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Creating a tropical backyard

Last Updated Nov 15, 2017 · Written by Samantha Thorne

If you live in Australia, you’re in luck, because if you want to create a tropical backyard oasis, the mild weather we experience down under will serve you well. Some plants will be suited to certain Australian climates than others, but, no matter where you live, there are a few guidelines that will help you create your own tropical paradise.

Tropical backyard

Planning your tropical backyard

Gather imagery and ideas that move you and create a mood board. By placing colours, textural inspiration, plant and decor ideas together on one page, you’ll get an overall idea of the style you’re going after and whether individual elements work.

Depending on what you want to achieve in your backyard, you could be facing a huge overhaul or some minor work. With any backyard theme, the amenities and stylistic references are endless, so you may need help from a few different tradespeople.

For example:

Other trades and professionals you might need help from include:

But honestly, the list of trades that could help you is endless, and who you’ll need on the job really depends on how big your project actually is. It can be as little or as big as you like.

To help get you started, we’ve put together a list of tropical backyard elements to help with planning and getting you inspired, Our influences come from tropical regions all around the world, so our article is bursting with ideas for everyone.

For more particular ideas around certain regions and how to extend tropical resort style throughout your home check out these helpful articles below:

Choosing plants for tropical gardens

When you get to the point of deciding what kinds of plants to include in your tropical themed garden, you’ll want to choose varieties that are reminiscent of tropical environments in places like Southeast Asia, tropical North Queensland and Hawaii.

There are a few techniques that landscapers use to achieve this look, including:

Using a lot of lush layers

From squishy ground cover that’s soft underfoot to mid-sized shrubs and towering plants and trees with huge leaves, you’ll want to start from the ground up. You could try the following combination:

  • A layer of deep green or light green mossy ground cover around garden beds, paving and paths.
  • A mid-sized purple shrub that won’t exceed 30cms in heights.
  • A layer of red or orange bromeliads or bird of paradise mixed with green cycads.
  • A towering canopy of swaying palms.

The idea is that if the garden grows without regular maintenance, it will still look good.

Plant varieties for tropical

Plant varieties for tropical gardens

Nothing says tropical like monstera, bird of paradise, palm trees and bamboo.There are plenty of varieties for you to choose from, but with so many options comes the possibility of choosing a combination of plants that won’t make sense. For this reason, it’s best to speak to a garden designer to ensure your garden is as striking as it can be.

In tropical garden design, large-leafed plants are very popular. Mostly because they add a lot of drama and are reminiscent of tropical style. In large yards, plants like elephant ears, gunnera, monstera and philodendrons are a good choice.

Varieties of plants for tropical gardens

If you have a smaller space then you can’t go wrong with ligularia and hostas, which are both great for making a statement without growing to be massive, ultimately bullying other plants in your garden.

A tropical garden is a sensory experience, so you need to add pops of colour in a variety of shapes and hues. One way to do this is by decorating spaces with brightly coloured vines like bougainvillaea. Bougainville is found in the gardens of Bali and Thailand and adds a significant amount of charm. Luckily in our climate, the bougainvillaea plant thrives.

Flowering tropical plants

For other flower varieties, you should look for plants that will flower for most of the year. As a backup, mix in plants with leaves in colours of pink, purple, red and yellow.

Using plants with colourful foliage will ensure there’s always a pop of colour, even in the shadiest depths of your garden. A good example of such a plant is the Persian shield variety below.

Tropical flowers

Orchids can add to the overall theme, not only with their beautiful scent but also with their ability to transport you to the tropics. In many tropical regions, orchids grow wild on the sides of trees and the good news is you can mimic this in your own garden by hanging them in baskets, strapping them to trees or placing orchids between the green foliage.

Tropical backyards

If the climate permits, then banana trees can also be a good choice for tropical backyards. The leaves are lush and large, adding shade to a sunny backyard. You also get the added benefit of fruit. Source: iStock.

Read: How to grow orchids

Outdoor entertainment areas in tropical backyards

When you think of a tropical holiday, you think of a few things like eating and cooking outdoors, comfortable seating, bamboo, rattan, watching sunsets on a deck and soft warm lighting. It’s all geared towards relaxation and comfort.

To really go all the way with your tropical overhaul, you can include some of the elements outlined below:

  • Beautiful timber decking for you to relax on.
  • An outdoor kitchen or bar with a thatched roof which is the perfect place for entertaining guests.
  • Ceiling fans to cool you down if you plan on spending many afternoons and balmy nights outdoors.
  • Warm lighting for ambience and safety after the sun goes down. You can add solar lighting around paths and garden edges to save money.
  • Comfortable seating with washable water-resistant covers for ultimate comfort when you’re lazing around outside.
  • Deck chairs by the pool.
  • Hammocks.

Read: 10 stylish deck design ideas to get you inspired

How to use tropical elements and decor to style your space

The tropical inspired decor follows a few tried and tested formulas - you can’t go wrong with the following (unspoken) rules:

  1. Use bright prints and knick-knacks as accent pieces.
  2. Use natural materials such as stone, teak, rattan, linen, seagrass and bamboo.
  3. Invest in big statement urns for showstopping effect.

Tropical elements

Invest in Balinese or Thai inspired statues to give your garden an authentic touch. Source: iStock.

You’ll want to incorporate natural stone accents into your design, whether it’s using the natural stone wherever you’re located or mimicking the look of a stone that originates somewhere else. Large pieces can be used for retaining walls, and between stepping stones or pavers on paths, you can use smaller rocks, which is a common technique used in tropical landscape design.

Tropical landscape design

River rock used between stepping stones in this tropical garden design. Source: iStock.

Another way to ramp up the Tropicana factor in your backyard is by using colourful and fun signs. It’s an easy way to add a playful pop of variation. This can be especially useful if your garden is more likely to be dominated by green foliage with little to no flowers.

Tropicana rocks

Decorate the space with things like:

  • Tropical cushions.
  • Stone urns.
  • South East Asian statues.
  • Tiki torches.
  • Teak, rattan or bamboo furniture.
  • Woven hammocks.
  • Macrame planters.
  • Metal and glass lanterns.

Tropical gardens

When it comes to outdoor decor, natural fibres are best. Source: iStock.

Incorporate pools or water features

What’s a tropical backyard without a pool, pond or water feature? When you choose one to suit your backyard, you’ll want to go for a natural look. As if you’ve just stumbled upon an oasis in the middle of a rainforest or jungle.

For a pool, you can surround it with large boulders and have a water feature integrated into its design. For example, having a little waterfall flowing over the boulders into the pool. Choose a lighter coloured pool to get that sparkling aqua watercolour that you’d find in an exotic and tropical location.

Take a look: at our pool design photo gallery for some inspiration

Water features or pools

This image serves as inspiration only. Remember that any pool you build in Australia will need to comply with pool fencing standards that are enforced in your location. Source: iStock.

When it comes to ponds, they can look fabulous next to a deck or bordered by a variety of large plants. As mentioned earlier, a tropical garden is a sensory experience, so the sounds of water running can make your backyard feel really private and secluded.

You can really up the ante by adding a collection of koi to your pond and growing floating lilies at the water’s surface.

Read: What’s involved in installing a pond?

Installing a pool

A water feature is also an element that you can consider in your tropical backyard. Style and size can range from a small fountain near your back door to a large waterfall integrated into your pond or pool. In any case, a water feature is a classic touch that will help you to drown out any traffic noise.

To add to the look and entertain the kids, consider a sandpit or wooden tree swing.

Once your backyard is complete, all you’ll need to do is pour yourself a fruity drink and play some island tunes to be transported to a tropical paradise.

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