A novel solution to a perennial damp spot.


A dreadfully wet summer has shown up a whole host of problem areas within Irish gardens, the lawn being chief amongst these. There are many seemingly perfect green lawns out there, which unfortunately have been let down by one particular problem area. The soggy bog moss section.

This area exists within many gardens, appearing in a part of the lawn, which is damp and shaded. The main causes of this plight are lowered ground levels (holding water), sticky soil and overshadowing by buildings or walls.

So, what is the solution to that damp and shaded area of lawn? If you opt for a special shade lawn seed, yes it will cope with the shade, but not the moisture, so no joy there.

You can of course decide to apply moss killer, rake out the moss and over seed the area every year. But this is such a continuing and wasteful drain on time and materials. It also seems a bit too much like penance for my liking.

Where shade and moisture are the main soil factors, I suggest you go with the flow and plant the area according to those overriding factors. This means planting the area with bog garden or marsh plants, and almost any moisture-loving plant can be used for this purpose. Iris, Purple Loosestrife, Phormium, Vinca, Hosta, Hemerocallis, Acorus, and creeping jenny are amongst some of the most suitable.

One of the best perennial plants for a boggy area that I have found is Astilbe, commonly known as false spirea. Astilbe thrives in the moist soils beside the woodland streams of its natural home, Eastern Asia.

So, moist soils with partial shade are its favourite haunt, however this adaptable perennial will also grow reasonably well in a dryer soil, providing supplementary water is applied. One of my main tips for planting Astilbe in almost all soils is to add great quantities of peat and homemade compost to the planting hole and surrounding areas, this will improve the soils water holding capacity greatly.

Truly a woodland and waterside joy, a blooming Astilbe stands around 60cm (2ft) with a similar spread. This height includes the plumes of candyfloss-like frothy flowers that are displayed from late spring until mid summer, take those away and the plant is just a diminutive 1ft tall.

Astilbes foliage really gives the plant a woodland appearance, with fern-like, finely divided, glossy and toothed leaves. If planted in large colonies the plant looks impressive even whilst out of flower due to this foliage.

Perhaps your garden is absolutely wedged with plants already, but after reading this column, you simply must have an Astilbe. Well, this perennial will grow quite well as an indoor plant, just give it a cool, bright room and keep the plants compost moist for it to cope.

Top Astilbes to seek out include...
Astilbe "Fanal" with long blooming, scarlet flowers.
Astilbe "Europa" with light pink blooms.
Astilbe "Deutschland" with pure white plumes.

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Client comment

"James, thanks for the garden layout. With your help we finally have flourishing planting in our shady back garden."

- C McDermott, Galway City
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