Can't Live In The Islands? 5 Ways To Bring The Islands To You Instead

Want to turn your yard into a tropical oasis? This little slice of heaven can be yours even if you live in less-than-tropical climates. So, how can you design your own paradise retreat? Here are 5 steps to help get you started.

Layer Plants

Carving out a tropical paradise in a different environment involves first blocking your senses from focusing on the outside elements. Do this by placing layers of plants to create an effective barrier—both visual and aural.

Start with colorful ground covers in front of mid-size flowers and shrubs. Add an outer layer of tropical trees or tall plants like palms. If you still need to block the view more, try adding some climbing vines on a fence or trellis around the tree layer.

No matter how you create your blocking layers of serenity, keep it lush and almost overgrown for the best sense of the tropic jungle.

Use Large, Traditional Plants

Tropical (and faux tropical) plants have a certain look. That look generally includes large leaves, brightly colored flowers, and a deep green overall appearance. You can recreate the tropics by including plants that "feel" tropical to you, whether they are or not. These may include:

  • Palm trees, such as the sago palm or windmill palm
  • Cold weather palm varieties like the dwarf palmetto and cabbage palm
  • Banana plants, which grow quickly and have big, colorful leaves
  • Umbrella plants
  • Elephant ear plants
  • Tropical hibiscus or gardenias
  • Cool-weather flowers like Hydrangeas or roses
  • Angel's trumpet or a similar flower that attracts bees and butterflies

If you choose plants that don't do well in your colder or drier climate, plant them in pots that can be moved indoors in winter. Or simply budget for replanting each spring—which is also a great opportunity to change up your landscaping.

Add Water

To evoke the jungle or the beach, you will need some bubbling water. Depending on the size of your yard, this could be as simple as one or two well-placed outdoor decor water fountains shaped like vases, overgrown flowers, or simple stones. Or it could mean a full-fledged pond planted with water lilies. Choose what you personally find relaxing and what fits your budget.

Add Stone

Accent your tropical retreat with some natural stone features. Save money by choosing a stone that's local and easily sourced, rather than focusing on what might be officially "tropical." Make a subtle stone walkway planted with a colorful ground cover (such as dianthus or Purple Goose Leaf) in between the stones. Or use smaller river rock to line flower beds or around your water feature.


Finally, bring all your elements together with a little bit of accessorizing. The easiest way to give your guests an island feel is to use some bamboo, tiki torches or a fire pit in your entertainment space. You can also go a little more subtle and use casual Adirondack chairs and a large umbrella over them. Sling a hammock on the porch and hang some lanterns around to softly illuminate summer evenings. Or have fun with the theme and throw in some lighted pink flamingos! Just go with what brings that joyful island vibe to your heart.

Creating an island retreat in your own backyard will bring you and your guests joy for years to come. Even if it may seem a little impossible where you live, you can bring these elements together and make the space you want to see.