The joy of mud – Part One

Bog gardening involves mud. In my case it is not so much mud, as a kind of clay slurry, which creeps up the Wellington boots, up the waterproof overtrousers, and coats the handles of shovels and pickaxe. Dealing with this stuff demands a regression to a childhood where being allowed to get muddy was a thrill…

Why do it? Well, bog gardening, by definition, means that there’s no shortage of water, but it is useful for the gardener to know where the water is coming from and how it can best be channeled to where it is useful rather than pooling into a sub-surface stagnant swamp. Many times I’ve planted something into what looks like an ideal patch of damp ground, only for it to rot. Digging up the remains inevitably shows that the roots had hit a patch of evil-smelling, anaerobic, waterlogged muck – and that signals The End for almost all plants.

This charming scene portrays the start of my latest effort to do some water engineering. Water seeps down the steep bank at the back using the cracks between layers of sandstone and compressed clay. I’ve cut back into the bank to find the source of this particular seep. I’ll decide how to use it once I am clear about where it is coming from and how consistent the flow is…The digging is not made easier by the fact that stones of all kinds have tumbled down the bank over the years and now need to be extracted from the ooze. I’ll use most of them when it comes to turning the hole into something resembling a drainage channel.Another day on, and the number of stones grows. I’m going to cut out all the gravelly rubbish on the right of the hole and replace it with something that plants might actually grow in. All the waste has to be carried out in buckets, as a barrow would just sink. The old terra-cotta tile drains which I also found in the hole were, of course completely clogged with fine clay silt. Modern, plastic drainage pipe is no better – in fact worse. An open channel is the only answer.

I’ll keep you up to date with this exciting project when I can next face another mud bath.

11 thoughts on “The joy of mud – Part One

  1. Wow. That is quite a project, and I certainly don’t envy you. Once the mud is removed, can it be used for anything — or enhanced for planting? I know that bogs are all over Scotland, and that some locals cut out blocks of peat to burn. Is this similar to your bog area? Good luck with the project.

  2. Hi Kevin,

    The clay spoil is fairly useless for growing anything, but I use it for banking up paths, or for filling holes. Turning my clay subsoil into something useful involves huge amounts of additional organic material over several years and constant turning. Then it becomes viable, but for the most part it’s easier to dig it out and backfill with loam and compost. But a clay soil is at least very fertile. Peat bogs are rather different – low in nutrition and growing only a small range of specialised plants. I do have a small amount of peat in some adjacent woodland, which I occasionally dig to build peat walls with. It’s not good enough quality to burn though.

  3. It looks a rather tough job! I have similar problems in winter in my garden, everything is waterlogged so we dug a ditch to channel the water on a pond, and then on a bigger ditch. In summer we have the opposite problem BTW, no rain at all. Please send us some of your big black clouds!

  4. This seems like one of those love it and hate it projects. There are parts that are fun and interesting — and it’s a useful project — but there are aspects of it that are just no fun at all, at least after the first day. Good luck, and hope it goes well with no unwelcome surprises!

    • Laura, that’s quite right….I’ve never had to use a pond liner of any kind anywhere, which means that marginal plants can do what they are supposed to do – live with their roots half in and half out of water. But the fact that clay seals so well does mean that water sometimes pools where you don’t want it to – hence the need to think about drainage.

    • It’s just a low wall made of blocks of peat, behind which, or on which, you can grow peat-loving plants such as gentians… I’ll put up a photo, sure, although it’s not very picturesque!

  5. Just wondering if anybody has ever used “bog mud” to add to the soil in a normal garden… Been through a few sites and I figured one of you bog gardeners might know about the benefits or drawbacks to doing this… Any info would be helpful, thanks 🙂

    • Hi Robert – sorry to take so long to reply; I’ve been taking a break. The answer is that it’s probably not wise, but a lot ‘depends’ There are two possible hazards. One is that organic material in the mud may have rotted inorganically in the absence of oxygen, and will then actually take nutrients out of your soil rather than add them. The other is that ‘bog mud’ is apt to be very fine silt, and you may find it stops your soil being as open and friable. If you are going to experiment, do it in small steps and see what happens. Good luck.

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