Attention to detail will transform your backyard into a tropical retreat
To create your own backyard Bali, combine plants that have large, lush leaves with those that pump out bold, bright flowers. Use details ― exotic art and furnishings, misters, tiki lamps, and candles ― to add drama and to enhance the tropical mood. Blend the following elements to make your own tropical paradise.
Hardscape. The appropriate materials enhance a tropical mood. Greg Asbagh's pool wouldn't look nearly as Hawaiian if it were surrounded with blond Arizona flagstone instead of black Buckingham slate (or even river rock).
Foliage. To help create a tropical mood, set plants with delicate leaves next to those that have huge, glossy leaves. Depending on where you live, your jungle canopy might mix a small-leafed black locust ( Robinia pseudoacacia), jacaranda ( J. mimosifolia), or silk tree ( Albizia julibrissin) with bold-leafed types such as goldenrain tree ( Koelreuteria paniculata), palms, or Southern magnolia ( M. grandiflora). Beneath the tree canopy, plant lower-growing, big-leafed plants―bananas ( Musa basjoo is the hardiest species), bear's breech ( Acanthus mollis), honey bush ( Melianthus major), or ligularia ― among small-leafed ferns, lily turf, ornamental grasses, or ti plants.
Flowers. To help birds, butterflies, and other pollinators find the flowers amidst all the greenery, tropical blooms sport vivid hues. Cannas, dahlias, and shell ginger ( Alpinia) have bright blooms, as do flowering shrubs such as angel's trumpet ( Brugmansia), hibiscus, plumeria, and shrimp plant; vines such as bougainvillea, mandevilla hybrids, and passion vine; and many tender perennials, such as abutilon and impatiens.
Thatch. Nothing makes a garden feel more like a tropical island than a little palm thatching. It could be as simple as an umbrella over a table or as elaborate as a roof over a Balinese-style dining pavilion.
Fencing. Substitute bamboo poles for grapestake or chain-link fencing, and a garden instantly looks more exotic.
Lighting. Hide light sources in Indonesian lanterns, spirit houses, or other items. Tiki lamps ― the traditional source of supplemental outdoor lighting at night ― are dramatic, atmospheric light sources.
Mist. Though a resort-style misting system that cools the air is wonderful, the mist from a soaker hose is enough to add atmosphere (nestle it among river rock as described in our retreat, opposite). When you turn it on, the foliage drips and rocks glisten as they would after a sudden jungle shower.
Statuary. Hindu immortals, like the elephant god Ganesha or the monkey god Hanuman, fit well in a tropical-style setting. Of course, a serene Buddha or a tiki suits the mood as well.
Cushions. An ample supply of pillows invites relaxation. Choose bright, solid colors or exotic prints, like Hawaiian botanicals or Javanese batiks.
Candles. Cluster chunky candles of different heights where their soft, flickering light will illuminate the lush foliage beyond.
Floating flowers. Set shallow bowls filled with water and floating flowers on tables throughout the garden. Fragrant blossoms like plumeria and gardenia are especially nice.