Islands don’t have to be land surrounded by water.  They can be flower beds and shrubs surrounded by lawn. I see more and more of them in Lincoln and many in the front yard. There is a beauty in our block area that has a red Japanese Maple Tree for a centerpiece.  The rest of the year it changes from year to year by the bulbs, annuals, and a few perennials.  As with most islands, it has been designed to be viewed from all sides.

          Some of the islands I see are made into berms with small trees for the focal point.  Most are not round but oval or irregular shape, with tall plants in the center, gradually sizing down to the very low plants as edging. There are no rules as to what you plant, so it may be the only place for your favorites.  In a shady yard the island could fill in around the trees, leaving the sunny part for grass. There are a number of plants preferring this with the most popular currently is the Hosta.  One can get any size and many leaf patterns of Hosta. Most of them like water.  Their biggest problem are slugs that hide during the day and eat big holes at night. There are products that contains iron phosphate (Sluggo, Es-car-go, and Slug Magic Pellets for example) that do not poison dogs or kids as the older poisons did. Or if you want an organic method just put a wet burlap or board close by for them to hide under.  Then in the morning lift your trap, drop the enemy in soapy water or squish them yourself. Slugs like damp places to sleep in and they get hooked on the burlap so are easy to take care of. Replace the board or burlap back under the plant after harvest.

          When you make an island you have the chance to improve your soil by adding much compost. Make sure you dig it in and do not layer. In a new island I like to dig out the sod and set it aside. Then dig out the soil and then put the sod upside down at the bottom of the hole. Next add compost and the soil and put it in. If this is a berm you can dig out the sod, turn it upside down and then add compost and soil spade or till together. Once the plants are in you will not have this chance to enhance your soil.

          Most people put their vegetable garden in the backyard and then after several years the bugs and diseases build up their numbers. These cut down on the crop of vegetables, so for a year or two they plant an island in front. They can be very productive and beautiful as well.  Roseland Creasy has a book called “Edible Landscaping” with ideas of adding plants like Blue Cabbage, the beauty of Carrot foliage, arches with climbing beans. , and gourds mixed in with flowers in order to “relearn the joy of eating fresh picked peas and vine ripened tomatoes. Thus having a positive effect on your food supply, eating pleasures, and household budget.” There are 353 pages of ideas and plants such as string Beans with purple flowers, and many colors of lettuce.

          Another book “Front Yard Idea Book” by Jenni Webber has an island in the front yard as the backyard is a play ground that can be changed after the kids are gone.  This little island is gardened with small shrubs surrounding a table and chairs seated on square blocks.  Other plans were island plantings on either side of the front walk.  Sometimes I see an “island” at the corner of a house using up a space that would be difficult to mow and making a space for some special plants.

          I have noticed the last few years the seed catalogs are adding new colorful vegetables.  In my Lilies who tend to lose lower leaves, I put Red Bull Beet seeds. The red leaves are a good Spinach substitute as well as a gorgeous ground cover, and then later I can eat the Beets. Another red plant that makes good edging along a path is one or several of the red, ruffly lettuces. There are purple podded string beans. Some that turn green when cooked and other that stay purple. There is nothing showier than a few clumps of Bright Lights Chard with its orangey red or gold leaves about 3 feet high. You can be eating the small leaves weeks before it gets those huge curly leaves.  A tall tomato vine in its cage with hundreds of golden tiny, sweet fruit is not a bad sight. I really like the Sun Gold variety that is very prolific and the fruit is very sweet right off the vine.

          Lastly you can think of a rain garden as an island in a low spot to catch run off water. The rain garden will keep your fertilizer at home and not add it to our water supply.

          Just as I was writing the last paragraph the mail came with “The Seed” newsletter from the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum with an article about “Edible Landscapes”. Now here is hometown advice on plants that taste good and grow well right here. There are examples in color and recipes for using wild plants such as Wild Plum Jelly, Paw Paw Bread, Persimmon Pudding, and Black Walnut Caramels. There is a section on fruit and nuts for your backyard.  To find out more about this or to join the Arboretum you can write to Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 103 Keim Hall, PO Box 83064, Lincoln, NE 68583-0964. Or you can e-mail, or call 402-472-2971 .

Copyright 2011