Whims of Climate
I won’t waste column inches here waxing on about the recently atrocious weather that we have had – when you finish work after midnight, as I sometimes do, and there are no buses, I’m all too familiar with the whims of climate. Instead, I’m going to devote this article to suggestions as to how the heavy rain that many have been suffering lately can be prepared for in future, and how your flooded garden needn’t suffer so badly as a result.
The best measures one can take are always preventative ones. Eliminate the cause rather than the effect and if your garden is prone to flooding, the best investment you can make is in your soil. Simply digging in plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure may be enough to solve your problems as it is excellent for absorbing water and also allowing it to drain once the soil or manure itself has become flooded.
Next, look at your garden as a whole. Consider its topography – does it run on a slope? Is it bordered by trees or other root-intense plants? Are you located near a body of water which might exacerbate your risk of flood?
Obviously living next to a river is asking for trouble and there’s not much you can do about it if its bank overflow, however, other factors can be changed if necessary.
Any slope in your plot will obviously help to spread any flood water in a certain direction and this is fine if the house is at the top of the plot. However, you can manipulate the flow of water away from the house by making sure that patio areas have a slight slope towards the garden. Also, by digging irrigation trenches or soak-aways, more water can easily be drained away from lawns and flower beds.
The presence of roots in your garden has a two-fold advantage very similar to that of compost in that they break up the solidity of your soil and make it easier to drain ground water and, of course trees and other plants themselves absorb water too. So, a well-planted garden will also help with flooding and standing water problems.
Having prepared the ground of your garden and planted it up, your first priority once the weather warnings come, should be the protection and storage of your most fragile plants, as many can suffer in stormy conditions. If they can be moved, preferably put them in a solid structure greenhouse. This may not be possible with larger specimens and those planted directly in the ground, so for that you might invest in some cloches or fleece to cover them.
In one of our own recent projects, flooding was a serious problem and made the garden largely out of bounds for the children in the winter months and unpleasant to use in the summer. We successfully solved this by laying a system of plastic honeycomb panels that were then filled with gravel, covered with soil and the new lawn lain on top.
Despite the aforementioned warning, you needn’t completely shear your garden of colour because of heavy rain. On the contrary, certain cultivars thrive under what might be considered unsatisfactory conditions for other plants.
There is a wealth of plants which enjoy damper conditions than most –
the Yellow Flag Iris for example is a wonderfully bright and long-lived flower, but buyer beware as they can cause severe stomach irritation if ingested!
Day Lilies are also worth considering as they come in a wide variety of colours and flower over a long season.
The Common Dogwood is a useful shrub with white flower heads in spring and foliage which turns a deep red in the autumn. If you choose certain varieties you’ll also have vibrantly coloured bark in winter too.
As to trees suitable for wet soil, you could go for the obvious Willow, but be careful not to plant them too close to buildings as they can cause damage to the foundations!
There are many, many other plants and shrubs, so if unsure, consult your garden centre before purchasing.
However, if it’s too late for all that and you want to know what to do after the heavy rain and flooding, try to stay off wet grass and soil – if you don’t you’ll just compact it more and make the problem worse. Once drier weather comes (and it will!) assess the damage, remove any dead material and start to put in place some of the suggestions outlined above in case of flooding to you garden in the future.
By Josh Ellison