boggy shady claggy clay

My open woodland garden is in North Cornwall within reach of salt laden Atlantic air. We experience very high rainfall, gales but don't suffer from frost. The ground is heavy clay which holds surface water for long periods of time offering a challenging environment in which to garden.

2017 was a wipeout because of the extensively wet weather which meant that moving a wheelbarrow about has compacted what soil we had. I am wanting to grow a wildflower garden in this mainly shady or open shaded ground which is very damp for a lot of the year full of clay and occupied by alder, ash, oak and sweet chestnut trees.

The area is mainly flat and has a lot of groundwater in patches and extends to about 30 x 60 metres. There is very little growing in the ground because of the fairly dense shade afforded by so many broad leaved trees. I have read that spring is preferable to autumn for planting in such damp conditions.

I am hoping to attract birds, bees and insects and introduce colour to this patch of ground within 2-3 years. Am I being unrealistic?  Any advice please as to what and when to plant that is likely to survive? 



  • Nanny BeachNanny Beach Posts: 2,888

    I bought a wildflower mix perenials and annuals especially for wet shady clay soil, and last year treated myself to some turf.  Our garden faces north but because it is not overlooked and about 6the of an acre there is usualy some sun at some point.This is underneath apple, and pear trees I started the first lot 3 years ago and it is doing very well.  Look for bog plants as well, and marginals.  We are near the South Downs, 10 minutes from the sea, get wind in the mix as well.Yes, you are correct, my seeds said to sow in spring.

  • This is very encouraging. Will build this into my plan. Thank you Nanny Beach.

  • punkdocpunkdoc Sheffield, Derbyshire border.Posts: 6,827

    Bog plants are the way to go, a conventional wildflower meadow is not likely to succeed. 

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  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 3,437

    Is your soil acidic, do you know? I don't think there's much limestone in Cornwall, but I'm not certain if that's true everywhere there. Some spring flowering shrubs - camellias, bigger rhododendrons, azaleas - will do well in high rainfall and either shade or partial shade in the drier parts where water doesn't stand (put the bog plants in those image ) but they do need acidic soil.

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  • If your trees give very dense shade you will probably never get beyond a few spring flowerers. If it were possible to thin out some of the trees to give a woodland glade effect you would have a much better chance.
    I have areas in my garden that are very wet and get partial shade, though the underlying clay is covered in some places by a layer of silty soil from perennial flooding.

    I have found several plants that do well here, and will spread  in the manner of wildflowers, though not all of them are native. Also be aware that some plants will be more enthusiastic than others and will tend to dominate!

    Snowdrops don't mind damp soil but won't want to be flooded, wood anemones like quite a lot of moisture  - some have seeded themselves into the wet soil beside a stream - and primroses will also cope as long as not inundated. Snakeshead fritillaries can cope with some wet if not too prolonged - they grow wild in flood meadows in Wiltshire.

    Red campion,  Persicaria bistorta and yellow loosestrife  thrive where it is wet, but do appreciate a little sun, all can be invasive, but give good value on the flower front. If the campion is cut back to remove the stems after the first flowers fade, it will produce new ones right into autumn. Purple loosestrife needs some sun to do well and celandines and trollius need some sun for the flowers to shine out.

    Caltha palustris, the marsh marigold, will grow in wet and shade and flower well with very little sun.There are white and double flowered versions available. Ajuga gives valuable blue and Cardamine pratense is self seeding annual that is host to the orange tip butterfly, always the first of the year here and a delight to see.The Devil's bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) also grows in damp meadows. I haven't tried this yet myself, aim to grow some this year.

    The male fern, its many cultivars and most other ferns enjoy both shade and damp. The grass Deschampsia caespitosa (seen a lot at Chelsea) grows wild in my garden and favours boggy spots.

    Non - natives to consider include the bog primulas. P. florindae likes shade, the other candelabra types grow happily in soil that is constantly wet but not quite underwater. Astilbes, white Lysichiton americana, Darmera peltata, A,chemilla mollis, Ligularias and other Persicarias will also grow in wet soil.

    This list should give you something to think on, though the size and stature of some of the plants may not quite tally with your idea of a wildflower garden image

    Last edited: 23 January 2018 10:37:44

  • Mel42Mel42 Posts: 4

    Male ferns.....??

    how do you tell if they are male?...

  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 3,437
    Mel42 says:

    Male ferns.....??

    how do you tell if they are male?...

    See original post

    You have to look under the right leaf image

    Actually it's just the plant name - like 'stinking hellebore' or 'pink campion'. You could call them dryopteris filix-mas if you wanted to be correct and rather less, er, personal. image

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  • Mel42Mel42 Posts: 4


    if I was to plant ferns in the soil condition described above, do they self seed or just die back and come up again as a perrenisl?  Happy to have ferns, just not if they are going to seed everywhere.....

  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 3,437

    I've never found dryopteris self seeding. Common Polypody will self seed freely in the right conditions, but most other ferns are better behaved in my experience.

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