Beautiful insect-friendly plants for damp places

Marsh-marigolds surrounding our wildlife pond © P Brook

Penny and Peter Brook were awarded Gold by Wild about Gardens in 2012 and since then they have worked as volunteers for the scheme. They love gardening for wildlife and want to encourage others to do likewise to reap the personal benefits of a greater connection with nature and to help create a Wilder Kent.

If you have a damp or boggy area in your garden, you have a great opportunity to grow some lovely plants that are an excellent source of pollen and nectar for insects.

We live by the River Eden so the bottom of our garden is always a bit waterlogged in winter, but this year was rather extreme! Your garden doesn’t need to get this wet to be able to grow the plants we talk about below.

Flooded garden - photograph by P Brook

Flooded garden © P Brook

Two of our favourite damp-loving plants are Marsh-marigolds (Caltha palustris) and Lady’s-smock (Cardamine pratensis), both of which are on the RHS Plants for Pollinators: British wildflowers list.

We really look forward to seeing them in early spring. They both have so many common names that we feel that over centuries, other people must have felt a real connection to them as harbingers of spring and a sign of better times to come. In his Flora Britannica, Richard Mabey says that Cuckooflower is the ‘approved’ common name. Other lovely names include Milkmaids, Fairy-flower and May flower.

Lady’s-smock © P Brook

Lady’s-smock © P Brook

Marsh-marigolds were also known as Kingcups and Mayflowers. The Marsh-marigold also has more comic-sounding names, such as Molly-blobs, Gollins and the Publican. The abundance of names reflects the fact that these plants were once a common sight; sadly, they have become more scarce as so much land has been drained over the last century. It is good to make room in our gardens for these lovely plants, particularly as they are so valuable for early insects. Marsh-marigolds provide early pollen and nectar, and Lady’s-smock is a food plant for the larvae of the Orange-tip butterfly, along with other cruciferous plants, such as garlic mustard and honesty.

Ragged-Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) is another damp-loving plant that has declined owing to drainage. Its delicate blooms add grace to any garden during the summer and it is also included in the RHS Plants for Pollinators: British wildflowers list.

Orange-tip butterfly on Ragged-Robin - photograph by P Brook

Orange-tip butterfly on Ragged-Robin © P Brook

In our garden, we find that Marsh-marigolds, Lady’s-smock and Ragged-Robin all do very well in the damp ground next to our wildlife pond rather than being planted actually in the water.  Kent Wildlife Trust’s website includes useful tips on how to make a bog garden and how to build a pond.

If you have enough space in your damp area, you might also want to consider planting a Pussy-willow. In its wildlife gardening tips for the year  Butterfly Conservation highlights the importance of willow trees and bushes as very early sources of pollen which is collected and stored by queen bees to feed their offspring later in the year.

Pussy willow - photograph by P Brook

Pussy willow © P Brook

If you don’t already have any of these lovely plants in your garden, we hope that you will be encouraged to grow them and enjoy their beauty and the wildlife that visits them for many years to come.

Further information
Kent Wildlife Trust’s ‘Wild about Gardens’ scheme is offering advice to gardeners in Kent by telephone this year. Visit our website to enter your garden into the scheme and our trained WAG volunteers will do their best to answer your questions.

Action for Insects Find out how we are tackling insect decline and how you can help.