Bog Habitat Gardening Inspiration
In one of my college ecology classes, I remember doing some field work in a bog habitat in the southern Adirondack region of New York state. Bogs: “though similar to swamps or marshes, are a distinctive kind of wetland where peat forms from dead plant matter,” the BBC nature website explains. Bogs were just too much for my mind to digest, so mysterious, rich with unique beautiful and arguably unparalleled in ecological productivity. This weekend I had the opportunity to explore the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail in New York’s Saratoga County, as the property of a client for my garden design business backs right out into the preserve.
(Also my colleague wanted to hunt for chanterelle mushrooms in the hardwood stands).
As gardeners interested in attracting wildlife and landscape designers interested in restoring the ecosystem, it’s good practice to frequently visit natural areas and parks to generate garden design suggestions inspired directly from naturally occuring systems. The wetlands, woodlands, meadows and other natural habitats have a wild order to them that we can learn a lot from. These ecosystems are not the result of manipulation or trucking in quantities of soil amendments and fertilizers. Natural ecosystem’s beauty is born of simplicity and we can model our home gardens after this by choosing native plant species that match our property’s conditions. A bog habitat is extra special because they’re on the rare side, and some scientists view peat bogs as fragile, like rainforests. This scientific opinion is based on the incessant irresponsible harvesting of peat moss for gardening. Peat moss takes eons to form, supports very unique flora and is a non-renewable resource. In light of this information, bogs just seem so ethereal and…. Maybe Henry David Thoreau says it best, in his book Walden he said, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
I was a little surprised at the quantity of native plants growing in the bog habitat that I use all the time in garden designs. Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculata) and Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) were abundant along the edges of the wetlands. I guess I hoped to see weird stuff like Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia spp.), Venus Fly Traps (Dionaea muscipula), and Cranberry plants (Vaccinium macrocarpon). These plants do exist in some of the local bog habitats and it’s possible I just didn’t get to look thoroughly enough here.
One of my favorite things about the Bog Meadow Brook habitat preserve was the extensive stands of native species Broad Tailed Cattail (Typha latifolia). Cattails were the predominant wetland perennial plant when I was growing up in New York. In my lifetime I have witnessed the Cattails become marginal, choked out by grassy non-native invasive plant Phragmites australis in most wetland and edge habitats.
Even this bog wonderland is not immune to Phragmites extensive reach, not by a long shot. The invasive grass lines the ponds, the creek and other wetland areas where it has outcompeted the American native Cattail. But I was grateful to note an absence of Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
Seeing this composite yellow flower growing directly out of the deep standing pond water startled me, and I had to call on a friend to help identify it. I learned it’s a native annual flower called “Nodding Bur-Marigold,” (Bidens cernua).
It’s easy to see the beauty in a nature preserve like this bog meadow habitat. The real trick for all of us who get a say in manipulating the inputs of the ground surrounding our residences and businesses is critically observing our microclimate conditions and accepting these conditions as they are. Paralleling any other kind action I can take, if I plant specimens indigenous to my region and well-suited to my specific location, I am making inroads to become a good neighbor to all of the creatures I co-habitate this community with. It’s likely that most people don’t have peat bogs on their property to create a bog habitat garden in, and that’s fine. I definitely don’t encourage the purchase of peat moss as a gardening amendment for soil enrichment or to create a contrived bogsphere, given it’s non-renewable-ness coupled with the aggressive harvesting that it’s unfortunately subjected to. Accepting my garden’s conditions means educating myself on what native plants will thrive on my property exactly as it is, and embracing these species.
Bumblebees going crazy for native Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata.
Simply put, native plants are food for native wildlife. Visiting a natural area like the beautiful native meadow bog habitat can generate some inspiration for my garden designs if I respect the natural systems in play: successful native plants are growing where the conditions are favorable to the plants’ druthers. The plants that successfully outcompete the other seed bank residents become the carrying capacity for their respective insect hosts, and that is quite literally (considering the food web) what makes the world go round.
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