Pacific Landscape Design
Photo by Sebastian Voortman from Pexels
Landscape Design

Pacific Landscape Design

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  • In a South Pacific-inspired landscape, find ways of using sound to create a serene environment. Here, a bamboo windchime sets the scene.
  • Pergolas or open-sided pavilions can create a comfortable outdoor seating area, and can be built to screen out mosquitoes.
  • This water feature evokes the lines of the plunge pools widely used in Bali.
  • Wide or rounded leaves are an iconic feature of the tropics. Native and cold-hardy plants with big leaves can carry that theme into our home landscapes.
  • While stone and plants are best in subtler hues, choose bold colors for fabric and décor.
  • Canna lilies can be used in water features for a tropical look, and can be brought inside in climates colder than zone 7.

Plants with big leaves are the most evocative of the tropics, but many iconic plants like bananas aren’t cold-hardy. Instead, get the look by choosing native or well-adapted plants with large, rounded leaf shapes.

Alternately, tropical plants can be placed in pots in a water feature or on the patio, and can be brought indoors for the winter.

South Pacific-inspired plants:

Canna (in water or the ground)
Native ferns
Lady’s mantle

The tropical landscapes found in Bali and other areas of the South Pacific call to mind verdant gardens with huge leaves, bold colors and the sound of a nearby stream.

Yet this kind of lush grandeur can be tough to pull off in a residential setting, especially in a cold climate where tropical plants don’t grow. Glenn Switzer, a landscape designer in Minnesota, designed an award-winning landscape inspired by Bali, and here he shares his tips for bringing the South Pacific home.


  • Do incorporate fire into your landscape. “Gazing into the fire is a primal experience that humans are hard-wired to enjoy, ” Switzer explains. “It’s why outdoor hearths are so popular.” Whether your space and budget call for an outdoor fireplace, chiminea, or even just a candle, make sure you incorporate the element of fire into your landscape.
  • Do create a plunge pool. “Many people in Bali engage in ritual bathing as part of their Hindu religion, ” says Switzer. Not only is the sound of water soothing, but it gets pretty hot in the tropics, so being able to step into a long pool and immerse yourself in the cool water can be a meditative experience in areas with hot summers.
  • Do choose bold colors for décor. Rich, vivid colors on cushions, umbrellas and chairs create a lively contrast in the landscape. However, choose softer hues for natural elements like plants and décor, since their beauty needs little enhancement.
  • Do create an open-sided pavilion to relax in. “A three-season porch can be built with screens to keep the mosquitoes out, and is a beautiful way of blurring the lines between your interior and exterior, ” says Switzer. When designing an outdoor structure, echo lines from the exterior of your home for a feeling of continuity.


  • Don’t go overboard on the Tiki elements. “Your landscape shouldn’t look like a set from the musical South Pacific, ” says Switzer. “When the design is simple, clean and uncluttered, it creates a peaceful feeling in your surroundings.”
  • Don’t neglect the four elements. “Every landscape should incorporate earth, air, fire and water in order to truly be in balance, ” advises Switzer. While earth and air are already covered, water and fire are also essential in designing a space that engages your senses.
  • Don’t choose exotic materials. “Just because you’re creating a South Pacific-inspired landscape, it doesn’t mean you need to import materials, ” Switzer explains. “You’re creating a feeling in the garden, and this can be done with the native materials in your area.”
  • Don’t select plants based on their flower color. The texture and foliage of the plants will have a more profound impact on the look of your landscape than will the ephemeral blooms.

In any landscape, tropical or not, Switzer feels that water is an essential element. “Water brings a sense of serenity and quiet to the landscape, ” he says. “The sound also acts as white noise to screen and distract from neighbors or traffic sounds.”

Another way of gaining a peaceful quietude in the garden is through the use of an outdoor audio system. “I often listen to classical music in the morning while pulling a few weeds, ” he says. It’s possible to create a full surround-sound experience on the patio, with speakers or even a television that can recede behind a retaining wall with the touch of a button. You can follow along with a yoga DVD or watch musicians playing traditional Balinese gamelan music to set the perfect scene.