Blooming bogs: Wet, wild and wonderful

Thinking that the end of winter and the onset of spring means more sproutless mud and a rushed late-season garden planting again this year? Cheer up! Those wet places in your yard or on your property don’t have to be just for mosquitoes anymore.

This spring, become one of the few, the brave … the bog gardeners!

Where once only mud and muck prevailed, now flowers and foliage can take over. Blooming bogs can flourish in any soggy spot … border a pond or water garden … or trim a stream or drainage ditch. It’s easy, fun and rewarding!

For sheer glory of varied texture, palette and prolific foliage and blooms, there’s not much to match bog gardening. Better yet, even in cold climates, it’s a full three-season garden producer, and all sincere efforts to garden a bog are well-rewarded!

That’s because bog bloomers — aquatics, bog plants and marginals — flourish and spread happily and profusely when healthy and tended. So even a low-intensity bog gardening effort can go a long, long way.

All you really need is a sense of adventure, no contempt for dirty work, a good pair of gardening boots, some old clothes, a few garden tools and some starter plants.

And on that dreary March day next year, when you first see the mounds of brilliant golden Marsh Marigolds that have sprung from your first few plantings, ar see the flashing spikes of bright blue Iris that spread like wildfire beneath the moist soil surface, you’ll congratulate yourself for your temerity and foresight!

No bog? Build one!

Don’t have a wet spot or a natural bog? You can build one yourself so quickly and easily!

Begin by digging out an area of garden to a depth of at least nine inches, and lining the area with PVC pond liner to keep the soil soggy. Make sure the liner (or any heavy plastic) covers the bottom and extends about three-quarters of the way up the garden’s sides.

You can secure the liner with an inch or two of small stones, which lets water from the garden’s surface drain through the soil to the base. Then replace the soil with a rich mix of garden soil, compost, humus and peat moss.

Bog plants love wet, rich earth, so pile it on!

Choosing bog plantings

If you’re gardening in a small bog or self-contained bog garden, you’ll want to plant your bog bloomers in containers, because most water-loving plants are quite invasive. Left to ramble on their own near a waterway, they can completely clog a stream if unchecked.

Water-lovers such as cattails and water arum will branch out and grow almost anywhere they sense a water source, so use them sparingly, if at all, in small bog gardens.

The bigger the container, the larger the plant growth, so for variety, choose a mix. And there are plenty to choose among, no matter what your preferences for color, texture or design. Here are just a few suggestions:

— Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris) will set your bog garden on fire with color in the earliest spring, and bloom profusely for weeks. Its primrose-like blooms on thick green stems make wonderful cutting flowers to brighten any room on those unpredictable March days.

— Pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata) waits until mid-summer to explode in blue, white and purple florets on tall green spikes.

— Yellow snowflake (Nymphoides geminata) will tolerate partial shade as it extends its fuzzy little flowerheads out above a dark green-brown foliage

— Iris (various Iris varieties) This perennial Spring favorite, Iris can splash your bog with rich blues, purples, reds and creamy yellows. They love wet, acidic marshes and swamps and do well in wetlands bordering ponds, watergardens and small lakes, as long as there’s sun.

Some boggers like the red Iris (Iris fulva) because their showy scarlet heads nod like royalty in contrast with the smaller pinks of the flowering rushes and yellows of the prolific Marsh Marigolds.

— Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) has led some gardeners to believe it lowly leaflessness may not be much to look at. But this straight-up spike of green and brown is beloved of rustic campers for its utility. Since the country’s earliest days, settlers used the silica-filled Horsetail stems to scrub their pots and pans, hence its common name, ‘Scouring Rush.’

So big space or small, wet now or not-wet-yet, your home can host an early-blooming bog garden that loves the snow and rain, and flourishes when all other traditional gardens fail. Keep it weeded and well-moistened, and it will return the favor by producing a gorgeous tableau of color, texture and design for years to come!

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