I like to say that plants can be as picky as a 2 year old with a plate of overcooked broccoli. Plants know what they want and won’t behave the way you want unless you fulfill their wishes. Today let’s look at a few who love wet feet.
First, please understand that plants need oxygen but they don’t get it from their leaves. No, they get oxygen from their roots. Some plants have evolved ways of getting their oxygen despite sitting in waterlogged soil, while others quickly drown or develop root rot. If you have heavy clay soil that retains water, be sure to choose plants that can tolerate moisture.
I have a small stream running through my property, so much of my land stays quite moist, even in dry summers. In the spring, I often have standing water between the raised beds in the vegetable garden. Yet I have many wonderful flowers thriving here. Here are a dozen that I like, arranged roughly by bloom time, from early spring to late fall.
Drumstick primrose (Primula denticulata) blooms in early spring in shades of blue to red or white. Next is P. kisoana which spreads by root in wet or dry places. Finally, from now on, there is the candelabra primrose (P. japonica) which spreads a series of flowers on an increasingly tall stem over a month of flowering. All like to grow under old apple trees with dappled shade.
Myosotis sylvatica (Myosotis sylvatica). I now have hundreds of them blooming everywhere I look, sun or shade. These pretty low-growing blue (or sometimes pink or white) flowers self-sow profusely. They prefer rich, moist soil and do well in sun or shade. Because they come back so easily from seed, we let them flower, then often pull them up like weeds to plant something else.
Daffodil ‘Thalia’. Most bulbs require good drainage, but ‘Thalia’ thrives in soggy soil. It is almost white and each bulb can produce three flowers at a time. It flowers with forget-me-nots. Order now for fall planting.
Globeflower (Trollius spp.). An early summer bloomer, it does best in part sun and moist soil, but will also grow in regular garden soil and full shade. The flowers are about an inch across and are bright yellow. Blooms from late May to June, but may occasionally bloom again in the fall.
Japanese iris (Iris ensata). These beauties will bloom in standing water or moist soil. They look like the Siberian iris, but their falls (petals) lie almost flat. Blues and purples. Beginning of summer.
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). These flowers are native plants that bloom on 3 foot stems in fire engine red! I have seen them grow along the banks of the Connecticut River, but they do well in moist soil and full sun in my garden. Tolerates some drought, but prefers moist. I avoid modern hybrids that are other colors, but not as hardy.
Marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). A relative of common milkweed, it likes moist soil and full sun. Unlike wild, this does not send runners and does not spread by root. Mine are three to five feet tall and come in pink or white. Easily available at garden centers.
Astilbe (Astilbe spp.). These flowers come in red, pink and white and different heights. They can survive in drier soil in the shade, but really like moist, rich soil and full sun. Good cut flower with an almost woody stem.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.). There are many species, some of which propagate by root, some of which do not. It is the best perennial to support pollinators. From mid-summer to fall. “Fireworks” is my favorite.
Weed Joe Pye (Eutrochium purpureum). It is a native plant that thrives on stream beds and marshy areas that has been domesticated by bees. A cultivar known as ‘Gateway’ is the best, but grows over six feet tall. ‘Baby Joe’ is supposed to be a smaller version, but I haven’t tried it yet. Pollinators love this plant which blooms in the fall with pink-purple flowers.
Turtle head (Chelone lyonii). Magnificent tall stems laden with pink flowers in the shape of helmets or turtle heads. Will do in sun or shade, loves humidity but will also grow in ordinary gardens. Bumblebees force themselves indoors and sometimes seem to growl indoors. Large cut flower. To fall.
‘Henry Eiler’ Rudbeckie. One of the last flowers I grow. The petals are distinctive: they have a gap between each, like missing teeth. Tall, often six feet or more. Should be staked early, or perhaps cut in early June to reduce height. Blooms after frost. Full sun, rich, moist soil.
If you have clay-based soil that sticks when you rub it, damp, between your fingers, you’d do well to add some compost to the soil before planting one of these pretty flowers. Yes, they like the moisture that clay retains, but compost – a shovel or more mixed into the planting hole – will improve their performance.
I’m happy to report that our new young dog, Rowan, is learning to stay out of garden beds. He is an 18 month old Golden/Irish setter mix with lots of energy. But so far he hasn’t dug up any plants.