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20th March, 2012

What's new?

Well, apart from the rainfall situation, with many parts of Qld experiencing floods since the last post, not a lot really. It's been almost 4 years since the last update but there haven't been a huge number of developments. The "Balinese" garden is still popular, but it seems to be a lot easier to find thatched gazebos and decorative items on the retail market these days.

The Have a holiday at home concept seems to be catching on, although often referred to a catchier "staycation". It even has it's own Wikipedia entry: Staycation.

With the high Australian dollar making overseas travel cheap at present, perhaps this is a trend which has still has potential to grow in the future. A little time and effort put in now might be a good idea to prepare for those staycations ahead?

29th June, 2008

Catching up

Finally an update! Interesting to see that the water crisis was the last thing I wrote about almost 2 years ago. In the meantime there has been some relief but dam levels here in SE Qld are still low and residents are still on serious watering restrictions. Domestic water tanks are helping out, and various infrastructure projects due to come on line in the years to ahead may improve the situation further. nevertheless, you'd have to think twice about establishing a high-water use garden these days, which is problem for people wanting a lush tropical look. Even if watering privileges are restored to something more generous, what happens when the next drought comes? Sadly, it would appear that gardeners in many other parts if the world are having similar problems, too.

Housing has boomed in Australia as elsewhere. Whether or not the bubble is (as some believe) currently popping here too, rising fuel and food costs are putting pressure on everyone. While some of the more expensive additions to your home may need to be delayed, concepts discussed previously on this page such as Have a holiday at home, Free Stuff and Cheap stuff may be even more relevant today to help people have fun with what funds they have available. By forgoing the overseas holiday and spending your money closer to home, you'll also be helping local businesses. Oh yes, aeroplanes produce lots of greenhouse gases, too!

29th August, 2006

Water crisis

Locally, water supplies are at critical levels, and allowable garden watering is getting more and more restricted as the months pass. This is undoubtedly a familiar situation in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, lush tropical gardens tend to require a lot of water. Here are few general thoughts which might help with short term survival and longer term planning:

Many woody palms, trees and shrubs can be quite drought tolerant once established, so work on building a good framework with such plants as appropriate to your space and climate.

Tropicals with a succulent nature are also quite drought tolerant, the classic example being the iconic Plumeria (frangipani).

Plants with an epiphytic nature (e.g orchids, bromeliads, epiphytic ferns) require relatively little water, but may need some protection.

Concentrate moisture-loving foliage plants around highly visible areas such as the patio, picture window, front entrance, etc (also more convenient to tap or water tank). Some shade will also be helpful in most cases. Pot into containers for greater flexilibity. Irrigation-dependant plants further from the house may have to be sacrificed.

Water tanks, where permitted, will have to be considered basic gardening "equipment" in the future. Widespread adoption of other water-conserving gadgets and techiques throughout the community will also help preserve water supplies.

Consult local authorities to check exactly what watering regulations currently apply where you live.

29th August, 2006

A Tropical Wedding

These days, many couples are opting to get married at tropical holiday resorts, as an alternative to the traditional expensive extravaganza.

Taking the Have a holiday at home concept a step further, how about having a tropical garden wedding and/or (secret?) honeymoon in your own home? You'll be able to invite more of your friends, and still save money. Some of the money you do spend could go into upgrading the house and yard if necessary (the difference being you get to enjoy it for years to come and even enhance your property value) with some left over for indulgences.

Go to the Queensland Gardening Pages for more ideas on the subject of Garden weddings

8th February, 2006


Set the theme at your next tropical party by greeting your guests with a lei. Leis can be be made from a variety of materials, not just fresh flowers, and they can be simple or elaborate. Check out the following sites for some ideas and inspiration. has information about construction and use of leis, ancient and modern.
Every year a lei-making competition is held in Honolulu on the 1st of May. You can view some past entries on the following pages hosted at the University of Hawaii at Manoa website: 72 Annual Lei Day Competition (1999), Lei Day Contest (2000), Lei Day 2004. Your leis might not be quite as elaborate as these competitors', but the photos do illustrate that a wide variety of flowers and foliage can be used. The website also provides some background information about Hawaiian Leis
Meanwhile, the Plumeria 101 website provides some advice on How to Make a Plumeria Lei.
An internet search on leis will also reveal a plethora of florists' websites from which you might get ideas. If you live in a part of the world served by these florists, you might even like to order some to celebrate a special occasion.

29th January, 2006

Tropical House Design

Looking for information or inspiration for designing a house for the tropics? There are two places where I've been collecting some links you may be interested in.

