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Bog and Marsh Gardens



In the dark peaty hollows among the trees, and in the clearings amid the copse, here will flourish our native bog plants, Drosera, Pinguicula, Caltha, Parnassia, Osmunda and Purple Orchis. In the less wild portions, crimson patches of Primula Japonica will stain the moss carpet, and by the pathways rosy branches of Dielytra Specta­bilis are finely contrasted with a glossy background of Rhododendron leafage.


Somewhere among the tree shadows, a special corner will be found, where in splendid isolation, clumps of the Mocassin flower (Cypripedium Spectabile) may throw up their gorgeous slippered blooms. And so gradually, the flower pro­cession passes from water to bog, from bog to wood­land, from woodland to meadow and garden border, changing as the various stages are traversed, a complete and beautiful revelation of Nature's adaptability and resource.


Near the margins of fair sized pools and along the sides of valley streams, natural bog gardens may be made with little trouble. In fact, nothing much is needful in the way of preparation beyond the con­struction of safe and convenient pathways, and the clearing away of the weeds and coarse herbage which usually over run such spots.


If the area of ground to be dealt with is large, it will be advisable to retain some of the boldest groups of sedge and rush, allowing these to act as natural screens to the various divisions. The making of rough pathways will present no difficulty. At the edge of the marsh ground and in the drier portions it will be sufficient to excavate the soil to a depth of a few inches, filling in with rough ballast and making the surface moderately level.

 Bog and Marsh Garden

Towards the centre and in the wettest places, the paths should be dug out at least a foot deep, coarse drainage and porous material being afterwards rammed in until a sufficiently high and firm passageway is secured. Such paths should be left quite in the rough, with edges only barely defined. Any attempt at trimness or formality would be quite out of place. Though it should be so arranged that all the best and most interesting parts of the bog garden can be included in the survey, an excessive number of paths will produce a map like and unsatisfactory effect.


In order to anticipate this, good use may be made of stepping stones, which will not only provide short cuts from one pathway to another, but will permit close inspection of plants growing in the wet mossy ground, fringing the bog pools.

With the soil removed when path making and clean­ing, mounds and sloping banks may be made in the drier situations. A flat, even surface is fatal to the appear­ance of the bog garden, where the various families of water loving plants should be grown in little groups and colonies, each a small picture in itself. It is essential also, that a varying degree of moisture be obtainable throughout, for although many bog plants, such as Osmunda, Iris Kaempferi and Calthas, revel in wet mud, others require a peaty loam or leaf soil.

It is an easy matter to prepare special beds for favored groups of Liliums, or to make clearings among the sphagnum for such small subjects as Pinguicula and Drosera.

Grouping for general effect, which is an important consideration in the flower garden proper, is something totally unknown in the bog garden.


In short, bog gardens are Nature, as it were, under the microscope. Each separate plant disassociates itself from its neighbors, and seems to invite close inspection and its due need of praise.


On the rising ground at the outskirts of the bog garden, the planting should be of a bolder and more definite character. The soil will here be drier and better drained, so that plants which prefer to send their roots for some distance in search of moisture should be selected. If a strip of woodland or hazel copse skirts one side of the marshy land, the garden may merge imperceptibly into the undergrowth, good use being made of Daffodils, Lily-of-the Valley and Anemones, planted in long drifts among the trees.


In the higher bog garden, bold clumps of Goat's Beard (Astilbe Rivularis), Blue Poppy and Eulalias, would serve to mark the confines of the garden. Another plant of somewhat the same character is Turkey 's Beard (Xerophyllum Asphodeloides), its racemes of white blossoms thrown well above the grassy foliage, on tall stalks. The Globe-flowers (Trollius) will also give very fine effects, and are especially happy when the roots can travel in search of moisture near at hand. In large grounds, Rhodo­dendrons in irregular groups are invaluable, and also provide shelter for peat loving Lilies.


