Create a Tropical Retreat in Your Backyard

Have you been dreaming about a tropical getaway? See how these homeowners created a retreat right out their back door.

Photography by Rob Vomund


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Lange Backyard
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    For the past 10 years, the Lange family has been hard at work creating a lush tropical retreat in their sloping California backyard. It's a relatively small space at just a third of an acre. Read on to see how they've filled their landscape with color, charm, and personality.

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Dramatic Decking

    One of the first projects the Langes tackled was installing decking. Because the backyard is on a septic system with leach fields running through the yard, they couldn't do a lot of digging. Instead, they added 1,200 square feet of redwood decking.

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Tiki Touch

    The Langes' tiki bar is one of the most eye-catching elements of the backyard. Featuring a thatched roof and margarita maker, it's a perfect place for entertaining guests. The Langes got their inspiration from a tropical resort. Look for a locale you enjoy for ideas to style your personal retreat.

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Light It Right

    A variety of types of soft outdoor lighting makes the backyard attractive and safe after the sun goes down. Create different effects in your landscape by including several kinds of outdoor lights.

    Test Garden Tip: Save money and go green with solar-powered lights. New models cast a glow for a much longer period than old types.

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Make a Statement

    A collection of cheery signs helps set the tone and adds a playful dose of color. The Langes grow a lot of plants for foliage rather than flowers.

    Test Garden Tip: Pay attention to plants when planning your backyard. Big, bold tropicals create one look; select lavender, sage, and other silvery-leaf plants for a Mediterranean feel.

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Keeping it Cool

    Tucked beneath a canopy of 300-year-old oaks, the Langes enjoy plenty of shade. But all the foliage, including bird of paradise, ferns, and Japanese maples, add to the cooling effect, making the backyard feel cool, even on the hottest days.

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Enjoy a Soundtrack

    A large pond, fed by a 15-foot-tall waterfall, sits next to the deck. The moving water provides the perfect background sound, making the backyard feel even more private and secluded.

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Live Entertainment

    The Langes keep a collection of koi in their pond. These colorful garden residents are a favorite of guests.

    Test Garden Tip: Create a ledge in your pond so koi have a place to find shelter from predators, such as birds and raccoons.

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Soften Stone

    The Langes dug up a lot of stone from their property and put it to good use, creating water features and retaining walls. They used an abundance of plants with soft-textured foliage to keep the stone from appearing too harsh against the rest of the landscape.

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Multipurpose Display

    The Langes found an antique armoire that they turned into a stunning water feature and potting bench. The top of the armoire holds containers, seeds, and tools, as well as display small potted plants.

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Clever Water Feature

    The drawers of the armoire offered a perfect water feature. The Langes used a fiberglass resin to seal the drawers. Then they changed the knobs to a pull and drilled a hole underneath each one. A small piece of tubing in each hole pushes water out, and a pump in the bottom drawer recirculates water to the top.

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Quiet Corner

    Under the protection of a pergola, the Langes added a second small pond and waterfall. Its central location near several garden rooms means they can enjoy the sound of the waterfall from more than one seating area.

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Sit in Style

    Wanting the perfect place to kick back and relax, the Langes hung a pair of patio chairs from the pergola. Tucked away among the lush foliage, it turned out to be their favorite part of the landscape -- and a fun way to make use of a shady area.

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Add Creature Comforts

    A ceiling fan installed under the pergola keeps air moving. It makes the summer heat less of an issue and wards away mosquitoes and other flying insects.

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Ring Around the Fire Pit

    Place a couple of benches around a fire pit, as the Langes have, and you end up with the perfect place to spend a cool evening, roast marshmallows or hot dogs, or just enjoy the flickering light.

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