Design DON’Ts– The Landscape Island

Design DON’Ts– The Landscape Island

The ‘before’ yard was rather generic and unfor­tu­nately I don’t have a pic­ture of it.  You’ll just have to trust me that it was the stan­dard ‘Utah’ yard– com­plete with land­scape island!

So, what is the deal with the land­scape island any­way?  It seems that nearly every­one in Utah believes they are sup­posed to have one– whether it makes sense in their yard or not!  If YOU have one of these, con­sider elim­i­nat­ing it in favor of a land­scape penin­sula.  What’s the dif­fer­ence? See below.

Orig­i­nally, the plant­ing area on the right side of the photo was just an island.  There was grass between the island and the house and nei­ther the house nor island were ‘grounded’ in the land­scape.

Land­scape islands are psy­cho­log­i­cally uncom­fort­able and often improp­erly scaled or illog­i­cally placed. They go against your nat­ural instincts and often cam­ou­flage the archi­tec­ture land­scap­ing is sup­posed to enhance. Some­times, in an effort to avoid hid­ing the house, they are pushed the edge of the yard leav­ing bits of unus­able grass that nev­er­the­less requires a lot of water and maintenance.
The addi­tion of a path and recon­fig­u­ra­tion of the island shape now con­nects the island on one side to the house and foun­da­tion plant­i­ngs. The island is ‘anchored’ into the land­scape and the house blends into the land­scape better.

In the land­scape shown in this entry, we took an exist­ing island and ‘anchored’ it by adjust­ing the shape and cre­at­ing a path between the for­mer island and the foun­da­tion plantings.

The path also cre­ates a way to drag the garbage cans out on their proper day with­out mess­ing up the lawn– a land­scape still needs to func­tion for the way real peo­ple live. Now, here is the part that is con­fus­ing because while an island is USUALLY a no no, you CAN cre­ate a penin­sula (jut­ting out but attached on one side or end) and have that ‘feel’ just right. Con­fus­ing I know so I guess you’ll just have to trust me.

I’m not sure where the ‘before’ pho­tos ended up but the island area was just a big cir­cle of ran­dom plant­i­ngs plopped into the lawn with lit­tle thought or rea­son– some­thing every­one has seen dozens of times on any given street. There was no path­way to the back­yard and the whole thing was BORING.

Here’s how we solved the prob­lem. Oh– and notice the grade change we cre­ated within the beds, that also cre­ates a feel­ing of ‘enclo­sure’ or pro­tec­tion that IS psy­cho­log­i­cally com­fort­able. I don’t think this land­scape is my ‘best’ work because I’m find­ing my own style more and more with each sub­se­quent land­scape but I’m still happy with how it came out.

And a cou­ple more pho­tos of the rest of the front yard.

The pink flow­ers are one of my favorite– ‘Coral Canyon’ Dias­cia, com­mon name Twin­spur.  This is the only Twin­spur that is hardy in Utah and the Inter­moun­tain West.  It will per­form like an annual, bloom begins in late June and con­tin­ues until it’s just too darn cold– as late as Decem­ber for me in my Zone 6b land­scape. It cer­tainly makes the list of ‘Best Under­used Plants’ and as an added bonus, it is water­wise!

Land­scape Design: Cyn­thia Bee, Design Resource

Land­scape Instal­la­tion: Sean Jones, Solscapes

Related posts:

Suc­cu­lent Liv­ing Wreaths
Gar­den ‘Whimsy’ Done Right!
Salt Lake Tri­bune Home & Gar­den Show Eye Candy


  1. Messy Jess says:

    Hey nice work! Very pro­fes­sional — thumbs up! When you said gar­den I thought of food — see where my mind is?

  2. rebecca says:

    I could never put my fin­ger on why I DETEST “islands” (I didn’t even know that’s what they were called), but you nailed it. Psy­cho­log­i­cally uncom­fort­able ;) Beau­ti­ful yard — I love that path!

  3. Melissa says:

    Islands= Mother-in-law bur­ial plot. :)

  4. Elisa says:

    I have an island in my front yard, and I detest it. I LOVE what you did with that one. I don’t know how I would pull it together… maybe I need you to come visit me and give me a design makeover.

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