NATIVE BEAUTY Yellow flag irises are stunning structural additions to any bog garden
Nature and rewilding
In previous articles I’ve written about our wildlife pond at Rice College and how to construct your own, but the foremost consideration I must stress in all of this has to be water safety. A Pond or other open source of water and small children do not mix.
If this isn’t your circumstance and you want a wildlife pond for your garden, but don’t want to be worried about unsuspecting visitors taking an unexpected dip, then there are various ways to mitigate the problem. A substantial sloped earth mound around your pond closely planted with vegetation will act as a barrier while also providing an area for the marginal planting that is essential to a wildlife pond. One-metre high pond fences or pond meshes are commercially available, but they aren’t very popular, because they take away from the aesthetic enjoyment of a pond.
If you believe a pond will never suit your garden, you might consider an alternative: a ‘bog garden’ with wetland marginal-pond plants. Some good native plants include yellow flag iris, flowering rush, marsh marigold and ragged robin. These, among others are available from garden centres and they make a really attractive planting display for both gardeners and the wildlife.
A bog garden is easy if you have a waterlogged area in your garden. Alternatively, some old plastic sheeting or off cuts from a pond liner can be used to create an area that never dries out. Mayo County Council’s ‘Gardening for Biodiversity’ booklet has a typically easy-to-follow ‘Make a Bog Garden’ guide. (I’m always happy to promote this excellently presented free booklet that has given inspiration to many gardeners and naturalists since it’s publication.)
Spring is the best time to plant a bog garden. A piece of hosepipe can be used to mark out your chosen area and dig to a depth of 18 inches. Place stones around the edge to keep the liner in place, and pierce the liner at three-foot intervals with a garden fork. Cover the bottom with a length of leaky hosepipe sealed at one end with the other end extending out of the pond, such that it can extend to a water source for future top ups, thereby making sure that it will never dry out in a drought.
Cover the bottom with two inches of gravel, making sure to cover the perforated hosepipe. This allows some drainage and prevents soil from blocking the hosepipe. Replace the excavated soil, removing any large stones that could puncture the liner. Wetland plants like soil that is rich in organic matter like leaf mould, compost or well-rotted manure, which should be mixed in with the excavated soil if it is very infertile.
Incidentally, many insects, including moth larvae, over winter on leaf litter and should be left in situ, but leaf litter from paths and drives cleared for safety reasons is a welcome addition to a bog garden in winter and should be added every year.
The soil level will be higher than its surrounds at first. Don’t be tempted to compact it down – this suits the wetland plants, and it will settle. Once it has, then it’s time to start planting, and once you’re all done, you can sit back and watch your bog garden grow.
For the environmentally minded, a ‘rain garden’ is a very interesting variant, having the advantage of receiving all its water needs from your roof downpipes. No liner required. Simply locate the excavation ten feet from your house at a natural low in your garden and have the downpipe water run into it. It can be any shape you like, and will preferably be close to other vegetation or even within an existing flower bed. (Full marks if it’s beside your bog garden adjacent to the the wildlife pond, beside the garden pond full of goldfish!).
Whatever pond you choose, the local wildlife will find it and it will add an extra dimension to your garden. To see wildlife in your garden and watch how the creatures make use of their new stage in the theatre of nature is the best soap opera. The great soap opera of the great outdoors.
Pat Fahy is Biodiversity Officer with Westport Tidy Towns.