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Guide to Gardening

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Building a bog garden

Most of us have one in our yards- that spot that never quite dries out, puddling long after the rest of the garden has drained. Usually considered a bane to try and dry out, that spot can be thought of in another way- as an opportunity. Think of it as a built in place for a bog garden!

    A bog garden is a place with constantly wet soil; some people actually go to great lengths to construct them.

     Frequently off-shoots of ponds, with a liner to retain moisture, they are getting more popular all the time. Even without a pond, a bog garden adds the feeling of water and naturalness. It requires far less maintenance than a pond- especially if nature has provided the site.

     If your bog is very large, consider a willow- a weeper for huge areas, a pussy willow for medium ones. Staghorn sumacs also thrive in wet soil. Do not put these anywhere near your leach field or septic tank or you will find yourself with expensive problems when their roots invade the pipes- and they will. Witch hazel or Oregon grape are better choices for those situations.

     Cattails are plants that say "Bog!" to everyone, but they require a large amount of room. There are many, many smaller plants that like wet feet. Iris always look at home by water, and several species do well in wet soil. Japanese, Siberian and the mini-iris, I. cristata, all tolerate wet, and I. pseudoacorus loves it. These make good small scale stand-ins for cattails, as do spiderworts (Tradescantia), which bloom exceptionally long.

     All Lysimachias favor dampness. This group includes Creeping Jenny (L. nummularia), a great, fast spreading ground cover; Gooseneck Loosestrife, with curiously bent white spikes; L. ciliata purpurea, a dark purple leaved variety; and the red flowered 'Beaujolais'. The noxious weed called Purple Loosestrife is NOT part of this family, but is a Lythrum.

     To make a large statement, try Rodgersia, which grows to 4' with huge, divided leaves, or Variegated Butterbur, whose leaves get to 1-1/2' across and are marbled yellow and green. Equally large, but lacy, is Aruncus (Goat's Beard), with white, drooping plumes. This also comes in a diminutive version, 8" tall, with ferny leaves.

     Other hardy perennials suited to the bog are aconite, astilbe, snakeroot, meadowsweet, marsh mallow, the eupatoriums, lovage, monarda, bleeding heart, primroses, globeflower, butterfly weed and lungwort. If you want a touch of the tropics, try putting a canna or calla lily into your wet area- they do very well in water, but remember to remove them when frost hits.

     Care for your bog as you would any garden, but reverse the mulching- put it on in late spring to conserve water through the summer, and remove it come fall so it doesn't rot into the water. Leave a little of the mud exposed, however, and with luck butterflies will use it as a spot to gather minerals, adding another dimension to your enjoyment.

     Laurie Brown owns and operates North Star Farms on Colburn-Culver Road near Sandpoint.

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Laurie Brown

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