The first is the Building section of the Self Sufficiency Pages. There are links to webpages addressing some of the practical aspects of house design in the tropics.

The second place to look is on the Balinese gardens page, in particular the section on Outdoor Structures. Some of the traditional housing constructed in various parts of the tropics is covered there, which might be helpful for design or decorating ideas. (Check out the bottom of that page for links to more cultural information.)

14th January, 2006

Tiki (re)discovered

This week, I discovered that the Hawaii/Pacific/tropical genre of the 1950's and 1960's that I was indirectly alluding to in previous posts (e.g. Free Stuff, Theme: Beach) has a name: "Tiki".

What's more, it has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in recent years, with collectors going mad for original and new tiki paraphenalia. Australians may be more familiar with the term from the small Maori carvings (or reproductions) of human-like figures brought back from New Zealand holidays and worn as jewellery. (For possible origins of the word, visit the Maori Art and Artifacts website.)

Nevertheless, many Australians, especially those raised with Hollywood TV and movies of the period, will recognise American Tiki when they see it. Based on Polynesian culture, Tiki culture incorporates many of the motifs I listed under More iconic elements such as bamboo, thatched huts, flaming torches and volcanos. Scary Polynesian carvings feature prominantly.

For more information, visit some of the fabulous Tiki themed websites currently on the internet, such as:
These are just a few. Follow their links or do your own searches. Take a look, you could get be hooked!

I'm not sure how much Tiki culture manifested in Australia as actual architecture and decor, but some surely reached the Queensland Gold Coast (The holiday resort town most popular with Brisbane residents of the period). However, there is probably little left now.

I'll be keeing my eyes peeled for Tiki in Australia...

27th December, 2006

A Tropical Christmas

Christmas is over, and it was another hot one here in Australia. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas falls in summer. For those who live near the Equator, Christmas truly is tropical. Australians are gradually adapting to their geography by abandoning hot Christmas dinners in favour of seafood, salads and other cool foods. However, Christmas trees are still shaped like conifers and holly motifs abound.

Whether or not you actually celebrate Christmas in a hot climate, consider a tropical theme for December celebrations next year. After all, many of the current Western symbols and trappings of Christmas are of Pagan or secular origin. Furthermore, many of the dried fruits, nuts and spices associated with Christmas treats also originate in warm parts of the world. You can start planning a "A Tropical Christmas" now. (See also Tropical party themes)

- Decorate a palm tree
- Decorations: plastic fruit (frost with gold paint or glitter), real or artificial tropical flowers (red hibiscus, white hibiscus or plumeria plus foliage make a red, white and green theme), plastic jungle animals, cane or bamboo trinkets.
- Food: A vast array of other foods and cuisines from tropical countries to choose from. If circumstances permit, consider a Polynesian "Luau" or "Hangi" (involving food cooked in a pit in the ground) for a Christmas your guests are sure to remember!
- Colourful cocktails (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) complete with fruit and umbrella garnishes.

21st December, 2005

More animals

In the More iconic elements post a number of animals were listed, having a tropical association (at least in our imagination, if not in reality). here are some more:
frogs (including brightly coloured poison frogs)
giant spiders
boa constrictor
sea animals: anenomes, turtle, jellyfish, octopus, stingray, dolphin, shark

18th December, 2005

Name your Tropilocus

Give your "tropical place" an identity by giving it a name. What would you call your own resort, your own island, or even your own small country?

To get you started, check out the table below. On the left hand side is a list of descriptive words, on the right a list of nouns. Pick one at random from column A and one from Column B. Try B then A for more variations.

(N.B. Many of the resulting combinations have probably already been used for a commercial enterprise, and possibly trademarked, somewhere in the world.)

personal name (yourself, spouse, pet etc)  personal name
tropical hideaway
tropic cottage
rainforest villa
jungle grove
orchid plantation
bamboo shack
fern haven
hibiscus, frangipani cabana
palm resort
holiday club, lodge
honeymoon dunes
coconut shores
banana, pineapple, mango etc cove
green, emerald, jade bay
blue, azure, sapphire island
opal, diamond atoll
crystal mountain
heatwave hill
shady vista
whispering forest, jungle
shimmering falls
sparkling lagoon
hidden reef
paradise key
heaven harbour
Eden beach
coral sands
sandy palms
jaguar, crocodile, parrot, etc breeze
dolphin, turtle, etc mountain

Once you start brainstorming, you're sure to think of many more.

15th December, 2005

Tropical costumes

Not everyone likes fancy-dress, but a tropical theme party is easy to dress for. Most people will have little trouble finding a tropical print that they'll feel comfortable wearing. Or they can just wear what they normally wear to the beach. Of course, there are plenty of attention-getting personas possible for the extroverts.

