Plants for Wet Spaces

Credit: Carolyn Jones

As gardeners we can help reduce the impact on our fresh water by choosing not to use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Be on the safe side and keep all such products away from water sources. Even organic fertilizers, such as manure, should be used with care, as they can contaminate drinking water. When gardening waterside, follow local regulations regarding setbacks, these vary depending on where you reside; check with your city bylaws or local regional district for details. Select plants that perform with the site conditions, implement organic practices and you can have an ornamental garden with environmental benefits, one that will attract and sustain many creatures that add life to our gardens. Just be sure to select plants that like to have their feet wet – in other words, plants that are not subject to root rot in soggy conditions. Fortunately there are many plants whose roots tolerate a constantly moist situation. By that, I do not mean the plant can be completely immersed, but that its roots can be in damp and boggy soil; the stem and top portion of the plant must be raised above the water table. The following plants are recommended for wet sites. PLANTS FOR WET SPACES Salix purpurea ‘Nana’: Commonly called the dwarf purple willow, a graceful small shrub that grows to 1.5 m by 1.5 m (5 ft. by 5 ft.). In my garden, I enjoy watching it dance in the wind. With its dark stems and dark-green leaves with blue undertones, it is lovely all year round. • Cornus alba ‘Bailhalo’ (PBR) ivory halo: Grows to 1.5 m (5 ft.) tall and wide. This shrubby dogwood is an attractive, fine-textured, ornamental shrub with a compact habit, lovely variegated leaves and brilliant-red winter stems. It is hardy to -40ºC. • Lobelia ‘La Fresco’: Super hardy to zone 4 and blooms summer through fall. Growing to 75 cm (2 1⁄2 ft.), this lobelia has beautiful wine-purple blooms that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. It is a cross between two moisture-loving North American species: L. cardinalis and L. siphilitica. It makes an excellent cut flower. • Angelica pachycarpa: A fragrant, creamy-white bloomer with dense, glossy-green foliage. A zone-7 perennial, it produces white clusters of bloom all summer. In hot areas the plant may take a dormant short summer nap, but will foliage out for winter. The plant forms a perfect 90-cm by 90-cm (3-ft. by 3-ft.) mound and performs in full or part sun. • Coreopsis rosea ‘American Dream’: One of the only coreopsis cultivars that can handle moist sites. It reaches 30 cm (1 ft.) in height, prefers full sun and its soft-pink blooms make excellent cut flowers. Be patient come spring, as this is one of the last plants to break dormancy and show its ferny foliage. • Mimulus ‘Bonfire Red’: Often referred to as the red monkey flower, it blooms June through August, producing bright-red flowers with yellow throats above shiny glossy-green leaves. It is minimally hardy to zone 7. • Canna ‘Australis’: A bronze canna that reaches 90 cm (3 ft.) in the bog garden. Orange and yellow blooms atop dark foliage are a good contrast. It is only hardy to zone 7, but can be lifted and overwintered in peat in colder areas.