The lower garden is sinking, I’m afraid. Why, is partly a mystery, but in recent years the back third of the garden has become wetter, for longer periods of time. There have always been times in early spring when sections of the rear garden are wet enough to suck the shoes off your feet, and mostly I’ve been able to manage to steer clear of these areas during the worst of it. But, when the days stretch into weeks and then months the wet areas become more difficult to avoid. As hard as I work to delay and avoid maintenance chores, some must eventually be done.
The back property line backs up to a swampy meadow of cattails, briars, and brambles (Conoclinium coelestinum, Blue mistflower, above), and below to a retention pond for our small community. This is the source of the problem, I believe, though there’s also a wet weather spring that trickles more consistently down the edge of the garden than in years past. At one time the lower garden was mostly lawn, and when our kids were kids they made ample use of the area for impromptu football games and just plain chasing about. As they grew a bit older the lawn was converted to a court for boisterous badminton games, but then the kids grew up and moved out. Now, the wife and I have no time for such foolishness, and besides, more space was needed for garden. Sometime in between, the area began to get wetter, a little, then a lot.
I’ve learned to adapt, and just as the garden has become increasingly shady as it matures, my most recent plantings have been ones that are tolerant of the moist environment. And, this works just fine, except treasured witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, above in better days) and hollies (Ilex x ‘Patriot’) that have been there all along have struggled as the garden has become more damp. A year ago the area neighboring the witch hazel remained saturated for most of the second half of the year, and finally the large shrub reacted by prematurely dropping its foliage in early October. The witch hazel failed to flower this year, though there are buds that I hold faint hope will bloom, even a little. The holly is looking sadder by the day, and I wonder how long these cherished shrubs can last.
In any case, it appears that the witch hazel will leaf, at least partially, and I’m hopeful that the holly nearby will rebound from its obvious state of distress. Already, a few nearby hydrangeas and smaller shrubs have given up the fight, and like it or not I’m having to plan on replacements. Before the witch hazel and holly fail completely I’ll plant a few red chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’) and sweetwshrubs (Calycanthus floridus, above) in the gaps between. These should thrive in the wetness if I’m able to keep the deer away. A nearby black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, below) is a frequent target of deer, and both red and black will demand continual attention to spraying with a repellent.
When I became distracted in the past and failed to spray, deer nibbled almost every leaf of the black chokeberry, so if these native shrubs are to be successful they’ll require a bit of my attention. But, they’re lovely shrubs and they’ll tolerate the damp soil, so there seems little question it’s worth the effort. A small Buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora, below) planted a few feet away, and just at the edge of the dampness is managing well so far, though it would likely prefer a more well drained situation. This shrub was transplanted from bare root a few years ago, and it’s not surprising that it’s taken a few years to get growing. I’m pretty certain that it’s just high enough above the worst of the dampness to survive, unless the area continues to sink.
Several primroses (Primula vulgaris ‘Drumcliff’, below) flourish in the dampness, though certainly they will not spread like the mint on the far side of the garden. By necessity, the mint is hemmed in by larger trees and shrubs to prevent its escape, but the primroses have some room to spread, and a bit more sunlight to encourage them to seed about. I don’t expect the primroses will thrive beyond control in this damp spot, but there’s plenty of damp ground to cover, and if they do spread, it will be quite marvelous.