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Planting for West facing clayey border?

Hi We've just moved to a new house and have a 25m border which only gets full sun for 3 hours a day in the afternoon (West facing) and also has clayey soil. I'm looking for plants that will thrive in these conditions but when I use the various search engines most plants that are ok in clay and part-shade also say 'well drained soil' or 'moist but well drained soil' - I'm confused as to how a plant can do clay but should also be well drained? Can anyone explain and/or suggest some 'cottage garden' style plants that would work please?


  • bertrand-mabelbertrand-mabel Posts: 553
    Agree with you about the confusion.
    We are told that so many plants need well drained/sunny aspects and then we are given information about those that could do well in other sections.
    We are in heavy clay and in the summer when it does get hot the "soil" is cracked and in the winter it is "porridge".
    However we do manage to grow many plants that succeed.
    Astrantias, agapathus, viburnum, brunneria, grape hyacinths, sedums, bergenia, castor oil and others.
    These get little sun in the winter/early spring months and then more in the summer.
    Hope this will give you some hope as ours is a very cottage garden.
  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 2,450
    hellebors, actea, solomons seal, pulmonaria, lily of the valley, astilbe, monkshood, aruncus,  monarda, some lobelia, foxgloves, aquilegia, geranium. Forgive spelling mistakes, I'm too lazy to check.
  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 10,409
    edited 9 April
    Clay can be well drained if it has lots of worms.  Anecic worms (the sort which make casts) make themselves a series of tunnels to the surface and some of those are for drainage so that they don't drown when it rains for long periods.  The trick is to encourage more worms by adding lots of organic matter to the surface as a mulch.  That can be home-made compost or bought-in stuff such as well-rotted manure, mushroom compost or 'soil improvers.'  As long as the local water table isn't just a few inches below the surface, mulching your border with at least 2-3 inches of one or more of those each autumn will, in time, result in a very fertile border in which you'll be able to grow most things.
    When it isn't raining, dig a hole about 2ft deep and wait.  If water collects at the bottom after a few hours then the local water table is high so you will need to choose plants carefully.  If the hole remains dry, pour in a bucket of water.  If that drains away within an hour, your soil is already well-drained, despite being clay-based.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • AcuwellAcuwell Posts: 33
    Thank you all!  This gives me great hope.  My husband dug a hole and filled it with water and it drained quite quickly (about an hour), and the garden is on quite a slope so I guess that means the water table isn't a problem.  We also have lots of worms already!  I love the various Cottage Garden suggestions too (especially Astrantias and Foxgloves) and I think they might work.  But what about my 2 favourites - Alliums and Verbena bonariensis - any chance for them in "well drained" clay/part shade????  I would seriously like to have them if at all possible?
  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 10,409
    I grow V. bonariensis on my clay-based soil here in an east-facing border which gets no sun after 11am and it even self-seeds there, so I'm sure you will be fine.  Clay improved by mulching with organic matter is one of the most fertile types of soil there is. :)
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • AcuwellAcuwell Posts: 33
    Yippeeeee! Thank you.  Things are definitely looking more positive.  My border is West Facing and gets full sun from 2 pm to 4pm (at the moment, it might get more in Summer) so I will give them a go.
  • PosyPosy Isle of Wight.Posts: 2,450
    I think allium will grow anywhere and I have verbena self seeding, too.
  • AcuwellAcuwell Posts: 33
    thank you!  I was worried they might suffer from rot but I am more confident now.
  • AthelasAthelas Posts: 101
    edited 11 April
  • TheVanguardTheVanguard Posts: 46
    My lupins seem to have done well in Similar conditions...magnolia’s too 
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