Tag Archives: Juncus patens

bog chronicles

Several ponds and a waterfall came with the house when we moved in a couple decades ago. They looked cool and the waterfall continues to provide a nice gurgling noise that helps mask the usual din of a residential neighborhood. Unfortunately, as the years passed, the ponds began to fail or show their shortcomings.

One of them was so tiny it was good for breeding mosquitos and not much else. It got turned into a planter pretty quickly.

The mid-sized pond turned out to be a critter magnet. Rummaging possums and raccoons ate all the fish and regularly upturned any water plants. Two years back it became my first bog garden, and is today filled with carnivorous sundews and pitcher plants. I was concerned about how much water a bog garden would require, but last year I figured it out that it required only about as much water as an equivalent patch of grass.

Maybe five years ago it became apparent that we had a growing leak on the largest pair of ponds and linking waterfall. The concrete that made up the ponds was fine, but plant roots were prying up the decorative rocks that had been mortared on top to make the ponds look like a volcanic grotto. I divided the upper pond in two, leaving the front half to cascade the water into the lower pond. The back half became yet another planter. Nothing seemed to do well there, though, so I decided to try turning it into another bog for my growing pitcher plant collection.

I started by removing several hundred pounds of dirt. Taking away the dirt exposed the reason why nothing seemed to thrive in the bed. The surround plants had sent their roots into the planter and sucked up whatever irrigation I provided to the plants I wanted to thrive there. I did a brutal pruning on all the adventuring roots, but figured that they’d be back when offered moist soil to wander into.

To keep roots out of the bog I decided to containerized the bog plants in plastic storage tubs from Target. I could water the plants in the tubs and leave the surrounding soil dry, reducing the attraction for marauding roots. I used two sixteen by twenty-two inch containers that were a foot deep plus a smaller one on the end.

The super-secret ingredients that went into my bog mix: sand and peatmoss. You need to be sure the peatmoss doesn't have added fertilizer, which could make the bog plants fail.

I packed dirt around the tubs to stabilize them, then filled them up with a 60/40 blend of sphagnum peat moss and washed plaster sand, the sort of acid, low-nutrition soil that most carnivores prefer to grow in. Finally, after several hours of hard labor of the sort the sort that I think my doctor is about to tell me I can’t do anymore, I got to install the plants.

The bog, ready for plants.
One of the Sarracenia alata rhizomes that went into the bog.

I selected several species of taller-growing pitcher plants to form the main planting, Sarracenia flava, S. alata and S. oreophila. From my research I figured out that these often grow naturally farther from water sources or in areas where the bogs dry out for part of the year. As far as pitcher plants go, these all should prove to be fairly drought tolerant. Still “drought tolerant” is a relative term, and they’ll need to be kept at least damp year-round.

Ta-da! The finished bog.

To finish off the planting, and to partially assuage my guilt at not using native plants, I surrounded one of the tubs with divisions of one of my native rushes, Juncus patens, a riparian plant that doesn’t seem to resent drying out. Another bonus of this species is that it looks good throughout the year, something that can’t be said for these pitcher plants, which counter their several months of looking severely cool and amazing with several months of looking dying and pathetic.

I’ll post progress photos as the young new bog plants begin to fill and and show their potential. I’m hoping this won’t turn into another failed pond.

picture this photo contest

Gardening Gone Wild is hosting a photo contest for the best image of native plants in a garden setting. Wander down to the links in the comments on their post to see all the excellent ways people use natives in their gardens.

It’s hard for me sit something like this out, so below are my three entries, photos taken in my garden over the last couple of months. (As usual, click to see the larger images.)



I’ve already shared the first two on these pages, so forgive me for reprising them. These are of clumps of blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) in a totally assorted planting, mixing the natives with veggies (Red Winter red Russian kale, beets, red- and orange-stemmed chard) ornamentals (heliotrope, geum and sages) and an herb (catmint). The planting requires an average amount of watering to keep everybody happy, but it shows how food plants and natives can easily coexist with more gardenesque selections.

(“Gardenesque”–how I love that word. No, I didn’t make it up. I have Noel Kingsbury (with Piet Oudolf) to thank for using it in Designing with Plants. He blogs, too!)

The first is a closeup of the native, the second shows the same bed three weeks later, after the geum started to flower.


The third photo pictures a foundation planting featuring one of the California native rushes, Juncus patens. I have this thing for spikey, architectural plants, and this one fulfills my needs nicely. Most rushes are creatures of wet zones. However, J. patens is one of the most drought-tolerant. These plants are located in the drip line for water off the roof, and they can make it through the summer with minimal added irrigation.