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GARDENING : Whole Bog : Landscapers float some ideas to make soggy spaces bloom with more than just lilies. Some plants even keep wwater healthy, so go...

July 02, 1994|KAREN DARDICK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ann Thompson was tired of the traditional front yard of her Santa Ana house and decided to transform it into something private, attractive and different: a bog.

Now, Thompson enjoys a secluded courtyard featuring a dramatic water garden, koi pond with tile waterfalls, and a bog garden. The 5- by 40-foot waterscape has a modern geometric design, with a courtyard wall forming part of the enclosure. The bog garden abuts the wall, softening the structure and adding color and visual interest.

Most people envision water lilies when they think of water gardens. But the landscape designer Thompson hired to transform her yard encouraged her to go beyond that.

Katherine Rue, head of the Rue Group landscape design firm in Fullerton, had personal experience with bog plants, having added a water garden to her former residence in Cerritos.

"The bog plants brought so many interesting delights to our landscape," Rue said. "There are so many choices, and these plants add interesting foliage, textures, flowers, and even attract wildlife."

Rue remembers brilliantly shimmering dragonflies hovering over the bog garden. She also was surprised to see that small toads had moved in, and a bullfrog arrived one day to claim the aquatic landscape as his home.

Thompson readily agreed to Rue's suggestion and now has more than 50 bog plants in her garden, in addition to seven water lilies and 60 koi, which swim in the adjacent pond.

Bog plants are those that grow in shallow water or very soggy soil, usually on the perimeter of a pond or lake. The definition is broadened to include aquatic plants, those that grow directly in water.

Some, like water hyacinth or watercress, float with their roots extending directly into the water. Others are deciduous or evergreen plants ranging in height from less than a foot to eight feet or more. Some of the standard garden favorites, like callas and certain varieties of cannas and iris, also thrive in water.

Most bog plants are grown for their foliage and produce either insignificant flowers or flower for just a few weeks in spring. Others, though, such as pickerel, bloom all summer.

You don't need a pond or lake to include some bog plants in your landscape. Any body of standing water will do.

At the Thompson residence, for instance, an additional small bog garden was created in an old claw-foot bathtub on the patio. Callas, cannas and water iris thrive there in pots placed on bricks.

"There's no minimum size for a bog garden; even a container will work," said John Rasmussen, owner of Rasmussen Waterscapes. Rasmussen, whose headquarters are in the San Gabriel Valley, designs and installs water gardens and koi ponds. He is an enthusiastic advocate of bog plants.

"They help break up the horizontal line of water and lily pads and carry the eye into the rest of the garden to tie in with the overall landscape," he said.

A water garden needs specific ingredients--oxygenating grasses, water lilies and fish--to create a healthy environmental balance.

Specific scientific formulas based on how much water is in the pond dictate the number of water lilies, bunches of grass and fish required to ensure the balance that leads to clear water and healthy plants and fish. An imbalance contributes to murky, brackish water, algae overgrowth, diseased or dead fish and an unattractive appearance.

In the wild, a body of water has different depths. The shallow edges are host to rushes, grasses, small floating plants and other plants with root systems that flourish in water depths of one foot or less.

In re-creating a natural bog, you can make a ledge along the edges of your pond by stacking large blocks or bricks just inside the perimeter. Bog plants in containers can then be placed on the ledges. The tops of the containers should be just below the water's surface.

Here are some suggestions for planting and maintaining bog plants:

* Select a container appropriate to the ultimate size of the plant--three- or five-gallon containers for large or medium-sized plants; one gallon for the small ones.

* Plant in regular garden soil--even clay is acceptable--rather than potting mix. Place one inch of Nitrohumus or similar organic material in the bottom of the container to fertilize. Fill with garden soil. Add the plant, moisten and pack the soil and top with medium-sized gravel or builder's sand. Carefully lower onto a shelf or blocks so dirt doesn't spill out.

* During the growing season, prune according to plant's growth. Add fertilizing tablets formulated for aquatic plants according to package directions.

* Each spring, before the start of new growth, inspect your plants to see if they need attention. Repot if the plant has overgrown its container or needs fresh soil. Replenish mulch material and trim foliage and roots that may have gone astray.

By carefully selecting your plants, you can minimize the maintenance efforts and have time to sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of a water garden.

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