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What kind of situation would you call this?

Hello everyone,

I need a bit of help in figuring out what I have on my hands. This is going to be a bit long, I apologize in advance.

My garden is heavy clay throughout, I suspect that most of it is subsoil dumped on when the house was built, with a token amount of topsoil on top. You dig down one spade depth, you can literally sell it to potters for throwing pots. I understand that heavy clay soil will need a lot of improving, but it will always remain clay soil, albeit improved. Here is where it gets confusing for me. The garden is on two levels, first area is level with the house, then a sloping flower bed across the entire width of the garden, then the upper level. Here's the question: would you call the sloping bit, with heavy clay soil, and facing north, but not shaded by walls or trees a north-facing aspect, or full sun? And would you call it well-drained because it's on a slope, or would you call it waterlogged because it is heavy clay? I find that in winter and wet weather it is sticky and wet, and in summer it is bone dry on the surface, but wet enough at a spade's depth. Same question goes for the east-facing sloping bit at the side of the garden? This one is backed by a garden wall which means it only gets sun in the morning, but does this make it a partially shaded wet area, or a partially shaded dry area? It already has a couple of large, mature shrubs and a tree in this bit, so I assume those roots are taking up a lot of the moisture because I struggle to grow anything in there at all. It is literally bare soil, with even couch grass only struggling in it here and there. I am finding it very difficult to know what types of plants I should try to grow in these bits, anything I have tried so far seems to struggle, regardless of whether it's meant for sun, shade, dry or wet situations. Help please?


  • chickychicky Posts: 10,376

    Hi edit

    i would wait til later in the year, when the sun gets a bit higher in the sky, and then observe your flower bed at hourly intervals during the day (ie look at whether the sun has got there or not) - unless its very steeply north facing I would expect it to get quite a lot of sun if there are no walls or trees to shade it.

    i don't think that sort of slope will help transform heavy clay into "well drained" - so I would go with plants that like a heavier soil .....roses love it, so do phlox and lupins and shasta daisies theres some to get you started.

    however, the first thing I would do is get hold of heaps of compost or manure and dig that in to the bed .....that will help no end.

  • I would say the same as Chicky.

    When ive had the subsoil situation in my garden, i found the best thing is to not dig or mess about with it, just add compost or muck as a mulch and allow the worms etc to bring it back to life.

    Keeping a record of where the sun is and what does well is really important, ive been in this house almost 9 years and am still finding new things image
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 21,676

    If it faces north, but there is no shade then I would call that a sunny aspect. North facing usually means that the walls of the house are keeping it shaded, so that depends how big your garden is. My veg garden is north of the house but far enough away so it gets all day sun - I don't call it north facing. I wouldn't call clay soil well drained, whether it's dry or wet. Well drained is a light soil that water goes through quickly. The east bit sounds partially shaded and dry. But is it ever wet in the summer?

    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Thank you everyone. The east bit is awful, i can't get a fork into it it is so dry and full of roots. I have read somewhere once that the trick to plant under trees is to create pockets of good soil among the roots. Do you think this would work or would any compost/manure I pile on there just feed the tree and shrubs?

    Regarding the main bed, i do have one rose in there that's thriving, two other roses I had really struggled though and ended up on the compost heap after years or being disease-ridden and stunted despite my best efforts. There is one stunning azalea that I inherited from the previous owner, a struggling philadelphus, a euonimus fortunei that looks quite ok, and I have recently rescued a camellia from my mother-in-law's garden that appears to have settled in well. I guess the soil must be on the acid side? I have not thought of trying lupins and phlox, thanks for the suggestion, I'll give it a go. But first it's soil improvement time image
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