By Cindy Kretlow, Montgomery County Master Gardener
The bog garden: what a dismal name for a beautiful collection of gardens! But the main component of this area, the bog itself, exists to illustrate that a low-lying part of property need not be filled in to aid drainage! It can be modified to work with nature. The bog actually drains beyond the fence at the rear of the gardens and forms a small rivulet and eventually a little pond.
The addition of two Bald Cypress trees into the bog itself has greatly altered the problem of ‘too much sun’. Full sun caused our bog to remain dry during the hot summer months and proved a challenge to keeping Elephant Ears , Hibiscus, Pickerel Rush and Lizard’s Tail damp. Although several of these plants could take full sun, they also enjoy consistently moist conditions. This year several Elephant Ears (Colocasias) were removed from the bog because they were spreading beyond their boundaries. One of these, Illustris, was a black and green beauty that spread by runners beneath the ground. No wonder it was taking over! To replace Illustris and the equally invasive Black Magic, two new clumping Colocasias have been planted: the shiny-leafed Black Coral and the lovely green, white and pink White Lava. These are surrounded by both red and white Texas Star Hibiscus and are protected by the canopies of the Bald Cypress trees.
A large Southern Magnolia shelters another shade garden outside the bog. This spring we added several repeat blooming Hydrangeas that get just a bit of filtered light throughout the day. One of our long-time favorites, Dwarf Fairy Duster, survived last winter’s freezes but didn’t make herself known until the very end of May. In past years we have given up on this tropical plant’s winter survival and pulled out what were probably live shrubs! From now on Fairy Duster will be given a reprieve until the very end of spring. Walking past the Magnolia will bring you to the native Chinese Fringe Tree, nicknamed ‘Grancy Greybeard’. Magnificent when covered with white-fringed flowers in the spring, this is a lovely, shiny-leafed deciduous tree.
The Texas Mountain Laurel is down the walkway from the fringe tree. It is planted in a raised bed because this small tree wants to be in dry conditions like Austin, not Houston. The bed it is planted in has a base of sand and the drainage must be close to perfect for this tree to survive.
Another tropical plant that we baby through each winter is the lovely orange flowered Red Orchid Tree. (Yes, its name is ‘red’ but the flower is truly orange/coral.)
This shrubby plant sits next to a pond just inside the bog garden entrance, close to a wonderful Possumhaw Holly and a very hardy Rangoon Creeper. The Rangoon Creeper completely covers a fence that is roughly 10 feet wide. The scent from the red and pink flowers is nearly overpowering! Please come by in late summer and enjoy this lovely display. Across from the Red Orchid Tree (it could be trained into tree-form if there were no annual freezes) is an Improved Banana Shrub. Here we go with names: this plant is called a shrub but is actually a tree! The evergreen Banana Shrub as you see it in the bog area is fully grown and has topped out at about 12’ in a nice, rounded form.
The gardens just behind the greenhouse get a lot of moisture and are home to two more Elephant Ears and a large apricot colored Angel’s Trumpet. Several hundred blooms will easily cover this plant, Brugmansia ‘Inca Sun’, at one time. It is a night bloomer but if you visit the gardens early on a summer morning you can see it in its full glory. 4
As you follow this walkway you pass three Vitex trees, one pink and two lavender. Vitex is a wonderful old-timey tree that fell out of popularity for many decades. If deadheaded this deciduous tree will flower again.
At the rear of the gardens is a large clump of Weavers Bamboo. Freezes have done a lot of damage to this bamboo. It does survive the bitter cold but takes at least one full growing season to regain its full height.
The bog gardens are surrounded by structures on three sides and a driveway on the fourth so there is no room for expansion. The goal of the gardeners who maintain it is just that: maintenance. We attempt to keep weeds out and plants in bounds and grow many different species, many common but some very unusual. The only project in the works is building a storage shed along the rear fence, which will hopefully be completed in the near future. This will necessitate transplanting some really big plants, but isn’t that what gardening is all about? Growing, maintaining, adapting, updating, and changing: this is what gardeners do.
For additional information on this topic or for answers to other gardening questions, contact the Montgomery County Master Gardener Association helpdesk at 936-539-7824 to speak to a Master Gardener, or visit us online at www.mcmga.com. Visitors are welcome to visit the Texas AgriLife Extension office at 9020 Airport Rd in Conroe, TX 77303.
In the spring, our Possumhaw Holly shows off with its prominent red berries covering the branches and inviting visitors to come in for a visit. Come see us soon!