A Bog Garden turns wet area into beautiful feature

A bog garden turns wet area into beautiful feature

Unless we are very lucky, most of us have issues with at least part of our landscape. An area that is nothing but heavy clay that won’t drain, a deeply shaded section that receives little or no sunlight, or an area baked by the sun all day, for example.

It’s tempting to give up on that area and assume that nothing can be done. But quite often a solution can be found, if you are creative and tenacious like this reader…

“Dear Steve: Thank you for addressing the issue of soggy, boggy lawns, and thanks for your link to Brooklyn Botanic Garden [in a recent Plant Man column]. “I live in Washington State, adjacent to a slope which apparently developed a natural spring which flooded a part of the hill and spread into our lawn this summer. Since our soil is mostly compacted clay, my solution was to transplant about 3 feet of the lawn, break up the clay and mix some topsoil and peat moss to about 10" deep. I have planted Louisiana iris, plus some evergreen plants (sword ferns and Ogon) for winter interest. It solved my problem and looks lovely!

“I admit this was hard work, but simpler than the complicated instructions suggested by Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I'm not really into hard labor. I think my bog garden will work as well as theirs with about half the work. Just a thought for your readers ...” – Anne Botwin

Well, Anne, I’m glad this column inspired you to make lemonade out of lemons… or in your case, a bog garden out of a “soggy, boggy lawn”.

When you’re dealing with a sizable area of heavy clay soil, there’s no getting around the sweat equity involved, unless you have some strong, young friends who owe you a favor and are willing to donate a few hours of hard labor. But the results are definitely worth the effort. When you’re done, you have a thing of beauty where once was an eyesore.

Other readers might want to check out the link to the article at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Web site:http://www.bbg.org/gar2/topics/design/handbooks/watergarden/8.html As that’s a long URL, you might prefer to find this Plant Man column at my Web site, www.landsteward.org, where you can click on a hot link to the article.

In fact, the article is an excerpt from a book that is the ideal reference for anyone looking for help with creating a bog garden. Titled “Water Gardens: Pools, Ponds, Marshes and Bogs for Backyards Everywhere,” it is a collection of highly detailed how-to articles by several acknowledged experts and is part of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden 21st Century Gardening Series.

Another benefit of this book is that different chapters address specific geographic regions with chapter headings such as “Wetland Plants for the Southeast & Deep South” and “Wetland Plants for Western Mountains & Pacific Northwest” so that readers anywhere in the United States will know what will or will not work well in their location.

For example, Anne mentions that she planted sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) in her new bog garden. An excellent choice for her northwestern locale, but I would certainly not recommend it for a bog garden in, say, the southeast. Sword ferns’ natural habitat is the very moist understory of coniferous forests found in low elevations in the northwest. Sword ferns are difficult, if not impossible, to grow in eastern areas.

With bog gardens, as with any garden project, your best bet is to stick with plants that are native to your geographic area, rather than opting for plants that would thrive elsewhere but are unlikely to work in your garden.

Anne used the Botanic Garden article as a starting point but then decided to adapt the guidelines to suit her own preferences. Cheryl and I do exactly the same thing. When necessary we’ll call on experts, such as landscape architects, but we don’t feel obliged to follow everything slavishly. Ask experts, read articles and then personalize with your own creativity!