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Soil type/problems

I wonder if anyone can offer some insight please?  Having gardened for 30 years, it's late in the day to be wondering about the basics but anyway...

We are in south east Kent and have a garden with a south facing border which gives me no end of (expensive) problems with plants failing to thrive/re-appear the following spring.  It's a cottage garden, the bulk of the planting being perennials, grasses, shrub roses, some small trees; it's quite sheltered and the border in question is in full sun pretty much all day and can get very hot.

I can't pinpoint why I seem to lose so many perennials though I've ruled out slugs/snails, other pests and various plant diseases.  I have never ph tested the soil type and neither can I particularly identify it - it isn't clay, it's not sandy, particularly stony or chalky.  An online site map of UK soils by area/postcode suggests our vicinity is a seam of silty loam with a high water table (?).  The soil does *look* dark and more like loam than anything else.. but I'm unsure.  In hot weather it's dry and somewhat dusty (but never bakes hard like clay) but all through winter and after extended rainy periods, it remains soggy.

I seem to have a problem finding perennials that will survive some winter wet (maybe?) - though it's rarely sodden - and cope with full sun.  Over the last winter I lost countless good sized, newly summer planted perennials and even a number of bone hardy ornamental grasses... ironically all the Pennisetums and Salvias are fine... along with an army of nettles that every year I think I'm rid of.

Any suggestions please?  I feel like I'm missing something fundamental/basic in a quest to grow things that I like?!


  • FireFire North LondonPosts: 15,564
    edited May 2018
    Hi, have you ever added anything to the soil? Manure, compost, fertiliser, grit? Has it made any difference? Do you grow plants in pots and how are they? When you say you 'lost' the plants, what do you see? Are they withered, disappeared, rotten? What are the roots systems like of those you have lost? How old is the house/garden?
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,068
    As a start, you can find out some general info about your soil from The Cranfield Soil Instiute. Click on Search and pop in your postcode and it'll give general info on your soil type
    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Thank you, Pete, I will take a look at that.

    Fire.... I have lots in pots that do well and other areas of the garden that flourish with the appropriate plants, ie long north facing border with lots of shade loving stuff and so on.  The garden is only 13' wide (130' long) so the soil on the ''problem" side shouldn't be drastically different.  

    To be frank, I don't add a lot to the soil - never add grit, I do give the plants an occasional light spring feed with Growmore or such like.  We did add a fair bit of general purpose compost to "the" border when I dug and replanted it let summer.  It's the perennials that so often fail - they thrive over the first (and sometimes second) summer and then fail to put in an appearance the following year.  Digging around, I find rootballs that don't seem to have done very much with no top growth when there should be.

    The house (and it's original garden) is late 1800's.

    Larger more established things thrive - shrub roses, some geraniums, nepeta and a nearly year old Amelanchier is doing brilliantly at one end.
  • FireFire North LondonPosts: 15,564
    Could you blame it on the dog? :smile:
  • Pete.8Pete.8 Billericay, EssexPosts: 9,068
    I've been a keen gardener since childhood - which was a long time ago..
    Since buying my house with 150ft garden 32yrs ago, over the years I didn't have a lot of successes with plants. I was working long hours in the City and never looked after the soil properly.
    I retired early and decided to do the garden properly.
    I've had 2 lots of 4 ton of farmyard manure delivered over the last 2 years and just about everything is thriving.
    Maybe it's just that you soil is exhausted and need rejuvenating 
    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • FlinsterFlinster Posts: 883
    If the soil gets a bit boggy in winter, is that border slightly lower so the garden drains to that point? Have you ever dug down to see what’s underneath- maybe there’s an old path, or pavers blocking drainage in parts so it gets waterlogged? One option might be to raise the soil level slightly by edging the bed and improving/adding in top soil, so the drainage will be better?
  • blameitonthedogblameitonthedog Posts: 122
    edited May 2018
    Thanks so much for all the replies - taken on board and I will try them one by one and hope we hit the jackpot first time.  I think what resonates with me the most though is the possibility that the soil is impoverished.  I really add very little to it whilst expecting a lot back... A combination of trying to save money and arthritis bad enough for me try to make gardening as pain free as possible these days!

    Unfortunately, I have no dog to blame .. Just the cats who aren't allowed outside anyway :)
  • FireFire North LondonPosts: 15,564
    Ah, I was hoping your forum name might be a clue. ;)
  • I think I did very well to sit on my hands during catpoogate on here recently haha.

    I had a proper think about what I actually lost this time...a Thalictrum, several Achillea 'Pomegranite', a few Deschampsia, some of the Salvias, Shasta Daisy and probably a few others I cannot recall, even staring at bare earthed gaps.  I think I'm going to have to try perennial seeds :(
  • FireFire North LondonPosts: 15,564
    Very wise, BIOTeD.
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