Fantasy Island in Los Angeles

A backyard turns into a tropical resort
Sharon Cohoon

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Before he ever set foot on an island, California native Greg Asbagh was smitten with the tropical landscaping of the movies. " Blue Hawaii was my favorite Elvis movie for the scenery alone," he says. A Caribbean honeymoon and other trips to the tropics set the hook deeper.

So it was inevitable that when Greg and wife Maria moved to coastal Southern California ― where the climate is mild enough for kentia palms and plumerias ― he seized the opportunity to create his own backyard resort.

A large pool with several waterfalls and a swim-through grotto went in first. The pool's bottom has a mixture of aqua and black pebbles, which disguise its shallow depth. The sides are shaped with black artificial rock that simulates lava; black Buckingham slate around it looks like a natural continuation of the pool's basin.

The tropical greenery that Greg planted around the pool, though, is what makes it feel so authentic. First, he put in a canopy of palms and flowering trees; then an understory of ferns, philodendrons, and ti plants; and finally a floor of bromeliads, New Guinea impatiens, and the traditional Hawaiian groundcover Moses-in-the-boat. "It's a true tropical garden," Greg says with a smile. "Not an inch of bare earth showing."

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