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A Clean Swimming Pool without Chemicals is Possible

August 30, 2017

A Clean Swimming Pool without Chemicals is PossibleIt was a problem that needed solving on the farm that started it all. A beautiful 12 foot high granite wall was falling over from heavy rain along the huge 1840 barn. It was one of several issues Chris & Terri Paquette knew would have to be addressed on the newly rented farm. Chris visited a rubber roofing company, since this was a time before there were pond equipment companies, to see if he could purchase some scrap roofing to catch the water along the barn and move it away from the old wall. Literally within days of installing this sluice, heavy rain put it to the test. The result was no more wall damage and what would look like a streambed, if dressed up with some stones. After a little trial and error, they had a beautiful streambed along the old barn. Not wanting it to just sit empty unless it was raining Chris added a small pond and a pump to have running water all the time. This motivated them enough to start offering the water gardens to customers as a way to supplement their income on the farm.

After a year or two, they attended their first flower show in Portland, Maine with an exhibit that included a large pond and trout swimming about. This was a hit at the beginning of the water gardening trend, and they booked literally hundreds of site visits to look at people’s back yards and see how they could enjoy them in their own yards.

Robin’s Nest LLC started business in 1996 as one of the first companies in southern Maine to build water gardens. This early period was the advent of water gardens around the country. Now, imagine the sound of a babbling brook and song birds while sipping a glass of wine right in your own backyard. This is one of the reasons why within a few years, many companies were dabbling in building these new gardens and popularity soared. Robin’s Nest recognized early on that the key component to a successful water garden business was “service”. This was vital to successful water gardens and happy customers.

Kids SplashingToday, they open and service more than 100 water gardens and other types of water features every year. As with many new trends, products are rampant for construction and care of these gardens. They found “keep it simple” works best and do not subscribe to chemicals, expensive filters or gadgets to keep ponds and other water features healthy and clean.

It was working with a customer who had a brain injury that set them on the course they are now. While building his water garden, he asked if they could build it in such a way as to allow him to soak in it. They built a series of wide steps into the water garden that allowed the customer to sit in his garden up to his chest. That was the beginning of their quest to provide chemical free ponds.

It wasn’t long after this pond that another customer called to inquire as to whether they could build a natural swimming pool (NSP). These pools have been popular in Europe for more than twenty-five years and a book had just come out of England, full of pictures and information on what natural swimming pools were. The customer asked if they had the book, which they did and not wanting to miss an opportunity, Robin’s Nest proceeded to build its first natural swimming pool in Maine. This has become the most exciting part of their business. No chemicals and they are beautiful to be in and around!

SanctuaryOver the next ten years, Robin’s Nest developed the “Garden Swim Pond” (GSP). They are partnered with the largest European builder and originator of natural swimming pools, Bio-Top, to offer a pool that has been tested and built in Europe for more than 30 years.

The basics of a natural pool are simple, not unlike a hydroponic garden. They use lots of crushed stone and bare rooted plants to filter the pools and as Chris Paquette says, “Yes, you are swimming with the frogs.” With slow moving water and a little aeration, these pools mature over time and become fairly self-sustaining. There are still things to care for: plant trimming and debris removal, but a robot vacuum can be used to “self-clean” the pool and just requires emptying the vacuum basket.

Many features can be added to the swim ponds to create a custom backyard oasis for you and your family. Docks are popular, as are lighting fixtures, slides, and jump rocks. A patio is almost always included for customers to sit and relax next to their swim pond or pool. The standard liner is made of heavy rubber and is flexible, allowing the customer to have a pool of any shape and size. And, some these are big! The largest one built so far is almost 200 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 16 feet deep. This one has a sauna, swim in fire pit, grotto with a sheeting waterfall entrance, a bridge, and a granite diving rock jutting out 12 feet over the deep end. Their smaller garden swim ponds range from 25 by 40, to an average of 60 by 35 feet.

Robin’s Nest has built a few dozen of the NSP & GSP versions over the years and popularity is still increasing steadily. So much so, they are developing a professional training program for contractors and designers to premier in winter 2018. The goal is to develop standards and methods for installation for sustainability and growth. The company sells kits and provides support around the country already and sees this as a natural progression. The reasons they see this as so important are two-fold: getting people, especially the children away from chlorine and second, replacing aquatic habitat. You see, for every customer who decides to swim in clean fresh water a frog or two will be there, announcing the beauty of it all.

Chris Paquette has been teaching thousands of gardeners and pond enthusiasts about the science of water features through Maine Garden Day, Southern Maine Community College and various seminars at the Portland Flower Show. Robin’s Nest has won numerous awards at the Portland Flower Show and has been featured in Garden Design Magazine, and People, Places and Plants, and The Maine Sunday Telegram. For more information, visit: