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bog garden

Plant Your Own Bog Garden

If out of the ordinary is what you’re looking for, look no further than bog gardens and the endless list of quirky, offbeat plants.

The key characteristic of a bog garden is overly moist, waterlogged soil that creates the perfect conditions for a specific subset of plants – looking mostly unfamiliar and sometimes quite peculiar – that are not commonly found in standard backyards.

Bog gardens are usually found in low-lying areas near lakes and rivers, but one-of-a-kind bog garden plants can be easily grown in almost any climate and any garden by following a few simple steps, giving you an even greater selection of plants to choose from.

Laying the groundwork for a Bog Garden

Bog gardens are best planted during the warmer summer months to give the plants enough time to settle in before winter. That pesky area of your garden that has terrible drainage and is constantly waterlogged is the perfect place to transform into a bog garden, but if you have managed to avoid that problem you can still create your own bog garden:

  • Mark an outline where you want your bog garden to be, ensuring it is in a sunny area (at least 5 hours a day) and away from shady trees;
  • Dig a hole 30 – 60cm deep and line it with a pond liner. Poke holes around the perimeter of the bog, 15 – 20cm from the top. This will allow the top layer to dry out more and allow the bottom part of the bog to act as a reservoir. Although bog plants love water they can’t be left standing in water, like all plants, so these drainage holes are vital;
  • Fill the hole again with a mixture of the original soil and compost or potting soil to a 50:50 ratio. The deeper parts of the bog could even be filled with rubble or gravel to act as a reservoir;
  • Trim the remaining liner, leaving a small amount to allow for the bog garden to settle. This can be covered later with rocks or mulch;
  • Keep the soil well-watered for a week to establish the bog conditions;
  • Once the garden has settled and is hydrated throughout, get planting! Choosing your plants Fans of flowers will love the wide variety of weird and wonderful flowering bog plants.

Both Iris ensata and Canna ‘Striped Beauty’ have tall, distinctive purple or yellow flowers, and Watsonia angusta has a long stem of small red flowers that together form a sea of striking colour. On the daintier side, Bacopa monnieri and Lobelia anceps have small, unassuming flowers that complement the more dramatic residents of the garden.

However, the must-have for flowers is the classic water lily (we love Nymphaea ‘Clyde Ikins’), which is the quintessential bog garden plant, although they require deeper water than most bog plants. Louisiana Irises should get a mention as they are available in a wider range of colours and flower earlier in the season. Leaf lovers will unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your decision-making abilities) have a tough time choosing.

Large leafy plants thrive in bog gardens and even tend to get out of hand, with Colocasia antiquorum ‘Black Beauty’ being a crowd favourite. Some tamer options with smaller but abundant leaves are Mentha aquatica and Plantago longissima. Plants like Berula erecta and Marsilea schelpeana have more delicate leaves with a structure comparable to ferns; an ideal contrast with the juicier-leafed plants.

Bog gardens tend to conjure up images of tall grasses or grass-like plants (like sedges) that surround the water and add an imposing height to the garden. Phalaris arundinacea ‘Strawberries and Cream’ and Typha minima grow quite tall, while Eleocharis dregeana and Equisetum ramosissimum are slightly smaller but eyecatching for their unusual construction. Even more unusual is Cyperus alternifolius, with long leaves extending around the top of the stem in a circle, and Dichromena colorata with its white wispy bracts that look just like flowers.

While flowers, leaves and grasses are always welcomed, it is the atypical and bizarre that tend to stand out in bog gardens. For example, Carex grayi – from the sedge family – has seed heads reminiscent of spiky underwater sea mines (which is apt, considering they grow near water). Cotula coronopifolia received the common name ‘brass buttons’, after the flowers that could easily be mistaken for thick yellow buttons.

Perhaps the boldest and most unusual is Scirpus zebrinus, with striped green and white stems that look exactly like the green and white version of a porcupine quill. When making your choices, aim for a wide variety of colours and sizes, as this is the one area of your garden where you can choose plants not normally available to just any gardener. Ensure you give the plants enough space for the roots to grow as they are all thirsty and water-loving with large roots.

In bigger bog gardens, place a few stones amongst the soil to stand on when tending to the plants to keep your shoes, and the plants roots, safe. They will likely be used often as bog garden plants have a habit of getting out of hand quickly. Most of all – have fun with it! A bog garden is a whole new habitat to experiment with and makes a surprising feature in the more traditional backyard garden.

Container bog garden 
Limited space does not mean limited options when it comes to bog gardens, as the same process can be followed using virtually any large shallow container. Try a bog garden in a whisky barrel for a whimsical wetland habitat.