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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cordall

Work with what you've got...…boggy, damp soil

Gardening is great. If its your thing you will see inspiration everywhere. There are loads of amazing magazines, inspiring garden programmes and lots of coverage of fabulous show gardens. We've all been there. You see it, and you want your garden to look like that. Then you try it, and it looks more supermarket car park than Chelsea. All that hard work and cost - time and money, let alone the heartbreak. What went wrong? Usually the answer is simple, the plants you have chosen don't want to live there with you. Its nothing personal. Its them, not you.


I live in the North West, and it rains. A lot. However, in my urban average size back garden I have many different areas. I have a free draining, sandy in parts, full sun border. I also have a damp, fairly boggy East facing area. My front garden is north facing and clay ish. Sun exposure, your or your neighbours trees, building proximity and shadow, walls, hedges, water tables and soil type all play a part. So what do you do if you have a damp boggy soil?

Despair? Try and change it? or embrace it. Well after many years of trial and error, and finally listening to the gardening great Beth Chatto, who coined the gardeners mantra of "right plant, right place", I implore you to embrace it.


First, lets see why you have boggy soil. Dig a hole about 60-70cm deep and wide. Cover the top (so no rain can get in ) and leave for 24 hours. If it fills with water, you have a high water table. It there is no water, repeat the task. If after the second test, there is still no water, you have poor drainage. The good news is that poor drainage can be improved, but there is little to do to fix a high water table, other than build raised beds, to increase the soil depth.


To improve poor drainage, dig in loads and loads of well rotted organic matter. Avoid grit and sand if possible. Then, get planting...…..here are some ideas and inspiration

  1. Formal urban borders

Ferns, Hydrangeas, Hosta, Alliums, Rodgersia, Heucheras and topiary all work well. Often damp soil can be in a shady area. White here is our friend, it really brightens up the space - try white flowers, variegated foliage etc... they all look fabulous, especially in twilight. Look to vary the shades of green and shapes of leaves as well, its not just flowers that create interest.


2. Woodland feel

A looser, less formal look, works well if you have trees to accommodate into your plan. Again ferns are great, look for evergreen ones. Acanthus, Ajuga, Solomon's seal, and primulas look good. Also, don't forget woodland bulbs too. I love Trilliums, Fritillaria and wood anemones (L-R below). A wildlife pond would look fantastic here too.


3. My Top 3 favourites

Here are my Top 3 (in my garden) indestructible plants that survive damp soil, ( and cold winters, slugs and snails and at often some serious neglect....)

L-R, Iris Siberica Caesar's brother, Asplenium scolopendrium, Astrantia Roma. I have many Astrantias in my garden they range for white, pink through to deep red colours. I love Roma the best though as it doesn't self seed too much and flowers for months on end. It looks great against new emerging foliage of ferns, euphorbias and grasses.


Any soil, any aspect, everything is possible. So, just steal yourself the next time you are at the garden centre, and ask yourself - where will it go? will it like my garden? Am I wasting my money on a soon to be ex plant? Look at books, websites etc.. Many great sites now let you sort by soil type, aspect etc.. to help you get the right plant in the right place. Or you could just ask a garden designer to do you a fabulous new planting plan...….Enjoy x


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