George, Bunkey’s neighbor, has a swampy area in the back of his yard. It is too wet to mow so it always looks messy and George doesn’t do messy. He decided that this year he was going to beautify that area one way or the other. He started in the library researching flowering plants that grow in wet or moist soil and were Zone 3 or 4. He discovered that there were at least six native flowering plants that actually loved wet feet. There are grasses too but his take on planting grass is “I dig the darn stuff out of the flower beds, why would I plant more?”
(If it blooms, it is female.)
It took most of last summer to be sure all the vegetation was really dead. This spring he was able to start on his swamp flower bed. Most of the plants that would do well were either white or pink Here is a list of the native perennials he planted. By the way, they all did very well.
Queen of the prairie, also called meadowsweet, (Fillipendula ruba) looks like a very tall astilbe. Very queen-like she is 3 to 6 feet tall depending on how well she likes her planning site. A native, she wants wet to moist soil and will reward you with a crown of pink, fluffy blooms in full sun. She will put up with light shade.
Another pink-purple bloomer is swamp milkweed, (Acleppias incarnate). If you have the ordinary milkweed you may be a bit leery of this girl. She isn’t invasive like her sister but it is a good idea to remove the seed pods before they open. Pollinators love the fragrant flowers and monarchs are attracted to her too. She’s a bit shorter, 3-5 feet tall and likes full sun and wet to moist soil.
The third native bloomer is Culver’s root (Veronicastrum viginicum). Attractive, elegant and pretty much disease and pest free, this tall girl blooms with tall slender spikes of white on sturdy stems. The blooms have been compared to candelabra. Bees flock to her flowers. This is one plant that you could put in a rain garden as it will tolerate dry conditions but really prefers moist soil, full sun to part shade.
You may have killed a few of these plants before you realized they are happier in a bog or along a stream, and not in a regular flowerbed. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) has gorgeous, showy red blooms that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. She blooms late summer, grows 2 to 4 feet tall in full sun or part shade.
For a long blooming perennial, if a bit of a wanderer, (she can be invasive) plant wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). She has pretty lavender flowers that are pollinator friendly. She is powdery, mildew resistant unlike some of her hybrid cousins. She doesn’t want to stand in water but does want moist toes. She’s a bit shorter than some of the others only 2-4 feet tall. Give her full sun to part shade.
Another white bloomer is white turtlehead (Chelone). She is a head turner in any garden. The snapdragon-like flowers appear in late summer and last into fall. She will do well in a rain garden as she will tolerate dry soil but prefers moist soil. She grows 2-4 feet tall depending on the variety. A cultivar named “hot lips” has stunning deep-pink flowers. Both want part sun or part shade.
All these plants are native perennials. Some can be invasive but if you can’t grow anything else there, who cares? George got his wild bergamot from a lady who warned him that it was “evasive.” Could be?
Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.