Winter gloominess has arrived in the form of shorter days and poorer weather as we move closer to Christmas. It’s a time of year when gardening often stops or at least slows down somewhat, but of course, if you have a big project underway then this cannot be the case.
Some years ago now we developed a new woodland area. In the summer season, we realised it’s far more of a bog garden that we’d anticipated meaning special care and attention was required when designing and choosing plants.
Despite the numerous trenches and drainage systems that helped to drain the heavy soil in this area, it’s remained very boggy. We decided best to work with what we had, so we planned a woodland bog garden which has been a strong visitor favourite ever since its completion.
Studying the area over a season proved invaluable as we were able to gain a great understanding of what plants best suited the site. Initially, I was quite disappointed that the ground was so wet and that my original plans had to be modified, but by rethinking the planting plan we were able to arrive at a planting scheme that was full of moisture lovers and this area of the gardens began to thrive.
Before I describe the plants, I should begin by explaining the site. It’s about an acre in size, is south facing but is dappled in shade by large, thinly spaced Hemlock, Alder and Oak. It’s shielded from the midday sun but still gets sun from the east and west. The soil is the biggest influence – it’s extremely heavy clay that lets very little water through it. The upside of this is that it never dries out. The beds are very large: there are five of them taking up nearly an acre of ground.
So, what can you do with waterlogged soil if you cannot drain it effectively? The answer is simple; choose plants that can cope with the conditions.
Observing the plants already on the site gave us a good idea of what would do well there. Asiatic Primula, or wetland primroses, are excellent candidates. We now have thousands drifted through the area which make a wonderful spring and summer display. Their colour scheme is pink, purple and yellow which work so well together. It’s a colour combination I’d usually be too afraid to try, but I’ve seen it in great effect in wildflower meadows. We grow Primula japonica and rosea for early colour in March and April, whereas May to July is the time our many different strains candelabra and florindae come to the fore.
One of the plants that do so well in Aberglasney is the Himalayan Blue Poppy. The blue and white varieties always seem to catch our visitors’ eyes. One of the tricks to growing these stunning plants is to make sure they never dry out (not a problem for our previously described woodland bog garden!). They also look their best planted as drifts through a border, similar to how they would grow in the wild. Over time they do die out, but most years we add many more as they are such a firm favourite.
Iris form one of the largest parts of the planting as there’s such a huge range to choose from. The Siberian and Ensata type are very happy in wet conditions and produce fantastic displays in late May and early June. The more unusual Pacific Coast types should also be happy in wet areas and can take deep shade. This type of Iris is much shorter, far less common, and have very different flowers. Many other Iris such as Iris Holden Clough, Iris fulva or Iris Gerald Darby also grow well in these conditions.
Some of the most exciting plants for wet ground are often grown more for their foliage than their flowers. Gunnera, or giant rhubarb, make excellent foliage plants and thrive in wet conditions. Ferns Hosta and Ligularia also do very well and make excellent companions for the Iris. The slightly less common Rodgersia also do well and flower 3 months or so.
All the plants mentioned above are cold hardy, easy to get hold of and complement each other very well. The best place to source them is from specialist nurseries where the growers can help you to make the right decision and give specialist advice. You don’t need a huge garden to grow many of these plants or even a particularly wet place, most will grow in damp and slightly shady conditions. Essentially, if you have a wet spot you’re not sure what to do with then Hosta, Iris, ferns and Primula will thrive there and are an excellent combination for any garden.
Tips for the Week:
- Now’s a great time to lift and move plants as the weather is fairly mild, but make sure you keep them frost protected
- Now that most of the leaves have dropped it’s time to get them collected and composted
- Herbaceous Clematis can be cut back to within 30cm of ground level
- Large flowered Clematis can be cut back to 45cm at a pair of good buds
- Now is a great time to plant bare root roses
- Prune Gooseberries. Remove dead, diseased or crossing branches. New growth can be shortened by half to maintain size