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Stabilising a clay bank

Hi Folks

New to the website, Hello. image

We moved into this property about seven months ago and inherited a reasonably large garden, one side of which borders on a farmer's field. The boundary between ourselves and the field is about eighty yards long,  and just under half of that length consists of a clay bank which is cut at an angle of about 80 degrees to the horizontal, and topped by a row of hazel bushes. At the base of the bank the previous owner has cut a horizontal path about three feet wide, which is passable in summer but in winter becomes very muddy indeed.

My query is about ensuring that this clay bank remains stable. The steepest section of the bank, the part of most concern to me,  is about thirty yards long and consists mainly of bare clay, apart from some patchy areas of grass. On another thread which I found on this forum and where the angle of the bank is about 45 degrees, it's suggested that the OP plant either pampas grass or Rose of Sharon, but due to the steeper gradient of our bank I assume that it would require something a bit more tenacious. The bank appears to be stable at present, but the surface is cracked and loose, and comes away easily, so I'd like to put measures in place now rather than wait till it starts to slide; if, indeed it does.

 Might be worth mentioning that I'm a relative newcomer to gardening, having never had much more than 20 sq yds of garden to deal with before we moved to this property.

Any stabilising solutions welcome, thanks.



  • I should perhaps add that the clay bank in question is about four feet in height.

  • DorsetUKDorsetUK Posts: 441

    Any idea how long the bank has been there? And what the farmer's field is used for? And who does the hedge belong to?

  • Put in a terrace or two with perennials

  • I once gardened for a client whose garden was heavy clay, and so steep I had to use ropes tied to the trees at the top, and round my waist, to gain access.  (I was younger in those days...  image )  There we stabilised the steepest bits of bank using galvanised wire netting, pegged in place with long metal pegs, and planted through it.  It was a large area and we used various different plants; Hypericum calycinum (rose of Sharon; Vinca major (periwinkle); green & variegated ivies and other tough plants.  One problem was watering the plants until they were well established.

    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 21,923

    Something like this was proposed for our garden. It worked.image

    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • Thanks all.

    At present the farmers field appears to be unused; cows were being grazed on there when we first  moved in last July, but I haven't seen any for several months. The property is about 40 years old and the people we bought it from purchased it new; they will know that history and age of the bank so I'll ask them. They maintained  the hazel bushes as their boundary and the farmer has put a barbed wire fence on the field side of the hedge to try to prevent his cows falling into our garden (one did so a few years ago, apparently). The field itself takes the form of a gently rising hillside, and is probably about six feet above our garden at its lowest point.

    Its not really practical to put terracing in, because the gradient is so steep that by digging in further,  I would risk undermining the hazel bushes.

    I rather like the idea of using galvanised wire netting and planting through it. Would this be the bog standard wire netting you can buy from the DIY sheds, or something more specialist?

  • I have a bank which is very similar in size and last week we had it all razed to the ground as we could no longer cope with the continual upkeep of keeping it back from the pavement.  We haven't taken any of the old tree/shrub roots, obviously, they are holding the soil in place.  However, the ground is thickly covered in ivy some of which we need to remove so we can replant.  I have looked on the internet and seen  several companies advertising mixed bare root 'whips' for hedging some of which are for clay soil. I think they work out at about £60 for 100 including delivery. 

    I agree with Liriodendron regarding the problem of watering to get plants started and also think Hypericum is a possibility.  The front of the house/pavement and driveway is a total disaster area at present and  I am continually making notes of all ideas and suggestions otherwise I will forget them.  On my list, I also have smallish type conifers which I have been told will grow there provided they are planted correctly and kept watered.  Is there a correct way to plant something with a fair size root ball on a steep bank? 

  • Des, it's a long time ago now so I find it hard to remember exactly the sort of netting - but I think we bought it from an agricultural suppliers, and it had about a 2" mesh size.  If you can arrange something like seep hose for watering that might work best.

    Billie, I would prefer to plant bare-root whips in that situation, rather than something with a large rootball; but if you're planting conifers or potted shrubs I think you'll need to cut a "shelf" for each one, so that you have a smallish, relatively horizontal area which will allow you to dig a better hole & plant more vertically.  You'll also be able to water the plants more easily.  In Madeira they've made planting on steep slopes into a fine art; each tree or shrub is planted in a saucer-shaped depression in its own little terrace, with a lip to contain water.  Having admired the technique in their botanic gardens, I've tried it in my sloping garden here, and it works, up to a point, but the soil's a bit different from Madeira...  image  (And the climate - more's the pity!)

    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • Des, sorry - forgot to say that the mesh doesn't have to be very heavyweight.  As long as your plants grow to cover the bank they'll hold it together eventually.

    Also forgot to say that ivy is a very good bank stabiliser - so Billie, don't rip it all out - just remove it from the place you're putting your plant & keep it from encroaching on the new plantings.

    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • Think I would need some sort of mechanical tool (other than a fork or spade) to create the saucer-shaped depression you mentioned Liriodendron.  I have always admired terraces when travelling abroad but although my bank looks enormous to me, it probably would be impossible to terrace because of the roots of trees/shrubs left in.

    Des, I googled 'hedges direct' and there are some good suggestions there.  It's just the planting and keeping them alive that worries me.

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