When landscaping around a pool, be sure to select plants that not only look good but are robust and practical too, writes Helen Young.
In poolside beds that are narrow, choose plants that will grow upright rather than overhang the water. Fast-growing plants will need constant cutting back, so look for slower growers. Select plants suited to the amount of sun or shade in the location and the climate so they stay happy and healthy.
Keep weeds down with groundcover plants or mulch. Mass plantings will require less maintenance than having lots of different plants; they will look more effective, too.
Avoid plants that will regularly shed leaves into the pool, especially lots of tiny ones. It may be counterintuitive, but deciduous trees that drop their leaves over just a few weeks are usually tidier than evergreens that can drop all year. Gum trees drop leaves, flowers, bark and fruit capsules, and cause staining from tannins in their leaves. Tree ferns and she-oaks ( Casuarina) cast off copious amounts of spores and pollen respectively, leaving a film on the water. Bamboo is also surprisingly messy in terms of leaf litter. Plants to rule out for invasive roots include fig and poplar trees, the umbrella plant ( Schefflera) and fruit salad plant ( Monstera deliciosa).
Chlorine and salt pools make life difficult for plants in the splash zone. Go for plants with thick, waxy or shiny leaves with inbuilt protection, such as Dianella ‘Little Jess’, Correa alba, New Zealand Christmas bush ( Metrosideros), banksias, New Zealand flax ( Phormium), coastal rosemary ( Westringia), Indian hawthorn ( Rhaphiolepis), dwarf sacred bamboo ( Nandina) and Pittosporum tobira. Hibiscus, hebes, gazanias, olives, mirror bush ( Coprosma) and succulents such as Crassula also work. Having raised beds next to your pool will help minimise the amount of pool water soaking into, and damaging, the soil.
As well as the splash-tolerant plants listed here, many lush, tropical-style plants suit poolside conditions and are conveniently low maintenance. You could consider clumping palms, frangipani, cordylines, bird of paradise, tropical rhododendrons, gingers, ixoras, cannas, aralia, liriopes, soft-leaf yucca ( Y. recurvifolia) and gardenias.
There’s a lot of exposed skin in pool areas, so try to avoid plantings with thorns and sharp edges. Also not recommended are plants that cause rashes on contact, such as many grevilleas and euphorbias. The slime factor rules out a number of others; you don’t want sappy agapanthus leaves underfoot or a slippery carpet of petals from camellias or jacaranda trees.
For safety reasons, plants next to pool-safe fences must not be able to aid children in climbing. They should have soft stems or foliage rather than strong branches.