Here are a few more specific ideas
- Hawaiian shirts (of course)
- sunglasses
- hula skirt, leis
- sarong
- muumuu (mumu)
- light, loose, white or khaki shirt and trousers, hat
- safari hunter (with pith helmet etc)
- loincloths, animal skins
- warrior shields, spears, masks, headress
- cannibal
- Amazon
- jungle animal
- pirate
- tropical plant (covered in creeping vines)
- character from book, TV show or movie set
  in a jungle or on a tropical island

The following are leaning more towards a beach theme...
- surfer or attendant "chick" (variation: 1960's style)
- lifesaver gear
- frayed, faded cut-off jeans, straw hat
- snorkal, flippers
- Australian "recreational fisherman" (thongs, beer etc)

15th December, 2005

Tropical party themes

The assortment of costumes in the above Tropical costumes post leads to notion that if you are having a 'tropical" party, you can be more specific by selecting a theme inspired by one of these. See also Pick a theme.

If you have a party inspired by a popular TV show or movie, in addition to a prize for best costume, how about awards for the best "lookalikes" of the main actors?

12th December, 2005


Another category of plants which perhaps should have been added to the list of More tropical plants, is vines. Afterall, what jungle movie is complete without the protagonists moving vines aside as they creep through the jungle, and occasionally swinging from them?

Actually, those thick-stemmed climbers of the rainforest are more accurately described as lianes or lianas.

But whatever you call them, the effect is going to be a little difficult to recreate in a suburban garden (at least with live plants). A suggestion of vines could be achieved with plants trailing down from hanging baskets, windor boxes etc.

11th December, 2005

Theme: Beach

A beach theme party is an old favourite but how about living at the beach all year by creating your own holiday house? Your beach theme might be associated with a tropical island in the Pacific, the Caribbean or Asia.

Another idea is recreating the beachside holidays of childhood memories - the architecture, the vegetation, the clothes, the food.

For many who grew up in Brisbane, a beach holiday was associated with the Gold Coast. The 1950's and 60's (before the high rises replaced the simple holiday houses and caravan parks) have a particular charm. Memories of that era will also be influenced by American surfing movies of the period (which in turn undoubtedly influenced many holiday towns)

Could you create your own beachfront home by recreating an actual beach in your backyard? That would be quite a challenge. One of the easiest things to do would be to plant typical seaside vegetation, although in reality many species might not be suitable (due to soil conditions) or safe (due to large or aggressive growth ). Certain species like grasses and Casuarina (an Australian native) might be an option.

Sand would not be practical in the backyard for many reasons (think about it), but a sandstone effect paver might at least provide the suggestion of sand. A trompe-l'oeil seascape, if there was a broad enough expanse available for painting, would be relatively simple but could be quite effective at giving you your very own "ocean view".

At the beach there's lots of sky. Of course you will want to make yourself comfortable and safe by providing plenty of shade to rest under. Don't forget the sunscreen.

Colours of the beach...
- sky blues
- sand tones
- sea blues and greens
- white foam, clouds, sparkling sunlight
- pale grey bleached wood
- other colours in bleached shades, because they have been faded by the sun, and because the intense sunlight makes colours "appear washed out".

Iconic elements...
- beach towels
- beachballs, buckets and spades
- beach umbrellas
- surfboards
- sun lounges
- decking (boardwalk or pier)
- a beach shack or cabana
- painted signs, flags
- artificial seagulls or pelicans
- lifesaver paraphenalia

Nautical or fishing gear is fairly easy to get hold of but don't go overboard (pardon the pun). You don't see a lot of fishing nets at a swimming beach.

11th December, 2005

Five Senses

Up until now the posts have been mostly about the tropical look. However, to heighten the tropical atmosphere, think about employing all five senses.

Hearing: music (traditional music, sounds of the rainforest), wind chimes
Smell: fragrances of frangipani and other tropical flowers, coconut, spices.
Taste: drinks, snacks and meals from tropical parts of the world containing exotic fruits, coconut, ginger, and other tropical tastes.
Touch: fresh breezes, textures of flooring and furniture.

11th December, 2005

Too cold for tropical plants?

Besides being nice to look at, plant life helps set the tone for a theme whether outdoors in in the garden or as potted plants or floral arrangements indoors. But what if you live somewhere that's impossible to grow real tropical plants outdoors? Some ideas:

Look for plants which have a tropical look but more suited to your climate.
Suprisingly realistic artificial plants/flowers are available these days.
Tropical fruits (pineapples, bananas, coconuts) from the supermarket can be used in table decorations.
Many popular indoor plants are of tropical origin.

