Private Tropical Oasis at Florida Keys Resort

A previously neglected landscape was transformed into a tropical oasis for this beachside resort in Islamorada, Fla. Lush plants surround a swimming pool, oceanfront fire pit, and numerous private seating areas.

Swimming Pool With Tropical Plants

Topical Swimming Pool With Stone Deck

Palm trees surround this serene pool deck with stone pavers. A cabana sits nearby for shaded lounging.

Photo by: Tamara Alvarez

Tamara Alvarez

What did your client want for this beachside resort?

The client’s main objective for the property was to create a tropical oasis that was secluded and private. With the resort (guesthouse) having only six rooms, the garden was meant to be the main focus of the property, so therefore it was important to have areas where guests could feel as though they were in their own private tropical paradise. The garden was designed so there are different areas to wander around or relax in while having the sense of being in a private tropical resort.

What was the landscape like before, and did you use only native plants?

Palm Trees In Tropical Lanscape

Tropical Landscaping

Elephant ear plants and various types of palms create a lush, tropical landscape at this beach resort.

Photo by: Tamara Alvarez

Tamara Alvarez

The garden was bleak with a defunct tennis court. The land was neglected, open and uninspiring. I had a blank slate to work with and designed everything on the exterior including the porches; the outdoor stair tower and staircases; the swimming pool and surrounding deck; the walkways; the entryway to the property; the beachfront and fire pit; the spa; and intimate spaces. The approach to the property was designed based on how one first drives down the lane to where the space opens up to reveal the guesthouse while keeping the parking completely separate and the guesthouse discreet. The project was a complete transformation from a neglected and uninspiring landscape to a lush tropical retreat. I always start with a framework of native species and then layer with native tropical and Caribbean species that can handle the often-harsh oceanfront and saltwater conditions. Specimen species such as American Oil palms, Miraguama Palms, large Royal Palms and specimen bamboos are strategically placed throughout the property to create further visual interest.

What was your biggest obstacle?

The biggest obstacle was that fact that the property had flooded and had numerous issues with water drainage. I created a grotto that not only feels like a living sculpture but also functions as an area to retain rainwater and prevent flooding. Function was a priority for the property, but creating a space that was visually appealing was also of high importance.

What inspired this design?

Tropical Outdoor Dining Area

Outdoor Tropical Dining Area

Teak dining chairs and tables sit underneath towering palm trees on a private patio. Palm trees and banana leaf plants surround the dining area, creating privacy and beautiful natural landscaping.

Photo by: Tamara Alvarez

Tamara Alvarez

The inspiration was a tropical paradise that makes one want to remain on the property rather than explore the beautiful surrounding islands. A place that is not only relaxing with its own private pool and beach, but where one can rest on a deck chair or lounge in a hammock by the ocean under a palm tree. A place to sit by a fire pit at night, under the stars, next to the water, and feel as though you’re the only person on the island. I design landscape spaces to look as though they have always been there.

What are you proudest of?

For this project the owner gave me free reign to create his tropical paradise and supported all of my decisions. Having clients who put their faith in your design ability always allows for more creative freedom. Designing the beach was the most enjoyable aspect for me as it was on a promontory point, making the conditions more challenging. I wanted to keep the sense of floating on the water and in this case, less was more. The beach was designed to not be overdone and just let the beauty of the area speak for itself. I also enjoyed working on the grotto for the unique challenges it brought and am especially proud of how the area turned out. The more time the plants have had to grow and fill in, the more beautiful the area that is meant for rainwater storage becomes.

Why did you use built-in stone benches for the fire pit?

Beachside Fire Pit

Tropical Outdoor Fire Pit

Wooden Adirondack chairs surround a stone fire pit on this dreamy beachside patio. Built-in stone benches with orange cushions provide extra seating and a pop of color.

Photo by: Tamara Alvarez

Tamara Alvarez

The owner wanted the fire pit to be placed by the water and sunken; therefore, the stones were used to reinforce the pit and keep water from getting in. They were also chosen as they respond to the local geology, as they are native stones to Florida. As much as possible, we like to use as many locally sourced products and plants as possible. In this instance, the stones not only provided the perfect barrier from the elements, creating a cozy space to relax by a fire, but visually suit the surrounding area too.

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Craig Reynolds Landscape Architecture

Craig Reynolds Landscape Architecture

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Craig Reynolds Landscape Architecture 517 Duval Street, Suite 204 Key West, FL 33040 305-292-7243