Are parts of your landscape more like a bog than a backyard? Are you having difficulty finding plants that like to wade? Here in the Northeast, though we are grateful for the (usually) bounteous moisture, the flip side of this largess is that sometimes we have too much dampness. But never fear…. there are plants which love wet feet. Here are a few:
Our native sweetshrub, clethra is a great choice for shady, damp sites. The species is a big rangy gal who suckers freely and will happily take up space. The newer hybrid cultivars are better behaved and smaller. Try ‘Rosea’ for a pink-blooming version of the species, and ‘Hummingbird’ for a dainty (2-4 feet) white-flowering cultivar. Beloved by bees, hummingbirds and butterflies , all clethras flower in mid-summer, casting their spun-candy fragrance about the landscape.
Red twig dogwood, is a native stunner against winter snow. But it shines in other seasons as well. The color is best on the new shoots, so plan on harvesting each autumn for holiday décor. New vibrant growth will appear in spring. For variegated foliage try ‘Elegantissima’.
The fragrant hybrid witch hazels are a-bloom now. ‘Jelena’ boasts burnt-orange flowers and ‘Arnold Promise’ is butter yellow. As with any fragranced shrub, to verify the scent, purchase in full floral flaunt.
The native swamp azalea is taller, more fragrant and blooms later than the popular smaller version which flowers in May. It comes in delectable shades of pink, apricot and white.
Spicebush, upon which the spicebush swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs, is an early bloomer, its yellow flowers rivaling forsythia. The fruit which follows is bright-red and relished by songbirds.
Our native red maple provides a blaze of autumn color and is filling in our woods where the ash, birch and sugar maple trees are in decline. Alternatively named “swamp maple”, this tree enjoys damp surroundings.
Nyssa, also known as black gum, is a native tree valued for its glowing fall foliage and small, blue-black autumn fruit which is a major food source for migrating birds. It serves well as a either a specimen or in the woodland.
The gardener will find a huge selection of moisture-loving perennials from which to choose. To name just a few, there’s stately, fragrant cimicifuga, pink, white, red, purple or yellow astilbe of all sizes, hosta, which attracts hummingbirds, heuchera with its colorful leaves, turtlehead with its interesting flowers, filipendula, monarda, dicentra, Solomon’s seal and pulmonaria. All the gardener need do is choose according to height, sun or shade requirements, and flower color.
Most ornamental grasses prefer prairie conditions; sunny, hot and dry. But grass-like carex can work in shady moist areas. Try ‘Variegata’, ‘Sparkler’, ‘Banana Boat’ and ‘Treasure Island’. Acorus also does well in these conditions, as does sea-oats grass, a native which now also comes in a variegated form. For a taller grass, go with the native panicum, available in yummy cultivars such as ‘Shenandoah’ and ‘Heavy Metal’.
Geranium, that garden stalwart, showcases a dizzying array of leaf and flower color, size and scent. Most love full sun and lots of moisture.
Coleus may be started from seed, taken easily taken from cuttings or purchased anew each spring. Beware of slugs, and pinch off the flower stalk, which is unattractive and diminishes the plant’s vigor. Check out Glasshouse Works www.glasshouseworks.com for thousands of cultivars.
Nigella or love-in-a-mist will self-sow happily if pleased with its surroundings. The old-fashioned plant is cherished not only for its appealing flower in shades of pink, blue and white, but also for its attractive seedpod.
We gardeners would do well to remember that all gardens, even wet ones, are repositories of culture, adventure, knowledge and life. So don’t let that soggy spot in the backyard dampen your enthusiasm. Choose a selection of moisture-loving plants, do some research, and get out there and garden!
February 15th, 2013
Heucherellas are hotties these days. Kissing cousins to the shade-loving, deer-resistant coral bells and tiarella, they are actually a hybrid of the two, retaining their best qualities. Much work has been done with heucherella to produce plants with the amazing colors of coral bells and the incised, dark-patterned leaves of the tiarella. Because of the shape of their springtime flowers, they’re often referred to as ‘Foamy bells’, but I’d say heucherellas seem to be the best of both worlds.
Though they have been bred for many years, they are just now hitting the garden centers and catalogues with verve. My favorite so far is ‘Sweet Tea’, a medium-size plant with foliage the color of, you guessed it, sweet tea. The big, maple-shaped leaves are cinnamon-hued in the spring and fall, and with its heuchera villosa blood this beauty is hardier than some of the newer coral bells, bearing up well in the cool temperatures of spring and in the hot, humid atmosphere of our Connecticut summers. At 20 inches tall and some 28 inches wide at maturity, this plant is a showstopper in my display gardens. I have it tucked in a shady corner by the picket fence gate, where it can be seen and admired. The white flowers are a bonus as far as I’m concerned, especially since the bees and butterflies are drawn to them.
