Garden writer Ciscoe Morris recommends Japanese iris, primrose and spiderwort for soggy conditions, and suggests ways to conserve water in the garden.

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In the Garden

Q: You often describe a plant’s drought tolerance, but I live next to a creek. In the rainy season our yard is a big puddle. I need plants that are water-tolerant. Roses die, bulbs rot, only blueberries are happy. Can you give me a couple of suggestions of other plants that don’t mind wet feet?

A: There are some incredible shrubs and perennials that prefer damp conditions and can withstand having their roots submerged underwater for short periods in rainy weather. One of the most colorful for summer bloom is Japanese iris (Iris ensata). These extremely hardy perennials feature spectacular flat-topped blossoms that, depending on the variety, can reach 12 inches wide atop 4-foot stems. The flowers come in a variety of colors and are often veined or edged in contrasting shades. For a stunning combination, pair the Japanese iris with equally hardy Carex alata ‘Aurea.’ This golden-yellow grasslike perennial loves moist conditions and will grow even in standing water. For late spring color, add in a mix of primrose varieties known to thrive in moist soil. Primula japonica flowers on unique tiers with up to five whorls of attractive purple flowers on each stem, while the yellow bell-shaped clusters on P. florindaeis are as fragrant as they are beautiful. Summer-blooming perennials that love moisture include Aster, Astilbe, Filipendula (meadow rue), Tradescantha (spiderwort) and perennial Lobelia. Finally, if you want to add a real conversation piece to your garden, give Gunnera manicata a try. Hardy to zone 7, these honkers thrive in moisture-retentive soil and full sun, where they can reach 8 feet tall and wide, with leaves 4 to 8 feet across. Once you plant one, you’ll understand why its common name is Dinosaur Food!

Q. With the low snow pack, how about some tips to reduce the need to water and still have an attractive garden?

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

‘Design Tips for an Environmentally Friendly Oh La La Garden’: Ciscoe Morris will talk about creating a beautiful garden without chemical pesticides at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, Bellevue Botanical Garden, 12001 Main St., Bellevue; $15, $5 BBGS members (

‘The Amazing Biodiversity of South Africa’s Cape Region’: Northwest Horticultural Society lecture with Ernesto Sandoval, director of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, March 11 (reception 6:45 p.m.), Center for Urban Horitculture, 3501 N.E. 41st St., Seattle; $10, $5 NHS members (

‘Small Conifers for Small Gardens’: North American Rock Garden Society meeting, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12. Bellevue Botanical Garden, 12001 Main St., Bellevue; free (

Northwest Perennial Alliance Annual Nicolay Lecture: 1 p.m. Sunday, March 15 (doors open at noon for plant sale). Sean Hogan, owner of Cistus Nursery, will talk about his favorite new plants and star performers. Bellevue Botanical Garden, 12001 Main St., Bellevue; $5 to $20 (

A. There are steps you can take that will help conserve water without sacrificing the appearance of your garden. Begin by applying at least an inch-thick layer of organic mulch over the soil surface. Arborist wood chips are a great choice for areas dominated with woody trees and shrubs, while compost is the best choice for perennial borders and vegetable gardens. Mulch cools the soil surface, reduces evaporation and holds water, reducing runoff while increasing absorption. Grouping plants according to their water needs makes it much easier to know how much and often to water in each area of the garden. Plant thirsty plants like Ligularia, Hostas and Hydrangeas in shadier areas or in low spots that tend to stay moist, and save the hot, sunny locations for drought-tolerant heat lovers such as lavender, salvia and dwarf conifers. Water early in the cool of the morning to minimize evaporation and, where practical, use soaker hoses to water vegetable and garden beds. When using overhead sprinklers, adjust the settings to water only the bed or lawn rather than the sidewalk. Consider allowing your lawn to go dormant, and if you decide to water the grass, remember that even in hot, dry weather, lawns generally need only an inch of water per week. Established beds and lawns perform better with deep and infrequent waterings. In newly planted beds, look for wilting plants and be prepared to hand water if needed.