Read through growing guides for pretty much any plant and you’ll see instructions like “ensure soil is moist but well-drained” or “this plant requires good drainage.”
And it figures: the roots of most plants don’t thrive in overly wet conditions.
They get damp and soggy, and this is a breeding ground for all sorts of problems.
Left in this condition too long and the roots begin to rot; leave this unchecked for too long and the whole plant can die off.
But what if you live somewhere that gets a lot of rain? Or if part of your garden is prone to puddles and pooled water? Should you just abandon hope and give up your dreams of a vibrant garden?
We’re pleased to tell you that the answer to this question is a firm “no!”
There are plenty of plants that will do well in wet soils.
We’ve rounded up eight options that you can grow in your waterlogged garden without fear of damaging or killing them off.
How to tell whether you have wet soil
The first step we recommend is to check whether you actually have wet or waterlogged soil.
For new gardeners who aren’t familiar with what different soil types feel like, this step is a great way to ensure you choose plants that are suitable for your garden.
Thankfully this test is simple, although you will need to do a bit of digging. Here’s how to do it –
- Dig a hole to 60cm deep.
- Leave it for 24 hours, taking care to cover it over to prevent any rain getting in
- Check to see whether water has pooled in the bottom at the end of this period
If water has pooled you have a high water table, meaning soil conditions will always be wet.
If no water is pooled you can do another test to check your drainage: simply fill the hole with water and another 24 hours, taking care again to cover the hole. If you’ve still got water in the hole at the end, drainage is poor.
Equipped with this knowledge you can choose the right plants for your garden.
Plants for wet and waterlogged gardens
Now you know how to check your soil, here are eight plants well suited to growth in wet or poorly drained conditions.
Iris ensata ‘Rose Queen’
This iris has delicate pink-white petals that get gradually darker approaching the centre, before a bold yellow streak.
The distinctive petal shape and formation is a pleasure to behold, and this plant is a great first choice for any wet garden.
Ideal growing conditions for this iris are full sun or partial shade, in any aspect except north-facing.
Loamy, poorly drained soil is preferred (as you’d expect in this article!) and the plant is very hardy – suited to all but the most unusually severe British winter.
Take care when handling this plant as ingesting it may cause discomfort: it’s advised to wear gloves and wash your hands to minimise the risk of this happening.
The arum lily is also known as the altar, calla, trumpet, Egyptian, or African lily. Or, if you want to be really formal, Zantesdeschia aethiopica.
Whatever you want to call it though, the characteristic swirling white petal with its yellow interior is a beautiful addition to any garden.
In clay or loam soil with poor drainage, this flower will thrive. Choose a spot that also has full sun or partial shade, and a west- or south-facing aspect.
As with the iris we recommend gloves when handling this plant.
Sometimes you find a plant whose name and appearance align perfectly.
For us, the wispy white fronds at the end of each green stalk looks exactly like the wispy white whiskers on your average farmyard goat.
So if that’s an aesthetic you’re going for, you’re in luck. And if not, this plant has enough to offer visually that you’re in luck anyway.
Goat’s beard likes poorly drained clay or loam, and needs full or partial sun. Avoid a north-facing aspect.
You don’t need to worry about wearing gloves while handling this hardy plant, as there’s no risk of discomfort or irritation from handling it.
From afar each clump of small pink flowers looks like a flower of its own, making this plant rewarding for the curious observer. We also like this one for its wild, rustic appeal.
It’s a plant that doesn’t have much deliberate cultivation behind it, but which has held its own and persevered for generations.
The name evokes old-timey English gardens, and incorporating masterwort into your waterlogged floral display will add a streak of undeniable character.
Not fussy in terms of sunlight, exposure, or soil type, this plant shouldn’t be too much trouble to grow. It can even tolerate moist but well-drained soil, making it a good option for an area of your garden prone to be changeable.
Here’s another name that brings to mind bygone days, in cottage gardens tucked far away from the hustle and bustle of the 21st century. This small and bushy shrub boasts rich green leaves and a dazzling bouquet of yellow flowers.
Although it’s an evergreen this plant only has a hardiness rating of H2 meaning it will struggle in winter. Expect a short summer bloom, though, and you won’t be disappointed.
A wet spot with or without drainage will be favourite for this plant. Choose somewhere with full sun or partial shade, in a south- or east-facing aspect. Avoid chalky soil.
Lily of the valley
This is a very famous plant, and for good reason. You may see it referred to by a range of names including May lily, mugget, mayflower, lady’s tears and more.
This is testament to widespread appreciation, and an indication that the plant was popular enough to be named in many regions.
The white bonnet-shaped flowers are delicate and gentle, and will stand out against other bold flowers thanks to their unusual appearance.
Lily of the valley will look great either on its own or as part of a display with other plants in this list.
To grow, find a spot in full or partial shade, facing any direction except south. Look for clay or loam soil, and ensure good levels of moisture.
If you like wispy fronds like the goat’s beard, then the Chinese astilbe is another good choice for your garden.
This plant has striking light pink fronds that stand proudly above the ground, making this plant great for the back rows of wet ground floral displays.
The astilbe will do best in poorly drained loamy soil, in a location with full sun or partial shade. Avoid a north-facing aspect if possible.
Find the right spot and you’ll be rewarded with a stunning pink bloom in summer.
Fear not: though this plant has weed in the name, it’s not going to overrun your garden and cause you problems!
In fact, pickerelweed – full name pontederia cordata – is perfectly suited to marginal aquatic conditions (read: it likes growing at the edge of water).
To the untrained eye the purple-blue fronds at the end of each stalk look a little like lavender, but the overall aesthetic of this plant is very different.
Combined with the pinks and whites and purples in this list, a little bit of blue in your garden’s palette will pack a lot of punch.
Look for a spot in clay or loam soil near the edge of water. This plant thrives in full sunlight, and will do best in a south- or west-facing exposure.
Wet and waterlogged gardens need love too
Hopefully after reading this list you feel renewed hope that your wet and waterlogged garden can be made to thrive.
While these aren’t the plants you’ll see on most lists of best plants for British gardens, each one has a distinct aesthetic and stands ready to make a stunning visual contribution to your garden.
We looked for a selection of shapes and sizes to give you a few options, but remember this list is far from exhaustive.
There are hundreds of plants that will do well in soggy soil, and if you keep hunting we’re sure you’ll find the perfect combination to set your garden popping.