Growbag Blog

10 plants for a soggy summer


Oh, it’s been WET, hasn’t it!  What a damp start to the summer!  There have already been so many events affected by the rain – even the Trooping of the Colour didn’t get through unscathed.  

We know that Caroline is quietly thrilled that we Southerners have been getting Highland weather for months now. But some plants have revelled in the soggy conditions, and we’re taking a look at 10 of our favourites today…

Ferns. If ever there was a plant made for a wet spring and early summer in the UK, it’s a fern.  Some, like the eastern wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) , are recommended for dry shade, but give even these tough specimens a bit of moisture and they take on the form and presence of a lush exotic.

The common male ferns are having a whale of a time!

You can get some peculiar ferns (Laura has probably got a few🙄), but I prefer the common wild ones – male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas), hart’s tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium), and polypody (Polypody vulgare).  They’ve had a ball this year.  And the very best thing is the slugs and snails don’t eat them, unlike hostas which, if un-nibbled do also enjoy the wet along with hydrangeas of course – the clue’s in the name! (see our feature pic for both!)

Clematis.  This climber hates having dry roots – end of story.  I grow a lot of them and if I see that one is suffering, almost certainly the cause is lack of water. No worries in 2024.  Every type of clematis, no matter what ‘Group’, has embraced the rain with gleeful jungly growth.  I might have to wait a touch longer for some sunshine to bring out the flowers, mind you, but at least they are very, very happy. I made a little video of some of them – link at the end.

Here’s Clematis ‘Rebecca’ – like all the other clematis, she’s adored the wet spring

Cut-leaved elder.  I have never really thought of elder (Sambucus) as a damp-loving plant as such, but this year it has romped away and the only difference that I can detect is the weather so it must be that. The dark-leaved form (S. nigra) provides almost the perfect foil for roses of all hues (these have been enjoying all the squelchy weather too!)

Rosy flowers sit among the dramatic leaves of dark-leaved elder which is romping away


Hmmm have any of you noticed that whatever our topic Elaine seems to be able to manoeuvre clematis into the discussion? Here are some more discerning plants that have loved this mild wet lead up to summer.

Bergenia ciliata. Originally (like so many of my best plants) a present from Louise, this bergenia is grown mainly for its voluptuous hairy leaves which look stunning in a deep west-facing border. Try to grow it on the edge of its bed so the leaves can flop out and catch your eye.

Bergenia ciliata
Bergenia ciliata sports gorgeous, characterful leaves in a wet year really living up to bergenia’s common name of elephant’s ears!

Rodgersia podophyllum. Rodgersias are real bellwether plants – their handsome red-flushed leaves looking sumptuous in moist soil and are a crumpled eyesore in drought summers. The big question is, here in the South East, does the glory of the former scenario outweigh the scene of devastation of the latter?

It’s better than hanging seaweed by your backdoor but is the display in a wet summer …..
..adequate compensation for this in a dry summer?

Candelabra primulas. Again a plant that is happiest in moist soil but unlike the giant rodgersias you can get away with growing these lovely primroses in pots and simulate the damp conditions they thrive in by standing them ankle-deep in water in a trough.

The best of the bunch to my mind is Primula florindae, the giant Himalayan cowslip, and I was able to ship some young plants up to the Highlands this last weekend to create a little display of them for Caroline’s Open Garden event. I’ve left them there with her as I know that her garden location, climate and topography is so closely aligned with the Himalayan foothills that they’ll be very happy there.

Primula florindae
The giant Himalayan cowslip – quite at home, it seems, in the garden of The House at Wildcat Corner

Runner beans

Yes, although I’m not in the Western Highlands (expect circa five feet of rain a year there but scenery to compensate),  it’s certainly true that even on the east coast my driest, free-draining beds are still perfectly agreeable to damp-loving plants. Hurrumph!

It has obvious down-sides for the life-cycle of roses – (eager growth, masses of buds, startled paralysis in response to prolonged cold showers, buds fizzle out) but our temperate climate can produce spectacular plant performances and I’m quietly relishing the new interest my southern-based sisters are showing now they’re similarly awash!

Take, for instance, my Euphorbia palustris. It goes up like a rocket every year (forget the RHS predicted height of 90 cms, mine is well over 1.5 metres) and there it stays all summer and potentially all winter if I didn’t cut it down. Its common name ‘marsh spurge’ is the giveaway – very happy with a soggy bottom.

Euphorbia palustris – the wetter it gets, the higher it grows!

I would definitely include Eupatorium in the same stable. It’s a late summer performer so it’s only now rumbling through the surface in my garden but, hang on to your hats, it loves a bit of sun and damp toes. I’ve likened it before to Marilyn Munro turning up at your local Am-Dram. You’ll see what I mean in September.

My ‘Marilyn Munro’ of the September garden Eupatorium purpureum

Next is particularly pleasing for me. Trollius ‘Cheddar’.  Now, any plant that’s ‘everywhere’ at Chelsea, isn’t normally ‘anywhere’ in my garden. But this year London’s sharp U-turn from its obsession for ‘drought tolerant’ to ‘wet tolerant’ plants, means we are at last on the same page. Trollius love the damp, and ‘Cheddar’ is a delicate beauty – although I do also love a ballsy Trollius ‘Orange Queen’!

‘Everywhere’ at Chelsea this year and unbelievably ‘somewhere’ in my garden also. The lovely damp-loving Trollius ‘Cheddar’

Finally Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’ , I’ve run out of adjectives for this fabulously enthusiastic plant which appears able to withstand downpour after deluge with no loss of gloss.

Its gorgeous thistly heads (loved by pollinators) are even the colour of a full-bodied red wine. Was ever a plant designed so especially for me?

Lapping up the rain Cirsium – an all-round topper for wet weather.

Take a look at Elaine’s happy clematis collection in her short video

You wouldn’t know it was there for most of the year but in early summer it does this! No wonder it’s Louise’s Great Plant this Month…

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

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