Ingenious Materials and Design Create
at The Oregon Garden
by Dave Brigante, Oregon USA
Click images to enlarge
This past summer I experienced an unusual and exciting working
day for nature. I was invited to participate in the planting
and launching of three different sized BioHaven floating islands
at The Oregon Garden. Designed for overall water quality enhancement,
these islands amazingly can remove unwanted contaminants such
as fertilizers, nitrates, phosphates, ammonia, heavy metals and
organic waste from the water. The hands-on demonstration project
was a collaboration between Garden SPROut Director Renee Stoops
and Sean Dempsey of Floating Islands West (a licensee of California
and Oregon). Floating Island International, Shepherd, Montana
USA, is the original developer of the floating island technology.
On an overcast day at the Oregon Garden, Silverton, an inspired
group consisting of Renee, Sean, a wine grape grower, a landscaper
and I (aquatic plant grower) gathered for the project. We were
also visited by a couple of other interested parties, a water
treatment plant supervisor and someone who processes fruit products.
It was a diverse group to say the least, which I believe had
a focused concern about something that would not only improve
water quality but would also create something of beauty while
invigorating the resident wildlife.
The floating islands themselves are made of fibers created
primarily from recycled plastic water bottles, giving us even
more motivation to always recycle those plastic bottles, as if
we needed any more incentive. The fibers, once bonded together,
form a massive surface area that attracts millions of contaminate-removing
microbes, literally forming a mini-concentrated-wetland that
can be as efficient as natural wetlands. As the pollutants are
successfully eradicated and water quality improves, the islands
versatility is apparent. They can also become nesting areas for
waterfowl, food suppliers for insects and reptiles, and provide
excellent protective cover for fish.
In looking back at this experience, it was enjoyable realizing
that we built something self-sustaining with a positive impact
on local environment. Once we were able to get over all of our
feel-good moments during the preliminary learning process, we
went about the task of planting and ultimately launching our
living and breathing islands.
Each island was about 8" (20cm) thick, as four 2"
(5cm) layers were pegged together using a polyurethane foam,
which also created an amazing amount of buoyancy. After we carried
our mattress like barges down to the waters edge, Sean
explained the step by step procedure involved in getting one
of these islands planted. Previously 2" (5cm) diameter by
4" (10cm) deep holes had been drilled into the top two layers
approximately 6 (15cm) apart across the entire surface
area, providing planting pockets for our mostly northwest native
aquatic plants. Before we started on the planting, we spread
an organic compost over the tops of the islands and filled in
the holes to give the plants a good start once they were situated.
The next step was to cover the soil by pinning down a woven
mesh jute material to help keep the soil and plants stable. To
be able to actually plant into each of the planting holes we
went back to each location and cut a couple of crossing slits
through the mesh material allowing for the plants to be placed
precisely where we wanted them. If it happened that a root mass
was a bit too large for the openings, the holes could be modified
by cutting larger openings into the top two layers by using a
serrated knife. After completing our final preparation our planting
party could begin.
We had 4" (10cm) pots to divide, crates of bare root individual
plants and 2" (5cm) plugs to either split or plant directly.
The assortment was a mix of arrowheads (Saggitaria sp.),
rushes (Scirpus sp.), sedges (Carex sp), marsh
marigolds (Caltha palustris), Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis),
stream bank dogwoods (Cornus sericea), umbrella plants
(Darmera peltaphyllum), and even some native spatterdock
(Nuphar polysephalum). We tried to stay cognizant of the
fact that we really didn't want to use any plants that might
take over the whole island or even spread into the water to someday
become a nuisance.
Our design was as simple as putting the tallest specimens in
the central areas and the lower growers more on the perimeter,
we also tried to group the varieties en masse to create a more
When we completed the planting of each island, we added 1/2"
(1.3cm) of soil to cover the jute mesh as our last step before
launch. It turned out that our first island required 6-7 cubic
feet (.17-.2 cubic meters) of soil to fully plant that 80 square
foot (7.4 square meter) surface area, the two others were 50
square feet (4.6 square meters) and 25 square feet (2.3 square
meters). With just the five of us working, we planted and launched
all three islands in approximately five hours, not including
the gathering of materials.
To launch our islands we worked them towards the shore, even
though they had garnered quite a bit more weight after planting.
After attaching very strong cabling to the bottom of the island,
a concrete cinder block was attached once the flotillas
final position was reached. Two of the three islands that we
created were anchored using this method and the third was allowed
to float freely. It was truly amazing to see how much weight
our islands could hold during the launching process, but we're
still trying to locate where Renee and Sean ended up on that
last one (below, lower right).
The unique makeup of the islands adapts to different uses
while using the same basic material. Along with the obvious environmental
advantages that they have, the potential aesthetic appeal is
unlimited as well. By using a showy mix of plants and even changing
the plant pallet on a seasonal basis, enjoyment of the islands
can extend year round.
Another project I learned about while gathering information
for this article required the connecting together of many islands,
forming a Caspian tern nesting island at Summer Lake in southern
Oregon USA. While one would expect that many plants might have
been a part of that mix, in reality, sand was spread across this
20,000 square foot (1,858 square meter) area, more appropriate
in that circumstance. It is my hope that this type of technology
will be much more prevalent in the coming years as it is a system
with such potential that it should be brought into the forefront
in many different applications.
I want to thank both Renee and Sean for sharing this experience
with the hands-on demonstration group. We were able to enjoy
the working day for nature and it opened our eyes to an incredible
idea, a tool to be utilized in our future endeavors.