Design inspiration for boggy gardens

James Alexander-Sinclair chooses eight examples of how boggy spaces have been transformed into eye-catching landscapes by using innovative design and clever planting. 


Bog is not a good word. It is an onomatopoeia at its least appealing. Bog. Sounds leaden and soggy. It reminds me of wet walks and soaking socks: of long-buried prehistoric hunter gatherers, boot-sucking mud and water the colour of stewed tea. One thing is sure from that description, you wouldn't want one in your garden.

Except gardening is all about finding silver linings to even the most dingy of clouds and you would want one if you had an ounce of sense - which obviously you do or you would not be here. Let me try to convince you with two good reasons: firstly because you will then be able to grow plants that you have never grown before (which is often the main reason why people garden), but secondly because it allows a little bit of childish fantasy to intrude upon your garden.

A little sogginess is something to celebrate so here are eight inspirational designs that use clever planting to transform boggy ground into eye-catching landscapes. 


Design inspiration for boggy gardens

1 Stepping up This building is almost too good to be true, in a mellow-mossy, finialed-Cotswold-loveliness kind of way. It is the perfect crescendo to the trickling stream, time-worn stepping stones and casually scattered primulas and ferns. This bog garden, at Cotswold Farm in Duntisbourne Abbots, is possibly not one of the most exciting, but is certainly one of the most enticing. 






2 Clotted dream Devon is remarkable not only for its coastline and the quality of its clotted cream but also for its gardens. The congenial (though damp) climate contributes to the general fecundity of the plants and lushness of the vegetation and so it is a natural home for some of the finest bogs in the country, such as here at Marwood Hill Garden near Barnstable.

3 Yakety yak This is an Asian yak meadow. The yaks tend be a bit inhospitable so that is why there are none in the photograph. What there are, however, are hundreds of amethyst-coloured Primula secundiflora and yellow Primula florindae that love the cropped grass and damp conditions at the foot of the hills.

4 Enemy within This is a cunning bit of bog work. Take a massive outbreak of a seriously invasive weed – in this case Equisetum arvense (or mare’s tail) – and turn it to your advantage. Rather than harrying it with chemicals or worrying it with shovels, embrace what is – undoubtedly – a very beautiful weed by adorning it with other things. 


5 Natural inspiration This natural bog on the Scottish Isle of Islay, is a much subtler thing, with multifarious mosses in tones of green, brown and reddish khaki spiked through with tufted rushes and mohicans of sedge. Wild, beautiful and slightly dangerous: probably best not to try to emulate this at home; unless you have a very large garden.

6 Reflected glory At Dyffryn Fernant in Pembrokeshire [featured in September 2016 issue (238) of Gardens Illustrated], owners Christina Shand and David Allum have added an artistic twiddle to the bog garden by putting a stainless steel obelisk just at the end of a narrow path to reflect the surrounding abundance and general lushness.

7 Hill start This bit of Chanticleer Gardens – an amazing 35-acre garden in Pennsylvania, USA – is called the Asian Woods. It was formerly a scraggy hillside full of poison ivy but is now richly planted with Korean, Chinese and Japanese natives. The bridge was made by a local craftsman, Doug Randolph, from copper pipe masquerading as bamboo.


8 Different angle In the words of The Drifters: ‘(Under the boardwalk.) We’ll be havin’ some fun…’ In this case it might be more sensible to stay above the boardwalk as it is from there that you will get the best view. I like the slight wobbliness of a wooden path and the way running footsteps resound against the timber although the designer has tried to discourage too much running by putting in a series of right angles to slow down  progress allowing you to get the best from the planting.




Further reading

Alan Titchmarsh How to Garden: Water Gardening by Alan Titchmarsh (BBC Books, 2013).
Managing the Wet Garden: Plants That Flourish in Problem Places by John Simmons (Timber Press, 2008).
Timber Press Pocket Guide to Water Garden Plants by C Greg Speichert and Sue Speichert (Timber Press, 2008).

Words James Alexander-Sinclair


This article was taken from a longer feature in the August issue (237) of Gardens Illustrated




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