THE MOIST SHADY GARDEN

Blessed is the gardener who has a piece of naturally moist land canopied with light shade, for he can grow some particularly lovely plants. But where, one wonders, are such favoured conditions to be found? They are most often seen in large woodland gardens, perhaps with waterfalls and lakes, where the leaf-fall over centuries has created a soft mattress of acid soil; and a garden on a stream may have moist verges under trees.

But many small and unsung shady gardens have natural moisture, perhaps not used to its best advantage. A garden with underlying clay will be moisture-retentive. So long as the gardener, grumbling, no doubt, about the strain on his back, cultivates and aerates the top- soil. A garden on a slope will be moister at the bottom than at the top. A garden on normal soil can be made more moisture-retentive with the addition of peat. Moist soil is worth searching for and working well, for it is fertile soil and can be the home of many luxuriant plants, often with beautiful foliage.

So the damp, shady garden may be a gift of nature, or it may be partly created by man. Cultivation and mulching will be his most important contributions. The cultivation of clay soil will mean that rain gets to the roots of the plants instead of panning on the top; on drier soils, peat can be worked in at planting time, and be supported by subsequent mulches of peat, leafmould or compost.

Should one water moisture-loving plants in time of drought? Here, I can only pose a question rather than give a final answer. If you have a source of soft water, the answer is certainly yes, and Mrs Fish, in her garden of limy clay, had many water-tubs to catch the rain. If you rely on tap water, often cold and hard, you may do more harm than good, and I have much evidence of lime-hating plants like rhododendrons being damaged by watering. I return to those two words which I have perhaps used too often for your patience: cultivate and mulch.

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