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Another Clay Border Problem

Hi,

My first post. I'm a rookie gardener in my second year of trying to sort out a mess of a garden we inherited. (We live 700ft up in the Peak District. )

I have one border that is a real problem. There is top soil down for about 7 inches, then below that it is solid red sandy clay. This border also seems to have some builders clay/sand or something mixed in from when previous owners dug foundations for the garage, and kindly dumped all the clay/sand in the garden. 

I've dug down about 1.5ft and thought about then adding loads of compost, grit, etc etc that everyone recommends.

However, I'm not sure this will work. All that is happening is that I'm creating a sump full of water because all the surrounding land is solid clay.

So even if I dug down for 2ft, then filled it just with grit/soil/compost all I will be doing is creating a sump full of water when it rains, as the rain will stay in trough I create. Rather like filling the bath with grit, then turning the taps on and hoping the water will disappear. It won't.

Is there any point therefore adding compost and grit if all I'm creating is a bath full of water? Instead should I just go for plants that like wet clay?

I wanted to create a herbaceous border - so I could go for some plants that like their feet being wet (or don't mind it) such as astilbe, and things like geraniums, astrantia, daisies according to the RHS site.

Any thoughts/ideas/info would be great.

Thanks

Terry

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Posts

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 11,336

    You could consider putting a land drain in the bottom, but only if you have somewhere suitable to drain it to.  Your clay may still drain slowly though - try digging a bucket-sized hole in the clay, filling it with a bucket of water and seeing how long it takes to drain.  If it takes less than 1/2 a day then you can probably just add grit etc and get away with it.

    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 77,425

    There's a lot to be said for growing plants that like the conditions you've got  ... anything else can feel like banging your head against a brick wall ... that's ok for those that like it ... image

    That's not to say that you shouldn't try to improve the soil, but slowly ... dig well rotted manure into the top soil and in following years mulch with organic matter (manure and home made compost etc) .. worms will take it down lower and improve the clay, bit by bit.   My father farmed on clay ... over the years, with the addition of loads of manure and sensible management (don't work it when it's wet and claggy) it became some of the most productive arable land in East Anglia.  

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh







  • purplerallimpurplerallim LincolnshirePosts: 4,239

    The only other suggestion is to put a raised bed in maybe.

  • Hi,

    Thanks very much for all your replies.  

    BobTheGardener - I did consider a land drain but can't afford that at the moment. I did dig a hole yesterday and it rained yesterday afternoon, and it is still full of water.

    The clay is not like 'clay soil' as such, it is more like totally solid clay - I could slice some out and make pots with it! ... So sadly 'm not surprised it has not drained away.

    Dovefromabove - Do you think the worms will take it down into the pure solid clay that we have under the soil?

    purplerallim - yes I considered a raised bed, but at the moment I think I would prefer to work with the border as is. 

    Thanks

    Terry

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 77,425
    Terry2Trowels says:

    Dovefromabove - Do you think the worms will take it down into the pure solid clay that we have under the soil?

     It's a gradual process ... at first the worms will colonise the top inch or so of clay and gradually they will improve that, and bit by bit they'll work their way down.  But it will take time ... just keep mulching with organic matter ... the more you do that the more worms you'll have and the quicker it will happen.  In the meantime, grow stuff that will cope with the current conditions ... look around you ... what's growing in the hedges and the ditches ... those plants will most likely have 'garden relatives' ... they'll be happy in your garden.  image

    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh







  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 31,620

    Terry

    "So even if I dug down for 2ft, then filled it just with grit/soil/compost all I will be doing is creating a sump full of water when it rains, as the rain will stay in trough I create. Rather like filling the bath with grit, then turning the taps on and hoping the water will disappear. It won't."

    I couldn't agree more, yet I've seen a certain TV presenter doing it on more than one occasion.

    Devon.
  • ButtercupdaysButtercupdays Posts: 4,002

    Lots of lovely plants grow in damp/wet soil: Siberian Iris and Iris ensata, Daylilies,  Physostegia, Monarda, Ligularia, Eupatorium, ferns and some grasses, geums and primulas, as well as Lythrum, Lysimachia and Persicarias, which are all thugs, but still worth having if you don't mind policing them!

    Have a look at Waterside Nursery for the plants they suggest for the water garden, there are more things than you would think.  I've just finished a boggy border in my garden, a mix of fairly heavy clay and silt, kept moist, even this year, by springs and high rainfall. Got so many things in it, I will have to extend!

  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,639

    Clay soil will not be a problem if you plant densely. Apart from the very beginning where you turn the soil when it's damp. Work in lots of compost/mulch. Think about plants for short periods and plants that are staying as fillers for 2-3 years.The close plantings will keep the soil less compacted and less likely to dry out in drier weather. Young shrubs may need a helping hand with compost and loosening of soil, but once settled, many mature shrubs will do well as a canopy developes.

  • josusa47josusa47 Posts: 3,532

    I'd make a pond!  Especially if, as you imply, the rest of the garden is more favourable.

  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 5,553
    Dovefromabove says:
    Terry2Trowels says:

    Dovefromabove - Do you think the worms will take it down into the pure solid clay that we have under the soil?

     It's a gradual process ... at first the worms will colonise the top inch or so of clay and gradually they will improve that, and bit by bit they'll work their way down.  But it will take time ... just keep mulching with organic matter ... the more you do that the more worms you'll have and the quicker it will happen.  

    See original post

    I've done this and Dove is right, it definitely does work, even in pot clay. I'd recommend mulching in spring specifically so that through winter, the clay surface is fairly exposed. Frost breaks clay faster than anything else. Then mulch heavily in spring - I use a mixture of bark chips and a manure/compost blend. The process accelerates quite rapidly after the first year, especially if you are planting into it at the same time. Things with strong roots, like roses and rose relatives - apples, amelanchier, that sort of thing - can get going quite early. I've also found hardy geraniums seem to be perfectly happy. I've only used grit in my clay once it's begun to loosen and only where the soil is banked up or in raised beds so the water runs through (my garden is on a steep slope). I would certainly agree you shouldn't do it in a nice flat border.

    “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first” 
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