10th December, 2005

Sense of seclusion

Unless you actually live next to a beach or rainforest, you'll probably want to block unsightly views and enhance your sense of tropical seclusion. Even with the highest allowable fences, there's sure to be nearby buildings or other views you'd prefer to avoid.

If planting trees or bamboos to act as screens, do some research and make sure they're suitable for the position in the long term. Unfortunately, fast growing plants tend to have a downside: they can quickly get out of hand and even cause property damage.

It may not be necessary to block the offending view completely. It may be enough to break up the outline to provide adequate camouflage. Concentrate on the main vantage points (e.g. view from the entertainment area or the outlook from the livingroom window).

Other screening options are locating pavillions or shade sails where they block views, at least when you're under them. Of course, there are many other factors to consider when locating these structures.

Distract the eye of the viewer from unattractive views by providing more interesting things to look at in the foreground, such as an artwork or water feature.

On the other hand, be sure to "borrow" attractive views like a neighbour's tree or a glimpse of distant hills.

Unwanted noise outdoors is harder to deal with, but visually screening off the source of the noise may have a psychological effect. The soothing sounds of moving water, rustling bamboo or other low-key ambient sounds may also help distract from urban noise.

10th December, 2005

Hard landscape elements

"Hard" in this context means the non-living components of the landscape. Adding a piece of art to the garden is an easy and fast way to define a theme instantly. More functional backyard items like swimming pools, entertaining areas, storage sheds etc can be also be designed and decorated with these themes in mind.

In Australia, you should be able to find people you can can supply and/or install:
- water features with waterfalls & rock pools (real or Fake Rocks)
- real swimming pool designed to blend with theme
- thatched pavillions
- carved sculptures
- lanterns, torches
- bamboo, reed or brush screening
- outdoor lighting (many effects possible)

(if you live in Queensland, check the suppliers listed in the Queensland Gardening Pages. Some supply mail order, too.)

If you want to add a bit more drama, here are some more ideas:
- realistic animal ornaments
- surfboards, canoes, etc (depending on theme)
- a convincing painted vista on a wall or fence (trompe-l'oeil)
- ruins, caves, a volcano
- music or sound effects

Check out the list of motifs in the More iconic elements post, and think about how you might incorporate some of these into your landscape.

Of course, keep safety and local regulations in mind and plan accordingly. For example, be sure to conform to requirements for pool fencing, construction projects, etc.

10th December, 2005

More tropical plants

Plants listed under Iconic plants are some of the most easily recognisable plants of the tropics. Here are some more classics:

Philodendron and Monstera
"Elephant Ears" (Alocasia etc)
Bird of Paradise (Strelizia)
Ferns, including tree ferns and epiphytic ferns

Bougainvillea is probably less recognisable as a flower to non-gardeners, but nevertheless widely grown in tropical regions.

There's a more extensive list of plant suggestions and other ideas for a tropical garden on a "Balinese" theme here: Balinese and SE Asian Style Gardening

In general, colourful flamboyant flowers or large leaves which are glossy and/or dramatically shaped are suggestive of the tropics. These clues can help gardeners in cooler climates select substitutes that nevertheless give a tropical appearance.

8th December, 2005

More iconic elements

Depending on how kitsch or classy you want to be, a plethora of possibilites.

- Hawaiian shirts
- grass skirts
- leis (that is, floral necklaces)
- sarongs
- batik prints
- bamboo (furnitute etc)
- hammocks
- surfboards, canoes
- dramatic sunsets
- thatched huts
- flaming torches
- volcanos
- stone temples, ruins
- waterfalls, rock pools
- temples, perhaps as ruins
- rope bridges
- sand and surf
- shells
- coral, tropical fish
- parrots
- crocodiles
- monkeys
- tigers
- elephants

Don't remove sand, shells, coral, plant material, driftwood or other materials from beaches, parks, forests etc without checking with appropriate authorities what rules apply.

8th December, 2005

Iconic plants

Whether as real plants, fake plants or motifs in your tropical designs, these virtually spell t-r-o-p-i-c-a-l:
Palm trees, palm fronds
Hibiscus flowers
Banana plants, leaves, fruit

If growing real plants, ask your local garden centre which varieties are appropriate to your region and specific garden location (e.g. many bamboos are too rampant for suburban gardens). Note that legal regulations may also apply to the cultivation of certain plants (e.g. bananas) in some places. If in doubt, check with appropriate authorities.

