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sarah - Shallow soil problems

sarah.cushingsarah.cushing Posts: 7
edited October 2018 in Problem solving
hi I have a front lawned garden into which I would like to add some island beds. The garden has a building on the south side, which does shadow during the autumn and winter months, there is also a very large horse chestnut at the far eastern end and the house at the western end.  The main problem I have is the soil is only 12 - 18 inches deep, laid over an old concrete and tarmac farm yard, how deep this is I do not know. It becomes very dry in the summer with almost constant sun and pretty moist in the winter. I, frankly, don't have the physical ability or finance to dig out the concrete/tarmac. The soil is quite heavy as well and the lawn is riddled with creeping cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans). Ideally I would love prairie style or cottage style planting. Any suggestions on how I can achieve this ?


  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 46,243
    Hi Sarah - glad to see you managed to remove your email address. I was about to pm you when you changed it. I think I'll flag it up to the mods, as it's not clear when people start a thread, that the box is for a title.  :)
    In answer to your query - could you create a few raised beds? It's often a problem if there's something permanent under the soil which will prevent drainage. The foot of soil you have, plus a raised bed of about 6 to 12 inches, would give good drainage for most plants. You can alter and adapt the medium with a raised bed too, so you can have ones with very sharp drainage, and ones with a moister soil. 
    You can use sleepers, brick, block or timber. That wouldn't be too expensive, depending on sizes, to get someone in to build them, if you feel you can't do it yourself. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • Both the heaviness of the soil and the summer dryness would be helped by the addition of as much fibrous organic matter as you can manage.This would open up the soil structure and improve its water holding capacity, and might even help somewhat with the winter wetness, provided there is somewhere for excess water to drain to.
    A depth of soil such as you describe would still allow many plants to flourish if it were in good heart.
    From the planting point of view, it might be easier to find 'cottage' plants able to cope with the shaded areas than'prairie' ones, but many people on here will be glad to offer good ideas.
    You may find it easiest to improve the grass a little in the ways suggested, but take a more relaxed attitude to lawn 'weeds'. Quite a few of us on this forum enjoy our daisies and buttercups, speedwell and clover and the grassy patch still provides a green backdrop to other planting. I have the cinquefoil and Eyebright (Euphrasia) growing wild in my sheep field and am actually planning to add it to my garden meadow patch where I can enjoy it better :)

  • ZeroZero1ZeroZero1 Posts: 576
    Is it necessary to remove the tar mac? Could drainage be provided by someone simply kango -ing through the soil? Not the best of the solutions, but much cheaper. Often garden topsoil is no more than 1-2ft deep that's plenty. 
  • Hi Fairygirl - yes I was horrified to see my full email address.... and fortunately managed to work out quite quickly how to remove it :) Thank you for your suggestions, I have thought about raised beds but am really looking for a more natural flowing effect. I did manage to create one bed by removing the turf and a layer of tarmac ( seemed to be hardcore below) and mounding topsoil, compost and manure to increase the depth. It was a lot of effort and the plants are slowly establishing - not sure if the summer weather caused the slow development or the soil depth? any quick fix suggestions would be gratefully received.
  • Hi Buttercupdays - thank you for the link - I too love the daisies etc in the lawn, and try not to use chemicals in the garden. The creeping cinquefoil just spreads so quickly into the borders and takes over. In my back garden, which even worse, I went through every spade full of soil and removed the plants and roots by hand. Occasionally have the odd one appear but I jump on it straight away and take it out while still small. Perseverance seems to be the best method :)
  • ZeroZero1 said:
    Is it necessary to remove the tar mac? Could drainage be provided by someone simply kango -ing through the soil? Not the best of the solutions, but much cheaper. Often garden topsoil is no more than 1-2ft deep that's plenty. 
    Hi - I quite like this idea and may look into it :) thank you
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 46,243
    You might be ok there Sarah. If you have a bit of a slope, the water will hopefully drain a bit better too. The weather this year has made it hard for lots of people to determine if they have an issue or if it's simply been weather related.
    Perhaps you could pickaxe out a bit of the ground as you go along? Similar to 001's suggestion, and what you've already done.  I've done that in various  gardens when there's 'dubious areas' of solid concrete or similar underneath, but it's very hard work.
    It would certainly be a shame to spend a lot on plants and then they don't thrive, because of poor drainage. If you can't run to the expense and the upheaval of having a digger in, I think you certainly have to compromise in some way. 
    Gorgeous house you have  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • Might be a good idea to add an edging of reclaimed bricks or even stone if you have any, to make a clear break between grass and border and that you could mow over.
  • tessagardenbarmytessagardenbarmy York,North YorkshirePosts: 346
    Why don't  you go for the Beth Chatto approach  her gravel garden was built on top if a car park. It's amazing  how many plants  enjoy tough conditions. 
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