You don't need a large space to create a convincing tropical retreat. Here's how Bud Stuckey, our test garden coordinator, brought to life this Balinese fantasy in a 10- by 10-foot corner of Sunset's test garden.
First, Stuckey built a small rectangular deck from ipé wood (optional), securing it to a redwood frame. He angled the deck to face the best view out into the garden.
To filter the sunlight that reaches the deck, he built a palapa of bamboo poles and draped the crossbars with mosquito netting.
In a crescent of fertile soil adjacent to the deck, Stuckey planted a tree fern and summer bulbs with vibrant, tropical ― looking blooms, such as cannas, dahlias, and Oriental lilies. He edged the bed with a ruff of lime green 'Angelina' sedum.
Between the deck and the planting is a creek bed of black La Paz stone (Stuckey mixed two bags of ½-in. pebbles with one bag of 1 ¼-in. stones). The stones cover a soaker hose that winds through the planting area to water the plants and periodically douse the space with a jungly mist.
Sit on the deck and pull the netting around you, and you'll feel almost like you're floating in a cloud above a jungle of exotic flowers. "Zen meets the tropics," said one visitor who tried out the space.
Build Your Own Bali Hideaway
1. Make a frame of bamboo poles (2-in. diameter for vertical supports, 1 ½-in. for horizontals). You'll need a drill to make holes for nut and bolt to hold each pole junction together; hemp twine wrapped over each junction hides the hardware and gives a lashed-together look.
2. Sink vertical supports into 18-in. deep sand-filled holes.
3. Drape and tie mosquito netting (available at REI and sporting-goods stores) loosely onto the poles.
4. For Sunset's retreat, Bud constructed a tiny deck on a redwood frame resting on bricks. He chose tropical ipé wood to add to the exotic effect.
5. For your own private paradise, you can simply build the bamboo structure over a level patch of lawn or gravel. Adapt dimensions and materials freely to your taste.