7th December, 2005

Have a holiday at home

Many Queensland homes are already very much like resorts with swimming pools, spas, outdoor entertaining areas etc. Even if you don't have such facilities at your place, as you develop your private tropical haven it'll be a bit like living in a tropical resort all year.

When it come to a real holiday, you might even consider having it at home. Just think about it...
- no accomodation to arrange
- no tickets, passports, visas, or inoculations
- no packing
- no airports
- no Schoolies*
- privacy
- safety
- avoid having to leave the house unattended for long periods
- save wear and tear on your car
- use less fossil fuels
- keep more money in the community

In other words:
- save money
- save time (more time to relax)
- less stress (have a real holiday)

Its not just about staying home. With all the money you'll be saving, you can really treat yourself. Or you can use it to invest in your own home and enjoy the benefits all year.

Like any other holiday, the planning may start well in advance and is part of the fun. Visit your local tourist information centre and see what's on offer locally. There are probably many places close to home that you've never even seen and would make a great day trip.

*Schoolies = teenagers that congregate at holiday locations at the end of the school year. You can imagine the rest.

7th December, 2006

Cheap stuff

Charity shops, garage sales and flea markets are places to buy cheaply the kind of bits and pieces talked about in the Free Stuff post. Some refuse stations in Australia are setting up stores to sell potentially useful items back to the public. In this way they can be recycled rather than dumping them in landfill.

Check out discount chain stores for all manner of items from tropical print clothing to inflatable toys to bamboo stakes (garden department).

If you want to grow a tropical garden, it's certainly possible to spend a lot of money. However, it's also possible to produce some very impressive results very cheaply. For general information about budget gardening, search for that or related phrases in your favourite search engines.

Fortunately, many tropical plants usually grown as indoor plants are very easy to propagate. Another option is to look out for young plants in small pot sizes and grow them on yourself.

Check out the fruit and vegetable section of local grocery shops for propagation material to produce a range of tropical-looking (if temporary) plants. Dispose of the them when they get too big or start to look sick. Have a few more coming on to replace them.

For example, an avocado seed can produce an attractive plant that can be kept in a pot for a time. (if you want to grow an actual tree for fruit, it is suggested you invest in a nursery-produced tree. The same goes for most other fruit trees.)

A couple of other types you might like to try are ginger and sweet potato. Some types of vegetable may be treated with sprout inhibitors, so if you're having trouble, try an organic supplier.

6th December, 2005

Free stuff

What if you have no money to go out and buy accessories? Most households have assorted tropical themed stuff hiding in the backs of wardrobes and sheds just waiting to be taken out and loved.

Ask around your friends and relatives, too. Some of this stuff might have been banished because it was deemed "tacky" but you can just say you're going for a deliberate "kitsch" look.

Items like: holiday souvenirs, cane furniture, baskets, kitchenware, soft furnishings, toys etc. Things made out of bamboo, cane, coconut fibre, hessian, seagrass. Simple wooden items. "Hawaiian" shirts and sarongs. Bold tropical motifs on clothing or soft furnishings. Old surfboards and similar paraphenalia.

5th December, 2006

Pick a theme

There are a number of themes which could be called "tropical". Your selection of plants and accessories will define the look. A few ideas...

Pacific Island / Hawaii
African Jungle
Central / South American Jungle
Asian ( Balinese, Thai, Indian and others)
Tropical Australia
Beach, Surf
Coral Reef, Coastal Rockpools
Pirate (usually associated with tropical islands)

Some can go together e.g.: [beach + Hawaii] or [Pacific Island + Coral Reef]. The "fantasy" category means putting together whatever elements you like, without worrying whether you would really see a tiger on a Hawaiian island.

3rd December, 2005

What is Tropilocus?

Tropilocus™ is all about creating a piece of the tropics wherever you live. I created the word from scientific Latin: tropicus(=tropical) + locus(=place).

There are many facets to Tropilocus.

One is creating a tropical theme for your home or garden because you simply like the look.

Another aspect is the home holiday (home-iday?). Create your own tropical resort for a week or all year round. Many homes in Queensland already have swimming pools and tropical-style gardens, not to mention the climate. Relax and enjoy your investment.

You might also like to explore a tropical theme for a childrens' or grown-ups' party. How about a special occassion like a wedding?

There have also been many popular books, TV shows and movies located on tropical islands or jungles which you can use as the basis of a party theme or an individual costume.

In these pages, there'll be lots of design ideas and products for the house and garden to suit all budgets. You might even add to the value of your home. And it won't just be about decorating, it will be about relaxing and having fun too.

© 2005 - 2012 Calyx Horticultural Services
Tropilocus™ is a trademark of Calyx Horticultural Services.

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