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How to fill a swimming pool and make it into a garden

by Jim Heath
Copyright 2013 Viacorp

We couldn't find tips from anyone who'd done it. But that's not to say that we lacked suggestions that varied from sensible-sounding to crackpot. After an earful of this, we stopped asking friends, well-wishers and random tradesmen. Instead we plunged right in, so to speak. And it all worked. So if you're frowning at your pool and wondering how to turn it into an ornamental garden or grow vegetables, this page may help a bit.

Here's how the pool looked when we started:

original swimming pool

Obviously no progress could be made with the water there. We bought a $50 sump pump and ran it for a day. Our elegant technical set-up:

sump pump draining pool

Next we ripped out the vinyl pool liner. Most of it was rotten and could be torn off by hand. We'd been warned when we bought the house that the liner needed replacing. Did it ever. The bottom of the pool was sand. So we didn't have to break up a concrete shell for good drainage. So far, all good luck.

An angle-grinder wizard cut down the pool fence for us. The cost: $140. The fence bits were thrown into the pool. Which brings us to the next photo, where you can admire the progress. As you can see, the now-exposed metal sides of the pool weren't in reassuring condition. So what? Soon they'd be out of sight.

pool no liner with fence in bottom

Now we were ready for the heavy lifting. We asked a local earthworks contractor (Nick Kenworthy from Darlington) to check out the Pit of Doom. He suggested starting with a load or two of clean sand. It would filter down through the metal junk at the bottom.

Here's the first 25-tonne pile of sand. And in case you notice and wonder: we'd heaved some more scrap metal into the pool. It came from a sorry-looking shed that we'd also taken down.

sand dumped into empty swimming pool

Elementary calculations from the volume of the pool convinced us we'd need about 100 tonnes of fill. But instead of rashly assuming things would work out as expected, we started with 75 tonnes. In the next photo there are two loads of sand (50 tonnes) and behind that, Nick is tipping 25 tonnes of builder's fill that he offered us free.

sand and builders fill to go into pool

Here's Nick in his bobcat, shoving in the 75-tonne mixture...

bobcat starting to fill pool

And on the pool deck, tidying up the sides.

bobcat working filling swimming pool 

The 75 tonnes weren't enough, as the next photo makes plain. We weren't surprised. Another 25 tonnes looked about right, which was what we'd calculated at the start.

bobcat in swimming pool filling it in 

Nick tipped in the last 25 tonnes. Another load of builder's fill. It was smoothed out and that was the end of the heavy work. You can see the result in the final photo.

Our next step will be the lighter job of spreading rich earth on top and starting a garden.

The cost, including cutting down the fence, sand, and bobcat time, was $1020. Bear in mind that half of the 100 tonnes of fill was free, because Nick was glad to get rid of it.

filled in swimming pool