Do you have a wet or poorly draining part of your yard that has defeated your gardening efforts? Before you consider expensive drainage projects, try a different approach: embrace your soggy soil by choosing plants that thrive in such conditions.
Many commonly grown plants don't like to have waterlogged roots for long periods of time, but those that are native to wetland areas have acclimatized to grow and thrive with wet feet (see "Good Swimmers" list below). Additionally, a soggy site in the garden can host beneficial wildlife such as dragonflies, frogs and toads, and butterflies.
There are many moisture-loving plants to choose from, ranging from trees and shrubs to grasslike sedges and ferns to attractive perennials. Best of all, with the surge of interest in native-plant gardening, these varieties are now easier to find at nurseries and garden centres.
Consider the benefits of creating a rain garden where wetland plants in low-lying areas (shallow regions where water pools because of poor drainage) collect runoff from roofs and driveways that would normally go into storm sewers. Instead, the water is absorbed into the soil gradually, while good drainage is still ensured around the house and yard.
A rain garden mimics the natural hydrological cycle in which rainwater is used and cleansed of pollutants by plants, and is then naturally filtered as it percolates into the ground to replenish the water table.
For an excellent fact sheet, visit www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/la/la_005.cfm.
Plant suggestions can be found at www.bbg.org/gar2/topics/design/2004sp_raingardens.html.
Black alder (Alnus glutinosa) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) full sun to part shade, Zone 4
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) full sun, Zone 3
Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) part to full shade, Zone 4
River birch (Betula nigra) full sun to part shade, Zone 4
Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Quamash (Camassia quamash) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis) full sun to full shade, Zone 4
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) full sun to part shade, Zone 4
White turtlehead (Chelone glabra) part shade, Zone 3
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) full sun to part shade, Zone 4
Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) full sun to part shade, Zone 4
Water avens (Geum rivale) part shade, Zone 4
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Spice bush (Lindera benzoin) full sun to part shade, Zone 4
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Blue lobelia (L. siphilitica) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Bee balm (Monarda didyma) full sun to part shade, Zone 4
Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) part to full shade, Zone 3
Royal fern (O. regalis) part to full shade, Zone 3
Dwarf Arctic, willow (Salix purpurea 'Nana') full sun, Zone 4
American elder (Sambucus canadensis) full sun to part shade, Zone 3
Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) full sun, Zone 3
Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) full sun to part shade, Zone 2
A good book that includes a source list for native plants by region is 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens by Lorraine Johnson (updated edition, Whitecap, 2005), 160 pages, softcover, $24.95.