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Dry, clay, ‘rooty’ border

Good morning.  More advice please.  A friend of mine is planning to move house during the summer so doesn’t want to spend too much money on the current garden but obviously wants it to look cared for.  She wants some perennials for her border to give her a splash of colour and to see her through the coming months.  However, her relatively small garden is dominated by a very large (very beautiful) silver birch which saps the ground of any moisture and the roots have spread through much of the border making it pretty impenetrable.   The border gets late afternoon and evening sun and the soil, such as it is, is best described as dry clay.  Last year I dug in a load of compost (and hurt my back in the process) which improved it for last year but it’s now back to as it was before.   My question is, are there any perennials which will be happy in this type of border, bearing in mind it’ll be me planting them and I ain’t that strong! Those that only require shallow planting would be useful!!  Apologies for long post but wanted you to get a picture of what it’s like.  Thanks in advance everyone.

Posts

  • amancalledgeorgeamancalledgeorge South LondonPosts: 2,306
    The RHS has a few suggestions https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=430 it would probably help to have a picture of the space to give us an idea about the relative size of the tree.
    To Plant a Garden is to Believe in Tomorrow
  • AllyblueeyesAllyblueeyes Posts: 387
    Thank you @amancalledgeorge ...... it’s big.  I’ll get her to send me a photo later.  I guess it’s the roots that are the main problem.  Under the ‘soil’ are masses of very fibrous roots so anything that will tolerate shallow planting.  Will send photo later.  Thanks again. 
  • amancalledgeorgeamancalledgeorge South LondonPosts: 2,306
    It will be hard work getting things in there (and you've been there)...I deal with a similar situation in my shady border and tend to just cut through with a pruning saw as I go along, have added many ferns a rhododendron, fatsia, Solomon's Seal, toad lilies, bleeding hearts and polyanthus without much issue. Just keep mulching every year to keep the nutrient levels up and the moisture locked in. A few cheap dryopteris ferns would be a good place to start and keep adding as the seasons progress. 
    To Plant a Garden is to Believe in Tomorrow
  • LoxleyLoxley NottinghamPosts: 4,653
    edited June 2020
    If she's moving, does it really make sense to plant perennials? I would mulch the area to smarten it up and invest in some lovely large pots that can be taken with her. You could sink a few specimens in their pots into the ground and pull the mulch around them, then water them as you would any container plant. They can then be hoiked out and taken with her if desired.
  • GrumpymumGrumpymum Oxfordshire Posts: 77
    I've got a similar dry clay border that only gets afternoon sun under a huge ash tree.  I find  a lot of plants take a long time to establish and get going, so not much good if you want quick  impact. Some perennials that have established quickly for me are penstemons, echinacea, crocosmia, geums, japanese anemones, verbena bonariensis. 
  • AllyblueeyesAllyblueeyes Posts: 387
    Thank you @amancalledgeorge @WillDB @Grumpymum. She is planning on staying for a while whilst the new house is being done up but wants it to look nice for prospective buyers.  I think she’s going down the route of large pots with plants that she can place there and indeed take with her when they go.  I’ve attached some pictures.  Thank you all for your advice.  



  • Blue OnionBlue Onion Posts: 2,907
    Large pots are great.. especially if she selects ones with a nice glaze color.. an ombré of blues or purples would go great in that corner.  That way it will look good even in winter, with some dead stems sticking up out of the pot.  Maybe some sort of grass?  To add height and movement?  That will look good until it needs a haircut next spring.
    Utah, USA.
  • AllyblueeyesAllyblueeyes Posts: 387
    Large pots are great.. especially if she selects ones with a nice glaze color.. an ombré of blues or purples would go great in that corner.  That way it will look good even in winter, with some dead stems sticking up out of the pot.  Maybe some sort of grass?  To add height and movement?  That will look good until it needs a haircut next spring.
    Thanks Blue Onion, she has glazed pots around the rest of her garden so that’s the route she’s taking 👍
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