Many readers know I live in Quebec. Yes, that northeastern province of Canada better known for its maple syrup, caribous and cold, snowy winters than its abundance of summer sun and heat. Even so, it is one of the hot spots for back yard swimming pools in North America, with more pools per capita than even California. If you fly over my neighborhood, you’ll see about half the homes have little round aboveground pools: little turquoise eyes blinking up at you. And no one is ever in them: it’s far too cold most of the time.

Large turquoise pool
Photo: Kgbo, Wikimedia Commons.

So, imagine the pressure I was under when we moved to our suburban home some 30 years ago. “When are we getting the pool?” was the cry. It turned into a battle between the lovers of life and nature (me) and the proponents of California dreamin’ (the others). To hell with nature, they wanted sterility: a swimming pool so stuffed with chemicals that no creature can survive it and even swimmers end their summer with bleached hair à la Lady Gaga! 

Let’s say right away that I’m not an intractable person . . . normally. I have given in on several issues in the past. I let “the others” paint the living room prune rather than white, with the result that the living room was too dark to support plant life. (Even my wife eventually came to admit it was a particularly morose color and we eventually painted it a very pale beige . . . and introduced plants again.) I accepted it too when the kids put up a basketball hoop in the back yard and watched wayward balls crush so many of my plants. So, I have made my share of concessions. But there was no question of our ever getting a swimming pool! 

Polar bear in water
I’m the polar bear of the family. Photo: Cmadler, Wikimedia Commons.

And it’s not that I don’t appreciate swimming. Quite the contrary (isn’t it always like that in life?) It’s hard to convince the “I-want-a-pool” people to even dip a toe into the water if the temperature is not absolutely perfect. Instead, I’m the polar bear of the family. Always ready to jump into the water, no matter the conditions. For me, a swimming pool in Quebec, with our average of 2 to 3 days of above 80 °F (27 °C) per year, is just ridiculous! 

However, it’s not so much because of their short period of usefulness that I truly have it in against swimming pools. After all, we put a Christmas tree in the house for barely a week each year and I find that absolutely charming. No, I have three main criticisms of the “one-pool-in-every-yard” syndrome. 1. It’s very ugly. 2. It requires mucho maintenance. 3. It takes up gardening space.  And it’s so obviously environmentally unfriendly there’s no use even bringing that one up!

Aerial view of pools in every yard
One pool in almost every yard. Photo:

What’s With the Turquoise Pool?

I don’t know why pool manufacturers insist on coloring their products turquoise. As long as we’re going for artificial, why not lemon yellow? Or fluorescent orange? I know turquoise water exists around tropical islands, but not around the northern lakes of my province. Our thousands of lakes and rivers are ruled by dark waters due to abundant leaf tannins.

Flamands roses en plastique
A turquoise pool in Quebec is the equivalent of a garden filled with plastic flamingos. Photo: Joey Parsons,

I mean, anything that doesn’t fit in with its surroundings is necessarily garish, isn’t it? A turquoise pool in Quebec is the equivalent of a garden filled with plastic flamingos. It’s funny how flamingos (the real ones, at least) are attractive in hot countries, but they look terribly wrong with a boreal forest in the background.

Well, it’s the same with turquoise swimming pools. They’re why there are so many articles in newspapers and magazines on how to decorate around your swimming pool whose photos seem to have been composed by Salvador Dali.

I think we should be more honest with people and write about “how to use landscaping to discretely hide an eyesore pool” instead. 

Who’ll Take Care of It?

There is also the issue of maintenance.

Only one thing requires more maintenance in a back yard than the lawn and itsy-bitsy flower boxes: a swimming pool. You have to do tests and treatments every morning. Otherwise, it quickly turns moss green (hey! a possible solution to its usual unbearable color!) Plus, you have to constantly pick up leaves, insects and dead birds, change the filter, clean the bottom, etc.

It’s always the person who objected the most who ends up doing all the work Photo: galdzer,

And you’ll never be able to convince me that someone else is going to take care of pool maintenance. It’s like when you finally give in and buy a dog: it’s always the person who objected the most who ends up doing all the work. So, I know very well that, with a swimming pool in our yard, all the maintenance work would fall to me from the outset. 

Desperate for Garden Space

However, the real problem with a swimming pool is how much space it takes up.

I know there are people who have a huge lot around their homes. There would be room to spare for a swimming pool and any number of jumbo gardens, but in a typical suburban or city yard, once the swimming pool is installed, bye-bye gardening space. There’ll only be crumbs of land left for flowerbeds and the vegetable garden.

Now, I didn’t save for more than 20 years to buy a garden of my own to see it disappear under a swimming pool . . . and a turquoise one to boot! 

I just would not give in on this one. And I didn’t.

No Interest in Bargaining

Fortunately, being the generous person that I am, I did propose a logical solution that would have bought peace with my family while allowing me to garden. What if we installed the pool at our neighbors?

We could sound out their intentions about a shared swimming pool. One to be installed in their yard, of course, but which we, or rather “the others” (after all, they’re the ones who wanted it) would pay for. And if “the others” supplied the pool, it would logically be up to the neighbors to take care of maintenance. That would solve most of the conflict..

Pool party
There is little danger of a scheduling conflict between the two families. Photo :CPXi,

In addition, there was little danger of a scheduling conflict between the two families. After all, in Quebec, the average “I-want-a-pool” family never swims more than three or four times a summer. The risk the dates coincide is therefore minimal. 

I thought it was a brilliant idea. And it would have left only one problem. How to install a good plant screen between our yard and that of the neighbors so as not to see the *”#&!? pool! 

Gardens Won

However, it never came to pass. “The others” only grumbled and complained and never even checked with the neighbors, although we saw new families move in and out twice over the following years. And, of course, our teens have since grown up and left, starting families of their own. (Only one has a pool, interestingly: the two others turned to be hiding gardening genes. As a result, now when we gather, we talk tomatoes and compost rather than the advantages of salt pools over chlorine ones).

Both of our neighbors now have pools and my wife has an open invitation to use them. Still, she seems to spend much more time sitting beside the pool rather than in it, complaining about her grumpy green thumb husband and his tomato fetish. And that is, perhaps, how suburban life should be!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

4 comments on “The Family Swimming Pool War

  1. jessica crawford

    I remember reading an article a few years ago that said Quebec had so many high caliber pool athletes precisely because of the abundance of pools in backyards!

  2. Sometimes you have just got to put your foot down. Glad you stuck to your guns. More plants all the time. I have always admired natural swimming ponds. Kind of the best of both worlds: water garden and swimming with little(?) maintenance. The magazine photos always look wonderful. However, coming from a very dry part of the country, and one that has leaches, it will never come to pass.

  3. marianwhit

    Bravo! I have a brook…nothing like a “no maintenance” spot for an occasional dip. No chemicals. 🙂

  4. This post brought back memories! The first house we bought came with a little, round, turquoise above-ground pool. Yes, we live in Québec… The owners thoughtfully offered to remove it before we moved in, but instead we toughed it out for several years. It was nice to jump in after bicycling home from work and feeling overheated. But at one point, for whatever reason, its aspiration to become a healthy pond (read: full of algae) won out and we removed it. On the bright side, there was very little weed removal to do before installing a nice round potager the next season!

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