Island Bed Ideas

Basic design principles can guide you to a beautiful island garden bed


One final note on creating an island bed, finish it well by edging.  Whether you use landscape edging or a narrow crisp trench, edging will prevent the lawn from creeping into the bed and give it a professional finish.  Accent your edge with stones or plants.

This is a good example of traditional island beds.  Each bed is in good proportion to the space available.  Note that the plants in each bed are well balance and provide interest from every angle.  The bed in front adjoins a drive, with the plants positioned for best viewing from the drive entry.  Each bed contains a different combination of plants and each is neatly edged with simple trenching.  An English Style strolling garden is created with the multiple beds.


A common use for island beds is to accent trees in the landscape where it is difficult to mow and maintain lawn.  Simple low maintenance plants create a woodland garden feeling.  The low wall not only edges the bed but draws attention to the simple setting.  A break in the edging invites visitors onto a strolling path, which also accommodates maintenance in the large bed.


An island seemingly too small for a large property is actually nicely scaled to the dwarf tree.  The property owner’s preference here seems to tend toward small scaled elements, perhaps to keep attention on a grand home.  However, the three small items in this view seem unrelated and abrupt.  Widening the bed to include the dwarf tree and the gazing ball would unify the individual accents and create a nice flow.  A minimalist theme can be maintained by filling the bed with ground cover rather than larger plants.  The gazing ball would acquire a grounded place, unifying and balancing it with the tree.  The accent edging around the tree could remain.


A nontraditional island flowing from a property fence accomplishes many functions in this back yard.  What could be a boring fence is partially screened by dense planting, the fence becoming instead a neutral and unifying backdrop to flowing lush beds.  The evergreens at left are tall arborvitae which provide privacy screening to a cozy patio.  And the flowing beds create create strolling pathways while minimizing lawn maintenance.  The plant composition is a symphony of texture and various shades of green, primarily with low maintenance plants.  Splashes of color create rhythm and draw the eye from one grouping to the next.  Edging is a narrow trench, and the slightly built up beds are retained with rock edging.  Beautifully done!


This island has been created as a focal point, drawing attention to two lovely trees.  It is so simple, yet with so much happening.  Just a few plants types are used, repeated throughout the island.  Rock and boulder is artfully used as edging, transition between planting areas, creating raised areas, and repeated in the stone steppers.  Very little color is used, but a great variety of texture creates interest.

Focal Point Island

A stunning composition of plants create a fabulous focal point island bed.  The only problem is that a focal point should draw attention to something important in the landscape such as an entry or define a property or space perimeter.  Placed adjoining the inner side of the drive, it only looks misplaced.  On the other side of the drive, placed at the street entry, it would create a lovely entrance to the property.


An island garden is a perfect way to soften hardscaping.  This work in progress is already very appealing.  It breaks up large expanses of hard surface.  Bolder wall edging creates a great transition from concrete to plants.  The tree will become a focal point in its’ well scaled bed.  And additional plants will partially screen the entry patio and give it a cozy feeling.

Island Needs-simplicity-and-unity.gif

What gardener among us hasn’t fallen into the trap of trying to include one of everything they love in the gardens. Suddenly you look around and realize you have created a mess.  This landscape of berms and islands has a wonderful design composition, but has lost simplicity and unity as it developed.  Reducing the variety of plants, or simply regrouping them into clusters is a good place to start.  Crisply edge the beds, everything seems to run together here.  Unify the beds by selecting one plant to flow through or around the beds - the low growing edging plant in the right foreground could be used through all the beds.  Pots and garden accessories should be “peeking out” of the foliage or placed to call attention to important plants or entrance to a path. 


Recently acquired property may not have much landscaping done, giving you a clean slate to work with.  Perhaps what little does exist can be a starting point.  This property owner is using temporary yard marking spray paint to experiment with island bed layouts.  A terrific grass plant that seems very healthy and happy right where it is, and a pedestal from a broken bird bath are her starting inspiration.


That big project you did a few years ago is great, but you always thought is seemed dwarfed by a large property.  You have had your rest now, just expand it!

Sharon DwyerComment