How to Grow: Edible Plants in Island Beds

Island plantings are becoming more popular in yards as homeowners try to reduce the amount of lawn to mow, create a more visually interesting yard and foster more habitat for wildlife and birds. Island beds are designed for viewing from all sides and usually are surrounded by lawn. Sometimes these island plantings consist of native trees and shrubs that were left over from the house construction. They might also Red gooseberries on bushsurround a large boulder or ledge that had to be left when the house was being built. If these trees and shrubs survived the construction process they can be a good starting place for building the island. Evaluate their health before landscaping around them because sometimes after a year or two they will decline due to soil compaction and root damage during construction. What plants that remain can be with a mix of different sized trees, shrubs and perennials.

You can also create your own island planting of small trees, shrubs and perennials around your property from scratch. It’s a good way to create interest in the landscape, break up the lawn, balance a yard visually, and offer an opportunity to grow yet more edibles!

There are a few rules you’ll want to follow when creating an island bed of ornamentals and edibles.

• Place the island in a location where it won’t interfere with natural pathways, mowing and access to parts of your yard.
• Be bold in creating your island bed. Many homeowners go for small islands that seem out of place in their large yard.
• At the same time be proportional with the size of your island. Small yards need small islands, while large yards need big ones.
• Make the bed 3 times longer than it is wide for proper scale. You can make the bed any shape you like. Curved beds are more appealing to the eye than angular beds.
• Place the tallest plants in the middle of the island and work down towards the lawn with varying heights of plants on all sides. This will make the island bed feel more a part of the landscape and not floating in the yard.
• Plant in drifts of the same or similar plants. Think of nature. You rarely find a single oak tree in a forest.
• Consider planting some plants that are in your foundation planting or elsewhere in the yard in the island as well to make the island feel more like part of your landscape.
• Create a soft edge with bark mulch or groundcovers as a nice transition to the lawn.

serviceberryWhen designing your island bed, or renovating an existing one, keep foodscape plants in mind. Many edible plants fit well planted in groups in an island. Native plants, such as gooseberry and serviceberry, look natural mixed among dogwoods and ninebarks. As with any planting it’s all about what plants are compatible for growing with each other and will naturally fit in the island.

Not only can you mix and match edibles with ornamentals in an island planting you can create a foodscape island of all edible plants. Your island planting could be anchored with trees such as apples and cherries or large shrubs such as viburnums. Currants and gooseberries can be understory plants that will survive in the part shade. You can even have shorter border plants of low bush blueberry, cranberry and alpine strawberry. Now that’s an island I could get stranded on.

Excerpted from the book Foodscaping (CSP, 2015).