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Say that I have an area of my lawn (in northern Mississippi) where water tends to pool after a rainstorm (see photo below). This prevents me from effectively installing a traditional garden. Would it work if I instead put in a raised garden? If so, what type would be best? And should it be one where there is a barrier (wood or air or otherwise) between the ground and the bed or is no barrier fine?

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Update: here is what I did:

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I have some experience with this, I think - I am in London, UK, and I tend a plot in an allotment next to a small river, and I am pretty much at the lowest point in the allotment, or I was, but more about that. It used to flood badly every winter, not least because it is, like much of London, on dense clay. Digging the soil the first year was like digging butter, very heavy, very sticky and yellow; in the summer you would need a hammer and chisel.

That was 7 years ago - since then I've managed to raise the level and improve the soil quality a lot. What I've done is quite simple: I dig ditches across the plot, and fill them with wood-chips - these are my foot paths between the beds. After a year or two, the chips will have rotted down to very good compost, which you dig out onto the beds, and then you fill the ditches again. The ditches seem to capture much of the water, the chips wick it away and there is enough air circulation for the water to evaporate. Little by little the whole plot has been raised maybe a foot or more.

I don't know if you have easy access to wood-chips, but I think any compostable matter could work. All plotholders in our allotment have access to free wood-chips. This is because land-scaping gardeners tend to produce lots of wood-chips - and then they have to pay to get rid of them, so they are very happy to give them away to us.

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    "raise the level and improve the soil quality", +1. Till that grass and order a dump truck. – Mazura Feb 22 at 15:11
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This answer assumes that you'll be planting ornamentals, not vegetables. If you're more interested in vegetables, then I would relocate the garden and not try raised beds in that area (after all, would you really like to slog through that muck to pick veggies?)

For ornamentals, another version of Peter's quote is really landscape design 101: "Right Plant, Right Place." So, since you have a wet mess after rains, you might be best served by planting things that like living there: in this case, I would look toward a rain garden rather than a bog garden, given that there are far more varieties of plants available for the former.

Here are some sources, if you're interested in exploring this option:

The Vermont Rain Garden Manual

Don't let the location in the title put you off: this short manual discusses all facets of site selection, sizing, installing, and maintaining a rain garden, all within 9 pages. The rest of the manual is Vermont-centric, so probably won't apply to you.

Mississippi State University Extension Rain Garden Guide

A short discussion of rain gardens, including sizing, along with a short list of Mississippi-specific plants appropriate for planting in a rain garden.

Clemson University's list of plants for wet places

The plants in this list should be zone-appropriate for Mississippi, although the summer humidity on the Gulf Coast could could be a factor in a plant's survival.

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The sort of plants you can grow in your garden will depend on just how wet it is. If you're only talking about the occasional flood you may well be able to get away with a lawn or what you call a "traditional garden". Don't forget that many plants prefer wet or boggy soil. Rather than going for an engineering solution, such as raised beds, why not use plants that suit your gardens conditions. Do you have any decent nurseries or public gardens near you to go for advice or seek inspiration. Try a Google search for "Mississippi", "bog gardens", "moisture loving plants" and similar combinations.

One impressive example, which I believe is native to your neck of the woods, is Taxodium distichum, the swamp cypress.

In the UK, the renowned gardener, Beth Chatto, wrote a book on the subject - The Damp Garden.

Here's an apt quote I found online: "gardeners [should] look to their gardens first and match the plant to the conditions they found. Not the other way around."

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None of the answers seem to directly address the specifics of a raised bed. My yard has very poorly draining soil and lots of rabbits so I decided to build a raised bed.

I wanted it to drain well and I wanted it fairly high to keep the rabbits out and not having to kneel to tend it. On each side of the bed I used 2 cedar 2X12 boards stacked with pre-made corners designed for standard dimensional lumber. This gives it a height of 20 inches or so.

In the bottom, I filled it with a few inches of gravel. This 1) prevents the garden from 'pulling' water up from the ground 2) makes it drain better 3) Reduced the amount of soil needed. I covered the gravel with weed block fabric to try to keep the soil above the gravel.

If you go this route, you can always throw mulch around the bed to help with the mud around the bed as in the accepted answer.

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  • This makes a lot of sense. Thanks! – bill999 Feb 22 at 19:48

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