5 Swimming Pool Landscape Ideas – Make a Big Impression on a Small Budget

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Bananas, Castor Bean, Cannas behind swimming pool

Of late, I’ve gotten a number of emails from blog readers all asking the same question – What are some inexpensive ways for me to get an exotic, tropical look quickly with landscaping around my pool? – or some variation of this.  Of course, I encourage them to get the backyard resorts ebook, but I do try to provide some ideas, even if they don’t.

Since I’ve gotten this question a number of times, I thought I’d toss out some of my ideas, and would encourage our subscribers to throw out some of their own ideas. Let’s turn this into an idea exchange that we all might benefit from!

So, here’s the  set up – assume someone has a new swimming pool, or one that has little or no landscaping and wants to start creating their own backyard resort, on the cheap and they want some quick impact.  I’m going to assume here that buying a reasonably sized hardy palm or two is not in the budget.  What should they do?  Here are 5 ideas I’d suggest:


  1. Banana’s, canna, castor bean, ornamental grasses around pool

    Bananas.  They are about as tropical looking as it gets and will make an immediate impact. Establish groupings around the pool.  Don’t line them up in straight rows! For those of you that have the Backyard Resorts Ebook, you know that, for better or worse, I’m all about a more wild, untamed look, not a formal, tidy look.  Bananas are readily available in garden centers (or on Ebay), reasonably inexpensive, easy to grow, and grow really fast if you plant them properly and give them plenty of food and water.

  2. Cannas. Use these as borders, between your bananas and other taller plants.  Bengal Tiger and Tropicana are a couple of really flamboyant varieties, but my favorite is a large purple variety that I’ve yet to identify. Not as flashy, but it holds up better in the brutal summer heat here in Dallas.  Experiment … there are lots of options, and they are inexpensive and very easy to grow.
  3. Castor Bean. This is just one of my favorite plants, and is an incredibly exotic looking large specimen plant.  You can learn more about it in this article I posted a while back.  It grows from seed to 15-20 feet tall every year for me and is stunning to look at.  There are green (biggest), red, and grey varieties.  You can get seeds on Ebay for next to nothing.  Once you grow it once, you’ll have all the seeds you’ll ever need.  Fair Warning – the plant and its seeds are poisonous if eaten.
  4. Containers with flamboyant flowering plants.  I know, attractive pots can get pricey, but there are inexpensive options out there.  Tropical hibiscus, plumeria, bougainvilla, mandevilla, and Angel trumpet are some real show stoppers in pots.  Create mixed plantings of varying colors and textures.  See this article I posted a while back on container ideas.
  5. Ornamental Grasses.  This idea often gets overlooked in my opinion. The linear form of ornamental grasses contrasts beautifully with large leafed plants like bananas and Cannas, and create an airy, seaside look and feel. Pampas Grass is great if you have the space, but can get huge, up to 7 feet. Maiden Grass is medium (up to 3 feet) and is beautiful in any kind of a breeze.   Aztec Grass or Purple fountain grass, with their beautiful colors, contrast beautifully with almost any green plant.  Most are readily available and reasonably inexpensive.
Backyard Resorts Ebook - Tropical backyard landscape, tropical pool landscape

Of course, if the budget is there, you have to be thinking one or more hardy palms but, if not, the ideas above will get you started without big bucks.   What other ideas do you have?

Cheers, and enjoy your Backyard Resort.

4 Replies to “5 Swimming Pool Landscape Ideas – Make a Big Impression on a Small Budget”

  1. I contacted you a few years back when I first returned to McKinney from Afghanistan. I have planted most of the things that you suggested in “Backyard Resorts” with pretty good success. A couple of things that I don’t believe were mentioned that have also worked well are “purple shower” (behind the waterfall) and “umbrella plant”.

    Thanks for the suggestions in “Backyard Resorts”.

  2. Thanks Ed. I thought Umbrella plant was in there. If not, it should be! I’ll check out purple shower too.

  3. We just planted a lot of stuff in South Florida at our home. I wanted to achieve a traditional southern look and I’ve tried azaleas and they’re doing really well. I’ve also mixed in some leggier plants to give some height in places.

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