Following these we may include a collection of herbaceous Spiraeas, the large shrubby Meadow-sweets. One of the best is S.palmata, with handsome foliage and rosy crimson flowers. In the neighborhood of water, the effect produced by the rich coloring of this variety is charming. S.venusta, S. aruncus and S.ulmaria, the latter the double form of the wild Meadow-sweet, are all worth cultivating. Spiraeas are so often grown in garden borders or in the poor soil in mixed shrubberies, that the opportunity of planting them in what approaches their natural habitat should not be neglected. Given ample room and an abund­ance of moisture, they exhibit a freedom of growth which is surprising.


We would arrange a deep bay in the Rhododendron belt, and here prepare a home for a colony of swamp­ loving lilies. Unless of a peaty nature, it would be well to excavate the existing soil to a depth of a foot, filling in with a prepared compost of leaf soil, peat and road grit. A few barrow loads of chopped turf will also help to provide an ideal bed in which to plant some of the noblest flowers to be found in our gardens.


L.giganteum is magnificent in such positions, and, like the others, requires only some sheltering undergrowth as a slight protection in early spring. The foliage, unlike most lilies, consists of broad tufts of heart shaped leaves, from which spring the stout stalks six or eight feet high. These are topped by long racemes of frag­rant white flowers, slightly tinged with purple.


The Swamp Lily (L.superbum) is another fine variety for the outskirts of the bog garden, the clusters of deep orange flowers are borne on stout purplish stems. The beautiful Californian Lily (L.pardalinum) of which there are many sub-varieties, must not be forgotten. In moist, peaty soil it increases in size yearly, the pendent blossoms, vivid orange spotted with chocolate, being most effective.


Of smaller habit is L.canadense (Canadian Lily), which should be grown in bold clumps to show its clusters of golden red flowers to best advan­tage.


All these North American Lilies revel in cool, moist soils, and in their native haunts are found, glow­ing masses of color, in swampy regions. As a ground work for the Liliums, good use might be made of the White Wood Lily (Trillium Grandiflorum), which covers the ground with a carpet of rich green foliage, studded with snow white, three petaled blossoms. Apart from its own beauty, it serves as a protection to the Liliums during the early months of the year.


Skirting the rough pathway, irregular drifts of the Indian Primrose (P.sikkimensis) might be planted. In May, and onwards for several weeks, the sheets of yellow blossoms would make a beautiful picture between the moss grown stones. These Asiatic Primroses, which come to us from the wet mountain slopes of the Himal­ayas , are seen at their best in the bog garden. P.denti­culata would prove equally at home, spreading its tufts of leaves and large clusters of lilac flowers in the spring sunshine.Marsh Marigold


P.japonica grows rampantly in moist spots, and bears no resemblance to the same plant struggling for existence in a dry garden border. P.rosea, small but charming, and P.capitata, with flowers of a wonder­ful purple shade powdered with white, would occupy the sides of slight knolls. A corner must also be found for the Bird's Eye Primrose (P.farinosa) bearing its dainty lilac blossoms above rosettes of silvery leaves. In a sheltered corner near a few rough stones it is delightful.


Now that we are approaching the pools and softest ground, Osmunda will form a fitting background to the many small bog plants that we must take care to include. This noble fern will attain a height of six feet or more, when its roots can spread freely in moist, porous soil. Spleenwort (Asplenium), Nephrodium, and the North American Sensitive Fern (Onoclea) are other suitable forms.


Quaint and interesting flowers there are in abundance, as well as those of real beauty. The Marsh Helleborine, for instance, with purplish flowers and handsome foli­age, the Marsh Orchis (0.latifolia) and O.foliosa. The Habenarias, orchids from North America, would do well in damp corners. One of the best is H.fimbriata. All these plants look best grown in isolated clumps, and afford a striking contrast to flowers of simpler habit.


Cypripedium spectabile, already referred to, deserves a well shaded, peaty hollow entirely to itself: it is too good a plant to mix singly with others. Sarracenia purpurea, with its blood veined trumpet leaves and sinister aspect, might be taken as the evil genius of the bog garden, a plant of ill-omen, from which some deadly potion might be brewed. It is quite hardy, and belongs to the family of Pitcher-plants. The Fritil­laries, natives of English water-meadows, would soon become established in grassy patches near the stream.  


