Some would say it is the height of fortune to possess a natatorium, or pool enclosure, especially if designed and created by Tanglewood. Is there anything that could possibly add to that fortune? Of course—and that would be plants.
Such a building has a very different environment from greenhouses and conservatories due to evaporation of the large body of water it contains and its main purpose. Heat and humidity are what make the major difference. As with all such structures, each is unique, so temperatures and moisture will vary slightly. But because they will generally be within a range humans need for comfort while swimming year-round, it’s a fairly static tropical environment.
An important factor to consider is your interest in plants. How much care and attention will be provided and how much ‘house-cleaning’ is tolerable? Ferns are pretty universally loved, but they can be somewhat messy residents—a major concern around a pool. So I’ll start with some more unusual suggestions for the minimalist ‘neatniks’. (Dracaenas, Ficus and Aglaonema are not mentioned because they are so common—by the way, of these, only some Ficus are messy, especially the classic benjamina).
Some of the loveliest, easiest and most unusual plants are in the Aroid family. These include Alocasias, Anthuriums, Philodendrons, and Monstera. There are hundreds of species and varieties. They are often seen as slow to moderate-growing vines, either creating their own trunk/stalk or hugging a large wooden or fiber post. Some get very large. Their generally heart-shaped leaves come in the most astounding colors, sizes, and variations. Some are so artistic in appearance that they will generate serious admiration! All eventually flower, some a little more colorfully than others. Many of the Anthuriums have particularly lovely spathes. Watering, pruning, and feeding will be moderate.
Many plants in the Zingiberaceae family are great, rather tidy contenders too. These include ornamental gingers, Calatheas, Alpinias, Heliconias (Lobster Claw/Parrot Flower), Strelizia (Bird of Paradise). Many have colorful, unusual flowers. Some can get rather large, so it’s a good idea to know the final height of your botanical treasure!
Other plants on the tidier, showy spectrum are the epiphytes (which get moisture and nutrients from the air and grow on rocks, logs or other plants). These include orchids, bromiliads and some cactus which can be very artfully displayed. I don’t recommend terrestrial orchids unless you can simulate seasonal changes.
If your pool enclosure is on the dryer side, terrestrial cactus and succulents of all species and varieties can be used. They’re easy, clean, and may reward you with some of the most beautiful flowers on the planet. Some are spectacular night-bloomers—cause for a celebratory midnight swimming party!
I haven’t mentioned palms yet because many not only have a mess-factor, but because most need a more watchful eye when grown under glass. I recommend them for plant people or those employing knowledgeable gardeners. If you really love that fluffy, handsome, full look of ferns, palms, and perhaps even cycads, arrange for them to be ‘washed’ once a week with a showering. The leaves not only drop detritus, but they are prone to catching debris and developing the occasional insect infestation (clearly, pesticides aren’t recommended in a pool enclosure).
There are so many appropriate species and varieties that it’s impossible to mention them all in a blog post. But if there’s something you particularly love, a little research and an attempt are always worth it—the most important criteria is whether the plant is suitable for a static, tropical environment.
Success will be from the very things that make a successful natatorium. Air circulation is critical, so be sure a slight breeze flows over the plants, either from a fan or venting. Also, watch out with that pool water and its chemicals. NEVER get bleach, ammonia, chlorine, or bromine on the plants and never use pool water to water them. If mold/mildew are an issue in a particularly humid space, an organic fungicide (like a copper spray/drench) will take care of the problem.
Finally, if you go the plant route, know that they will positively affect the air quality of your environment—adding oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, and critically—bringing artful living beauty to your lovely structure.