Bog Gardens

A friend of mine decided to turn a
perpetually damp spot in her garden into a bog, complete with a pond submerged
in the middle. What a great way to handle a difficult spot in the garden. Buying a plastic pond liner and installing a
pump cost far less than the expensive French drains that would have been
required to get the area dry in the first place.

On a recent visit to her garden,
her bog was the liveliest spot around. Birds and butterflies dashed in and out, looking for food and
water. I could hear frogs and
crickets. Dragonflies came and went;
hummingbirds darted around. I was surprised
by the wide variety of plants that grew around the pond and in the bog, and
even more impressed by how low-maintenance the garden was. “There’s really no such thing as a weed in
this garden,” she told me. “If a plant
can grow in these wet conditions, I call it a bog plant and let it stay.” That relaxed approach has lent a
naturalistic look to a garden that is otherwise quite neat and orderly. A clean sweep of green lawn slopes down to
the bog, and where the lawn leaves off, nature takes over. It’s a lovely sight.

Here are some of the real stars of
her bog garden:

Douglas Iris is a California native
and a real favorite around ponds and in damp spots. Colors range from light blue to purple.

Rudbeckia, particularly Black-Eyed
Susan, does surprisingly well in damp spots and adds a much-needed shot of
bright yellow to pond areas. Autumn
seed heads are attractive to birds.

Lobelia cardinalis produces tall
stalks of brilliant red trumpet-shaped flowers that are attractive to
hummingbirds. The native mimulus
cardinalis, or scarlet monkey flower, is another good bright red flower for hummingbirds.

California grey rush is a juncus—a
reedy grass—that grows to two feet tall and adds a real architectural element
to a pond area.

California pitcher plant, Darlingtonia
, is an insect-eating plant that thrives in the dampest
areas. The long, flute-shaped leaves
lend an otherworldly air to the shallow end of a pond or the damp area just
around it.

Finally, if you’re thinking in
terms of shelter or nesting sites, look no further than the native Salix lasiolepis (arroyo willow), S.
(yellow willow), or S. laevigata (red willow). These are fast-growing trees that thrive in
the dampest conditions.

Above all, choose the plants that
are right for your microclimate and for the population of birds and insects
that live near you. The best way to
find the right plants for a pond is to visit a nearby wetland, marsh, bog, or
aquatic garden. Ask a docent for help
identifying plants; they’re also likely to know about specialty nurseries in
your area that can provide hard-to-find native aquatic plants.