas 2016 - Text wendy helfenbaum pho­tog­ra­phy an­gus mcritchie

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.

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