Gardening in the Damp and Shade

Przewalski's golden ray is a perennial that grows in damp environments.

Don’t be disheartened by the myth that all gardens need perfect sunny conditions. All it takes to garden in those wet, shady spots is a plan and a little ingenuity.

Every yard and garden has what we like to call “trouble spots,” those places that seem perpetually moist and that the only use for them seems to be as a dumping ground for yard clippings. It’s time to erase those thoughts and dispel all myths regarding the suitability of damp ground for gardens. You may have thought that only shrubs or filler plants can survive wet spots, but many beautiful plants thrive in the damp.

Getting Started, Clearing out the Mess

The first step to creating a gorgeous garden in that muddy, shaded spot you despise is to clear the site. Begin the cleanup process in sections. By planning and sectioning off areas to clear, the task will seem less daunting and you will complete it with more efficiency. Start with the easier cleanup projects, such as picking up lawn clippings or decomposing undergrowth. Save tougher tasks, such as bramble removal, for last.

Once the site is clear, turn over all the soil to aerate it and check the contents. Damp areas often contain very rich soil from all the natural composting of decomposing plants. Make sure to mix and spread the soil so that no single area will contain richer elements. This helps ensure the success of all plants you will plant here and helps prevent some plants from choking out others.

With everything clear and the soil prepped, ensure the area has proper drainage before you start planting. Water can be a blessing, but not when it’s left uncontrolled. Drainage channels can be a lifesaver for areas that retain wetness easily. Even plants that excel in damp areas can be drowned out by excess rain and runoff.

What to Plant in Your New Garden Space

With everything else taken care of, it’s time to start planting. Remember that you’ve created a space for plants that thrive in damp situations. Don’t get too excited with the prospect of experimenting in your new garden. Stick to plants you know will be successful. If your garden is near a pond, stream, or river consider Ligularia (nicknamed “the rocket”). This plant can reach upwards of four feet and has a gorgeous shoot of yellow buds.

If you love planting bulbs, don’t worry about missing out on lovely flowers that require fairly little upkeep. For spring flowers, try planting Fritillaria “checker lily”, Camassia Quamash or Leucojum “summer snowflake” bulbs. Tropical flowers usually do quite well in damp and shaded areas due to their origins. For a tropical flare, add Canna Lily Pretoria or Black Magic Elephant Ears perennials.

Don’t let that wet area in your yard or garden turn into an ugly dumping ground for all your yard waste. Forget what you thought you knew and start a damp garden. There are plenty of beautiful flowers and plants that love wet, shady places. Reclaim wet, wild places and turn them into a little oasis of elegance.