On the mossy ground around the pools and in crevices between the stepping stones, the Sundews (Drosera) would be quite at home. On beds of Sphagnum they thrive splendidly. A few tufts of Cotton Grass (Eriophorum), so plentiful on the brown bogs of Ireland , should not be omitted. Of Heaths, there is the Marsh Heather (E.tetralix) and E.hybrida, a beautiful variety flowering through the winter and early spring.


From the stream sides of the Sierra Nevada comes a charming Saxifrage, S.peltata, unique as to its target like leaves and loose clusters of pale pink flowers. The Rockfoils are not particular as to treat­ment, and several other kinds, including the native S.granulata, might be grown in the drier portions of the bog. Soldanellas, Pinguiculas, Parnassia, and the Bog Asphodel (Narthecium) will, if irregularly grouped, lend interest and charm to the smaller colonies.


Close beside one of the small pools we must have a patch of the Bog Arum (Calla palustria), a small trailing plant with delicate white spathes. It increases rapidly, and may be associated with a plant or two of the Golden Club (Orontium), which blooms profusely in early summer. During the dull, cheerless days of late winter, the golden yellow Pilewort (Ficaria grandiflora), seen from a distance, looks almost like a rift of sun­shine on the neutral tinted bog.


Artificial bog gardens, though somewhat costly to construct, may be found in places at high elevation. In fact, a large amount of interest and pleasure may be evoked by a small garden, only a few feet square. I have seen miniature bog gardens, charming in their way, which have been formed in disused fountain basins, though as a rule the position occupied by these - lawn centres and highly cultivated parts - renders them unsuitable.


The bog garden should be situated in semi wild surroundings, and for its due appreciation the eye should have lately contemplated natural effects, such as a woodland path or the grouping of wild plants by the meadowside. Therefore, before decid­ing on a position, we should endeavor to secure a site, the approaches to which betray few signs of cultivation.


Simple gardens, varying in size with the means and inclinations of the owner, may be formed on ground which has a slight incline. On the level it is always difficult to provide the necessary drainage. Plants will not thrive in stagnant water.


The usual method of constructing artificial bog gardens is by digging out the soil to a depth of eighteen inches, there by making a shallow basin. The basin is then rendered watertight by a lining either of brick­work or concrete. To quite small gardens it is possible to supply water by hand, in those of larger size pipes connected with a supply tank or reservoir will be needed.


Nothing is more satisfactory than a constant steady trickle of water through the bog garden, and for this reason an automatic arrangement is preferable to any other. A small outlet pipe or valve should be fixed at the lowest point in the basin, so that the bog may be completely drained if necessary. At eight inches from the top of the basin an outlet in the side will permit the surplus water to trickle away. Of course the basin may be of any shape, the more irregular the better, there being no need whatever to make it circular.


Having made watertight the site of the proposed garden, and provided for the inlet and outlet of water, we may prepare for planting. First cover the bottom with six inches of broken bricks and rough material to act as drainage, and upon this lay a good depth of peat soil. The surface should be rendered uneven by suitable knolls, small plateaus and depressions, rough blocks of stone being used to keep the soil in place.Bog and Marsh Garden


The wettest parts will naturally be found where there is least depth of soil; the driest on the mounds and small rocky eminences. In a short time the stones will be covered with mosses and small ferns; the constant dampness too, will cause myriad tiny growths to spread a filmy veil of green over bare rock and black soil.


Larger bog gardens cannot be concreted, but must depend upon a steady flow of water, with branch drains, to provide the necessary moisture. Such gardens are, however, very costly to build, and require great skill to prevent their looking unnatural and out of place.


Once planted, the bog garden requires little attention, and increases in interest and beauty as the plants become firmly established and seed themselves. From time to time it will be necessary to check the more vigorous growers, or to clear away the mosses from some tender seedling which is in danger of being crowded out in the struggle for existence. For the rest, we may leave the plants to re-group and arrange themselves.





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