Make a garden for all with the humble bog garden

All gardeners are fond of the wildlife that inhabits our outdoor spaces and those of us who garden organically strive to encourage as many visitors as we can muster. A great way to make your garden wildlife friendly and to create a space for some of the more unusual garden plants is to create a bog garden. Bog gardens are a haven for all sorts of wonderful wildlife; frogs, toads & newts will all find their way in. Many small insects will shelter in the lush vegetation. Bats may even visit at dusk to feed on flying insects.

This can be the perfect project for a redundant or leaky pond, an existing soggy area, or as an extension to an established pond. It’s a great way to bring a water feature into your garden, particularly if you have young children and are wary of having open water. And if you don’t have a garden, you can even build one in a big pot or half a barrel! 

Before you start building, here are a few things to consider:

  • Plan when to build it. As with most construction projects it pays to do it in the dormant winter months when the day to day gardening jobs are not in full flow. However, if you’ve got time on your hands there’s no reason not to do it at any point.
  • Establish where your bog garden is going to go. Try to pick an area that is fairly level and away from overhanging trees. 
  • Consider how big it’s going to be. Beware of making the area too large as you may require stepping-stones in order to maintain it. You can always extend it later. 

Now time to get building! Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Mark out the shape of your bog garden and then excavate to a depth of between 30-45cm setting the soil to one side to use later and removing any large stones and lumps. Make sure the sides slope to allow access for wildlife.
  2. Cover the excavated area with a thin layer of sand, this will prevent damage to any liner from roots or larger rocks. Then gently line it with butyl pond liner or polythene sheeting (minimum of 0.5mm thick). Use weights such as rocks around the edge of the bog garden to keep the liner taut and in place.
  3. Next, take a garden fork and puncture it at one-meter intervals. This will allow water to drain slowly and stop it from becoming stagnant. Cover the liner with around a 20mm layer of gravel to aid drainage. If the soil that has been removed is heavy clay, retain some gravel to mix in with it. Then, add the excavated soil back into the hole. If you have it, mix some compost or leafmould into the soil first - bog plants will enjoy their nutrients. The soil level will probably be higher than the hole, don’t worry it will drop. 
  4. Water the area well preferably with rain-water if feasible. Then, allow the area to settle - this can take up to a week - and continue to keep it moist at all times. 
  5. Finally, think about how natural-looking it can be. Adding rocks looks good and provides shelter for frogs and newts. If you have moss in your lawn, rake some out and dress it between the rocks and plants to complete that natural look.

Now you’re ready to plant!

Many bog loving plants require at least five hours of sunshine each day, although some plants will prefer more shade. As with anything, always check the plants’ requirements before buying.

Here are our favourites:

  • Caltha palustris – Marsh Marigold
  • Filipendula ulmaria – Meadowsweet
  • Lythrum salicaria – Purple loosestrife
  • Primula bulleyana – Bulley’s primrose 
  • Rheum palmatum – Chinese rhubarb
  • Darmera peltata – Umbrella plant
  • Fritillaria meleagris – Snakeshead lily
  • Matteucia struthiopteris – Shuttlecock Fern 

Why not make the bog garden the centrepiece of a whole range of wildlife attracting features? Add bug-hotels, bee houses, bird boxes, a hedgehog home, and wildflower zone.

Good luck!