Many of us have a depressing area in the garden that gets completely waterlogged during the wet season. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the spot the kids sink into and lose their gumboots. You can’t even mow it during the wet because you’re afraid you’ll need a winch to get the mower out, and every plant you’ve ever planted there has turned into a lifeless stick.
Don’t give up on your seasonal swamp just yet. As architects like to say, “if it’s a problem, turn it into a feature”. It’s all a matter of correct plant selection and timing. There are a number of native north Queensland plants that naturally thrive in these conditions. The easiest way to find these water tolerant plants is to head to a specialist native plant nursery and simply have the staff show them to you. However if you would like a head start, here are a few of my favourites.
If you’ve got plenty of room, you might like to try a Leichhardt tree (Nauclea orientalis). This very fast growing large tree will even tolerate flooding for the entire wet season. Paperbarks such as the very elegant silver leafed paperbark (Melaleuca argentea) with its long weeping foliage take up a lot less room and will look good in larger gardens. If space is limited there are also a number of plants that are very suitable. Native Cunjevoi with its massive leaves look like an exotic house-plant, but is 100 per cent native and local. The stunning fan palm (Licuala ramsayi) isn’t only water-tolerant, but it’s also a garden feature in its own right. If you’re after a bit of colour, add a couple of purple flowering swamp orchids (Spathoglottis paulinae) and what about my all time favourite plants for a boggy spot, the pandanus. They may not be everyone’s first choice due to their sharp spiny leaves, but I think their symmetrical growth and long light-grey foliage look great in any location. In addition their prickly leaves will deter the kids from losing their gumboots in the mud.
The timing of planting your waterlogged garden is just as important as the species you put in it. As tempting as it may be, you can’t plant it during the wet season while it’s still waterlogged. These plants are tolerant but they still need time to get established, so plant them just after the wet season. Any time from now should be fine. Once planted, ensure you keep them nice and moist until the rains come again. If you plant your plants snug and close together (about 50cm apart), you’ll end up with a nice dense mass of green leaves and eliminate the need to mow or even weed.
Just remember, a waterlogged area in the garden isn’t a problem, it’s a feature in waiting.
(Published in Cairns City Life magazine, April 2008)