The hottest spot in Julia and Ernie Graham's garden in Puyallup, Washington, is around the swimming pool. The site is also plagued by poor soil. So Julia turned to tropical plants for their ability to thrive in the solar heat reflected from the pool's aggregate deck. To overcome the soil problem, she put the plants in containers ― mostly glazed pots whose blue-green color echoes the water and the pool's tile trim. The cool tones also set off the plants' hot-colored foliage.
Each pot is fringed by cascading plants like Calibrachoa and two kinds of sweet potato vine ― Ipomoea batatas 'Blackie', with blackish purple leaves, and I. p. 'Marguerite', with lime green leaves. To give the plantings height, Julia included Canna 'Australia' and C. 'Tropicana'; taro (Colocasia esculenta), with heart-shaped black or green leaves; hardy banana (Musa basjoo); and spiky Phormium 'Flamingo'.
All of these plants grow in soil amended with controlled-release fertilizer. Julia waters them through the growing season and feeds them with liquid fertilizer every other week. A catalpa tree ( Catalpa bignonioides 'Aurea'), which tolerates poor soil, is one of only a few plants actually rooted in the ground; its big, golden green leaves set the scale for the container plantings.