Sunday, February 5, 2012

Moist, well-drained soil, only a legend?

     I'm looking at the seed and plant catalogs and dreaming of a better garden.  So many plants I covet!  I try to read the copy with a critical eye, trying to decide if a plant can really be successful in my garden with only ordinary luck and with the ordinary level of effort I can give.  According to the catalog descriptions, it seems that most plants require "constantly moist, well-drained soil".  I have some spots in my garden with moist soil, especially on days like this after a half-inch of drizzly rain fell last night.  I have lost lots of plants in these spots.  They don't like "wet feet".  I have other spots in my garden that don't have the problem of wet feet, some with excellent drainage indeed (i.e. pots).  Plants in these spots tend to gasp and wilt in our hot summers because I don't have time to water twice a day.  I had trouble even visualizing where constantly moist, well-drained soil could be found or what it would look like.
Lobelia cardinalis
     Until I visited Virginia's Shenandoah National Park in August and had an epiphany.  I found this gem of moist, well-drained soil, a Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) growing in the wild here.   So, here's the vital clue about where to find constantly moist, well-drained soil ... on the rocky ledges surrounding a waterfall!
Dark Hollows Falls, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
     Here is a slightly wider view of the Cardinal Flower.
Lobelia cardinalis in very moist, very well-drained soil
Dark Hollows Falls, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
     We had to wait for another photographer to finish photographing the falls from the one dry spot that would give a full head-on view, and more photographers were waiting for us before we were done.  So the photo above is obviously not such an original composition.  While I waited, I climbed up on a ledge to get a different viewpoint and found a big colony of Turtlehead (Chelone species) which was unfortunately too shaded to photograph.  I had lost some Turtlehead in my garden during a too-dry summer.  Fortunately, not all the plants I admire require constantly moist, well-drained soil, and even some of the ones that are described that way in the catalogs seem to take the conditions I have for them reasonably well once established.  But now I know where to move to if I want a garden full of these treasures.  When I can have a garden on the banks of a waterfall, I can have them all.


  1. haha - I purchased two plants today, both that said need "moist, well-drained soil". I thought to myself - yeah, right! I'll stick them where I have room, and hope they make it. Of course, I guess I could go with the plan of moving to where there is a waterfall!

    1. Oh good! It's encouraging to see other, better gardeners than me do the same thing. Luckily, the plants often do make it. They're more versatile than the tags give them credit for.