Gardening with the Masters: Bog gardening in the Georgia shade
by Joan McFather
August 14, 2014 10:14 PM | 2593 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What a strange year it has been weather-wise! Snow, then finally spring, then another freeze … and now I find on my woodland property seepage from springs (of the wet kind) in places where I’ve never seen it before. What’s with Mother Nature? But thank you, ma’am, I’ll take the boggy ground and adventure into shade bog gardening. Now, if we have a bone dry summer coming up, I’m gonna be … not happy.

So, a word or three about what to do if you already have the wet. First, I’m not sure I can legitimately say I have a “bog.” Research keeps mentioning the presence of peat, and I can’t claim that. I’m rather afraid what I have is technically a “swamp,” but who wants to admit that? It sits at the bottom of my front lawn in semi- to complete shade, watering itself with seepage, and apparently isn’t going to go away. All right then, how to make it an asset to the landscape?

I’ll plant it. True, the plant list will take some thought. The problem isn’t so much the wet as it is the lack of oxygen because of the wet. Plants actually die of suffocation. While there are many that actually thrive in water, what is wanted here are plants that will tolerate standing water but really just like their feet kept wet. Several years ago, the area boasted quite a stand of carex, but I wanted more variety, so I removed most of it. (I can feel Georgia Native Plant Society members cringing.) Thereafter, I was given a number of yellow irises that I suspect are Iris pseudacorus. If so — ouch! They’re listed as invasive in other states. Huge and very upright, they bloom in early May. To those I have added the more predictable blues. Original to the woods are ubiquitous ferns of various kinds.

Now what else to make this a designed garden? Perhaps I might add some shrubs for height…summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), sweetspire (Itea virginica), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea). All are natives. Button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), tartarian dogwood (Cornus alba), winterberry (Ilex verticillata), yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) — all can handle being submerged. Farther out into the sun, I have added several elderberries (Sambucus), and deeper in the woods are native azaleas, but these will not be happy standing in the muck. Evergreen doghobble (Leucothoe) would fit the bill, and there are several colorful cultivars. Zenobia is another shrub I’ve researched — native to Georgia, it has gray-green leaves and its flowers are similar to lily of the valley, hence the common name ‘honeycup,’ but it is deciduous.

And perhaps I really want to keep the view into the woodland beyond. True, I have plenty of trees — that’s part of my problem! But if I wanted to add water-lovers, I can consider Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), black ash (Fraxinus nigra), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), pear (Pyrus spp.), pin oak (Quercus palustris), river birch (Betula nigra), red maple (Acer rubrum), swamp tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora), sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), and water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) All are said to stand submersion in water.

But let’s concentrate on perennials closer to the ground. As I said, various irises (NOT bearded!) will love it here, such as blue flag (Iris versicolor), southern blue flag (Iris virginica), water iris (Iris laevigata), Japanese water iris (Iris ensata). Bog arum (Calla palustris) and hardy arum (Peltandra virginica) will grow, as will sweet flag (Acorus calamus), and assorted rushes (Juncus spp., Butomus umbellatus, Eleocharis acicularis). There’s even a water canna (Canna x generalis). Candelabra primroses (Primula beesiana) are excellent bog cover plants and would look nice with turtlehead (Chelone spp.), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla), trilliums (Trillium spp.), Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.) — especially the variegated — yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata), bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.), beebalm (Monarda spp.)….astilbe, bergenia, my goodness, the list goes on and on. Hostas of course. I have read that they actually will grow in water, though I haven’t tried it.

Then spreading out beyond whatever perennials I use, I’d like to add ground cover. One of my favorites, lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), will work here. Creeping dogwood (Cornus candensis) tops out at 6 inches and in fall will develop red berries; various gingers will thrive, as will tradescantia — maybe the dark purple for contrast. I’ve read that blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis) would do well, also, but I have that elsewhere, and where I have it, it’s a thug! Instead I’d use violets (Viola spp.). I know, most people think they are weeds, but I love them.

In fact, now that I step back and take another look, much of my gardening is done in the woods, and I am finding that the same plants I use elsewhere will probably work here, as long as there is at least some drainage. For downright stand-in-shady-water plants, I know I can depend on the Japanese iris and the pseudacorus. Maybe I’ll just have an all-iris garden….or let the carex grow back.

Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the UGA extension website, ; or contact the Cherokee County Extension Office, 1130 Bluffs Parkway, Suite G49, Canton, GA, 30114, 770-721-7803. The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the UGA extension. Follow Cherokee County Master Gardeners on facebook at for gardening tips as well as upcoming seminars.

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