Heucherellas do well in the same conditions that make coral bells and tiarella happy; moist (not soggy) shade. They have no serious insect or disease issues. Give them morning sun, (no hot afternoon rays), and they will reward you with colorful leaves all season, dainty flowers in spring, and abundant growth year to year.
These plants are easy to divide. In early spring dig up the clump and separate into sections, each with its own roots and growing tip. Stick the divisions immediately in their new home, or pot up to give away to garden friends or to the garden club plant sale. They’ll go fast!
Companions include shrubs such as azalea, leucothoe, hydrangea and witch hazel; minor bulbs such as glory-of-the-snow and scilla; petite daffodils such as ‘Tete-a-tete’; and perennials along the lines of hosta, Virginia bluebells and carex. In terms of design, use the shrubs as backing; place the perennials in order of size, and intersperse the entire area with bulbs. Since the chosen bulbs bloom in early spring, heucherella flowers in mid-to-late spring, and hosta sends out its wands in summer, this plan provides a sequence of bloom and food for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. And the vibrant leaves of heucherella will keep the shade garden interesting well into autumn.
Other astounding heucherellas include ‘Alabama Sunrise’ (golden green with deep red veining) and ‘Rosalie’, an 8 inch gal with dainty pastel pink flowers which often rebloom into autumn. Terra Nova Nursery in Oregon, known for its breeding of fabulous heucheras, has produced the incredible heucherella ‘Stoplight’. Radiant yellow leaves on this 6 inch shortie have a dramatic, dark red splotch.
It’s fun for gardeners to watch for what’s new in the world of horticulture. Take some time with the catalogs, and visit the Flower Shows this month before the spring rush begins, and see if a heucherella can’t make a helluva difference in your garden.
January 25th, 2013
The pundits tell us that mid-winter is the ideal time to inventory, clean, sharpen, polish and otherwise care for our garden tools. It’s such a good idea, and I truly wish I did it. But being mortal, I don’t. However, my tools are appreciated and like every gardener, I have my favorites. Here’s a few:
1) The best discovery this past year was the Spear Head Spade. Manufactured right here in Connecticut, this implement is designed to work our rocky, clay-y soil. And it does so fabulously. The unique shape, sharp edge and comfortable foot rest help the tool pierce the ground with alacrity. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t tried it myself, which I did after learning about the company at a trade show in the fall. I immediately put my new toy into practice digging holes for the 700 bulbs (what was I thinking?!) I’d ordered. The spade worked like a charm. See www.spearheadspade.com for more details and purchase information.
2) As soon as the ground thaws I’ll be on dandelion patrol. I’m not fond of these yellow interlopers on my lawn, and delight in uprooting them with a narrow trowel. This 2- inch wide-bladed implement makes short shrift of tap-rooted dandelions.
3) I’ve finally figured out how to use my Black & Decker edger. This electric thingamabob has hung, unused in my shed for years. I’d read about it in Fine Gardening (www.finegardening.com) and straightaway had to purchase one. I tried to use it once or twice, but alas! I hadn’t read the directions carefully and was dismayed when the darn thing wouldn’t pull up clumps of dirt. I couldn’t figure out what the electric edger hullabaloo was about. Turns out its mission is only to dig a very narrow trench, outlining the edging strip to be removed. (it does this very well) The gardener comes along afterwards and removes the clod by other means.
4) My wheelbarrow (circa 1984) finally gave up the ghost in 2012, and I’m shopping around for a new one. Actually, until recently I had three wheelbarrows; they’ve all gone by now. But my trusty 5-gallon buckets did very well in their stead. Many of my garden paths are narrow, and buckets are sometimes the most efficient way to transport material, whether weeds, compost, soil, plants, or small tools. I probably own 20 of the pails, in a rainbow of colors. Some have inadvertent drainage, some are brittle with age, but I couldn’t get along without them. Recycling these into gardening totes complements my tightwad style of gardening.
5) One of my big findings this past year is that an electric hedge trimmer slices through some material like a hot knife through butter. It won’t work on stout stems such as spent ornamental grasses, but when cleaning up gone-by columbine, fern, forget-me-nots and the like, it can’t be beat!
6) As my garden matures (I’ve been in the same one for 20 years) many plants grow larger and more difficult to move and transplant. A child’s plastic snow coaster comes in handy to lug large specimens. Lightweight, skiddable and easily found, once a large plant is out of the ground, it’s a simple matter to plop it into the coaster and schlep it to its new home. It’s been many a year since I rode the coaster down my steep back yard, accompanied by the cheers and laughter of my offspring. The kids who owned it are now scattered across the country, but the brightly-colored coaster lives on, useful still.
And what tools am I drooling for this year? I’m in the market for a garden sickle. I’ve read in several places how they turbocharge the autumn garden clean up. Know where I can get my hands on one?