Swimming Pond Builder
Angelika Kern

Graz, Austria

by Norman Bennett
Click images to enlarge

Angelika Kern lives on the outskirts of Graz, the second largest city in Austria. Graz is 200 kilometres (124 miles) south of Vienna and near the border with Slovenia, Hungary and Italy. Graz, like Vienna, is an old university town.

Angelika spent six years at University in Graz and obtained a Master's Degree in biology. After University she worked a short time as a biology teacher in high school. Soon afterwards she took over her father's house and adjoining nursery when he died. The site measures 4000 square metres (1 acre) and is nicely laid out and maintained.  

Angelika with her ponds
She cultivates waterlilies in well-made long rectangular concrete ponds on the side of sloping ground. The house is huge and has three stories. It was built to accommodate her parents and their seven children. Angelika is the last born, the baby.

The residence
Her father started with waterlilies in 1937. She grows approximately 110 varieties and is very knowledgeable concerning the different varieties. She herself says, "Unfortunately, waterlilies are only my hobby. I cannot make a living selling waterlilies. There is too much competition from garden centres."

Angelika's site carries large overhead expenses. She makes a living by building large ponds that are 2.5 metres (8.2 feet) deep in the middle for swimming and shallower at the ends for growing waterlilies, water Iris and reeds. Swimming ponds in German-speaking countries are very popular and most of her trade is obtained by personal recommendation. 

The writer of this article visited two of the numerous swimming ponds she has designed and installed. Both were imaginative and beautiful to behold. The first has stood the test of time as it is six years old. Its water was crystal clear. One could even see to the bottom of the deep section. Various waterlilies and shallow water plants were flowering and flourishing but were not overcrowded. Submerged oxygenating plants helped with water clarity. Its attractive shape was irregular, 9 by 18 metres (30 by 59 feet) in area. Situated near the back of the house, it was convenient for swimming and provided a pleasing view from the house.

Much knowledge and care had been taken to choose the right soil, stones and suitable plants and waterlilies. Plastic sheet was used to make the pond but the sheeting was completely buried and concealed by soil and gravel to produce a completely natural looking and beautiful swimming pond. Wooden decking, a bridge and a waterfall made it an extremely interesting water feature to look at, sit by, or swim in. 

Her second pool was again a perfect swimming pond. It had only been planted six months earlier. The planning and skill in the production of the pond could not be faulted. Again, the swimming pond was free of blanket weed and the water was crystal clear.

The writer has a large pond outside his office window at home. At times he wonders what he is doing. He stops to find his mind has been a blank. Then he realizes that he has been absorbed by the pond, lost in wonder and relaxation. Both of Angelika's swimming pond owners likewise discovered wonder and relaxation in their aquatic installations.

Swimming pond, made in 1994, 192 m2
(2,067 sq ft), completely natural with no hardware. It is 2.5 m (8.2 ft) deep and
planted with waterlilies and oxygenating
plants. Utricularia vulgaris
grows very well.

Swimming pond made in 1997, 180 m2
(1,938 sq ft), for an Austrian family
with two children. It has a surface
skimmer and a filter with gravel.

Swimming pond, made in 2007, 110 m2
(1,184 sq ft) with a small waterfall.
A pump circulates water through a
gravel filter system.

The production of Angelika´s swimming ponds utilizes a team of three skilled men, a digger driver, a carpenter and general labourer plus machinery. She started her enterprise in 1986 with a business partner whose share of the enterprise she purchased eight years ago. Now this team together with a secretary and nursery staff require ongoing expenditure and leadership to keep going.  

Angelika is very much "hands on." She herself drives one of their three lorries (trucks). Her car was out of action when she met the writer of this article at the Graz airport in a small truck. Getting out of the passenger seat really required a parachute to reach the ground safely. The half metre (1.6 feet) it was necessary to jump she did with the greatest of ease. She is 1.58 metres (5.2 feet) tall.

Angelika learnt English at school and visited Australia twice with a view to the possibility of emigrating there. Nothing came of the idea.

The natural pond in Angelika's nursery,
1000 m2, (10,764 sq ft), planted 1954.
In winter they use it for ice skating.

When she left school, she thought she would like to go to England and try out her schoolgirl English. She had little money and went by herself. To save money she tried to sleep one night in a disused chicken house on a farm. That night she did not get much sleep. Next day was hot and she fell asleep on a beach sunbathing. She woke up when the tide came in and she was soaking wet. 

Her English is remarkably good. In 1991 there was difficulty translating lectures when the Deutsche Wassergarten Freunde (German Watergarden Friends) and the International Waterlily and Water Garden Society (IWGS, mostly English speaking) held a joint symposium at the Hilton Hotel in Munich.

Angelika gave the joint gathering a noteworthy presentation with visual aids on swimming pond making, then an unheard of novelty to many attendees. She spoke clearly and confidently in English which was a great achievement. She is certainly full of spirit and enterprise.

Norman Bennett with
Angelika's propagation ponds

Angelika regularly attends meetings of the very active Deutsche Wassergarten Freunde. She also manages to attend many annual symposia of the IWGS in the US, France, Germany and England. In 1998 she founded together with other Austrian landscapers the Austrian Association of Swimming Pond Builders, shortly called VÖS. Meanwhile, in all parts of Europe, the swimming pond idea is multiplying.

In 2001 Angelika was invited by Anglo Aquarium to help them with puplic relations and consultation about making the first swimming pond in England at RHS Hampton Court Show. This pool attracted much attention and British Television filmed an interview with Angelika. Two girl swimmers in bathing costumes and a male visitor who accidentally fell in fully clothed added to the interest in the swimming pond.

Angelika is very intelligent, resourceful, and unafraid of hard work. She succeeds in a very competitive business environment. For small or large areas she plans and plants complete gardens using trees, flowerbeds, shrubs, ornaments and more. However, her favourite projects are gardens with water features and especially those gardens with swimming ponds.   

The nursery in Graz, growing waterlilies
and Nelumbos in beds made
of PVC liner.

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