Must have plants for a flood resilient garden

May 1, 2024

Everyone likes to get out into the garden during Spring, so when you hit the garden centres and nurseries to stock up on goodies, make sure you take a shopping list of plants that can help you become more flood resilient. These plants, which won’t break the bank, will stand up to the water, bounce back after flooding, and may even help with soaking up some of the flood water.


Species of willow are often naturally found on stream-sides and boggy slopes, where the soil is reliably damp, but will drain after being inundated with water. Some varieties can grow very large, but there are plenty of smaller cultivars which are ideal for medium-sized and smaller gardens. Look out for cultivars of Salix gracilistyla, such as ‘Mount Aso’ and ‘Melanostachys’ which have colourful fuzzy catkins in spring, while Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’ aka S. alba ‘Chermesina’, forms a decent tree which, like many willows, can be kept compact by pollarding or coppicing if required.

Water mints

Mints are well-known and well-loved, and although they can spread themselves around a bit in the open garden, where conditions are less-than-ideal this could actually be an asset. Water mint, Mentha aquatica, has dark green foliage with a strong and delicious mint scent, while daintier water spearmint, Mentha cervina, is more gently aromatic. Both have blue or mauve-ish flowers, adored by bees and other pollinators.


An adaptable plant for a damp spot, astilbes are robust, clump-forming perennials which grow around 80cm high. In summer, they produce soft, fluffy plumes of flowers in shades of white, pink, cerise and red, carried over ferny foliage. Growing best in a shady or partially-shady spot, this plant will brighten up a darker corner, and since it will put up with occasional inundation and insists on moist ground, it is a good option for heavy soils and wetter climates.

Male fern

Native to the UK and much of the northern hemisphere, Dryopteris filix-mas unfurls its croziers in spring to reveal feathery, deep green fronds, on a plant that will clump up in time. Like most ferns, it prefers damp soil and will take ephemeral flooding, although it dislikes long-term waterlogging. The male ferns prefer shade or part shade, so they are an excellent choice for a woodland planting scheme. For a sunnier location opt for Osmunda regalis, the royal fern, which can also be grown in shallow water. 

Lady’s Smock

The pale lilac-coloured cuckoo flower is so called because it flowers at the same time as the cuckoo starts to call in England. Other names include lady’s smock and milkmaids. It is often found, as here, in damp grassy places. In 1767, in a learned book on medical botany, the flowers were recommended as an ‘anti-spasmodic remedy’ – but not for epilepsy. (I add this for historical colour and not as a recommendation.) Close up, selective focus on left hand flower.

When faced with a damp lawn, the best thing to do is embrace it and enhance it with plants that are well-adapted to the conditions. Cardamine pratensis thrives in wet meadows and boggy areas and it deals well with sitting in a shallow puddle for long periods, as long as there is plenty of sunshine. Pretty, pale lilac flowers are carried on spikes above rosettes of ferny green foliage in late spring and early summer and, in addition to providing nectar for pollinators, lady’s smock is one of the main food plants for the caterpillars of the orange tip butterfly.