Friday, January 13, 2017
I visited my cousin Andy (Andrea) recently for a lamb-dinner in the elevated Cape Town suburb of Vredehoek. Andy is the Media Manager for the WWF in South Africa. Also, she's a really nice cousin.
We ate outside on a deck overlooking the city bowl, Lion's Head, and their mad Swiss neighbour's barren cement backyard next door. Below us, the exuberant greenery in Andy and her husband Jonathan's natural pool beckoned, and I had to go down for a better look.
Andy says they made the conversion from a conventional to a natural swimming pool several years ago, "after we got sick of having to deal with the pool going green during hot spells." Aquatic plants growing on floating pads keep the water clear, and a skimmer circulates the water. The pads on either long side of the pool leave a clear lane of water in the middle, for laps.
The pool was converted by Jerome Davis (who has a PhD in aquatic bio-engineering) and his company Eco Pools. "He used our pool to test a floating island system using shade netting cushions impregnated with indigenous plants inspired by the Okavango's islands of vegetation," says Andy.
If I could afford to go back to Okavango (my one, deeply memorable visit was when I was 17, with my parents), I'd be there in a heartbeat. It's a series of islands and water edges in the inland delta formed by the strangeness of the Okavango River choosing to empty into the arid northlands of Botswana rather than conventionally flowing into the sea, one country to the west. It is now mainly an exclusive retreat for people who can afford the exorbitant prices of the local lodges, although do-it-yourself overland travel is possible, if you have the time and the use of a 4 x 4. (We have one of those.)
Back to the pool. Some of the vegetation includes exotic taro (elephants' ears), papyrus (an icon of the Okavango) and the African mint pictured above - Mentha longifolia. This chlorine-free and clean habitat attracts two species of frog: clicking stream frogs and the Cape river frog, currently dominant, "but the former is the one that sparked the war with our Swiss Italian neighbour," says Andy, adding, "I don't mind if you mention the war."
Listen to a click frog: Click (pun!) this link. In wet weather I have heard them outside my Constantia bedroom window, and it is delightful - a wild sound of home. We have also often heard them while hiking on the mountain - hard to spot, they syncopate from behind a curtain of moss, or from the vegetation masking a tannin-brown mountain stream.
First, the Swiss neighbour - who is only in residence in the summer - complained. The frogs were driving him mad and must be silenced. They clicked on. Then he sic'd the City on the frogs. For a noise complaint (as a New Yorker, calling nature noise seems both blasphemous and insane). When the city lost interest (after actually inspecting the property), the mysterious plant deaths began, oddly in line with how a bucket of bleach might be thrown over a wall, and into the pool. Then a large (twenty foot) and healthy karee (Searsea) tree died. It grows right beside the dividing wall.
So that is the war, to date. The man is unhinged.
In March last year the pool developed a leak, and Jonathan hacked all the vegetation back so that the pool mats could be lifted to expose the bottom. "Amazingly," says Andy, "it all grew back really quickly and the frogs, which decamped to the garden, returned too." The leak was just due to wear and tear and was fixed by a local pool company.
Eco-Pools also designs and builds grey water recycling systems, very pertinent in water-restricted Cape Town, where only grey water is now allowed for watering gardens (unless you have a borehole tapping into the Table Mountain aquifer, as my parents do).
Would you convert your pool?