Umm.... not really. There is nothing special about soil. You can get just as good a plant growth from hydroponics for example, or pure vemiculite if you add enough fertiliser an chemicals - neither of them are soil based.
The reason people use soil is that it's very convenient - your garden is literally made out of it and it supports nutrients, a soure of carbon and mycelium. Plants will grow in ANYTHING that provides nutrients, mycelium, enough carbon and the right bacteria. The more of them that are available, the better the plant growth. In no way is this magic knowledge - it's basic soil systems science.
The adage of "gardeners grow plants, good gardeners grow soil" is not totally right. The last 20 years of research have shown it really needs updating to say something like "gardeners grow plants, good gardeners grow mycelium and maintain humus"
In my case, the soil at my house was horrific - 6 to 9 inches of clay-y silt over 7 foot of pure river sand - it was essentially sterile. It would have taken 5 to 10 years to drive enough humus into the soil to KEEP it in the soil and increase the structure of it, and then another 3-5 years of still adding humus and carbon to get the bacterilogical and mycelium loads high enough to turn it from "OK soil" to "Good soil". Thats a HUGE amount of effort and a HUGE amount of time and money to spend.
By going the woodchip route, I had to do a lot of digging - but only once ( but... I got to use a digger, which is always fun) but now I don't have to do anything for the next 5 years. no digging. No watering, No feeding. I just plant my plants and watch them grow like rockets. I would also have got the same results by setting up aquaponics system or by Keylining and Hugel-ing the garden and putting in some ponds. For me, this was the route that suited me best. It's very cheap and very easy which suits me just fine at the moment.
Thank you for the steer on the plants.
Keep us informed Steve, I'd like to know how it goes.
It certainly sounds impressive. I shall look forward to seeing the pictures in the height of summer to see just what does like growing in this system.
Good luck and keep us up to date please.
Really interested in your approach. I've been using woodchips for paths for many years and once they breakdown I use them as a mulch on borders. Certainly seem to help with fertility and weeding and the plants grow well through it. I get the woodchips for free from the guys who take out trees / branches close to telephone lines for BT .... they're always glad to have someone happy to take them.
You could try some hardy geraniums in your south facing border ... they will still look "woodlandy" ... geranium renardii, geranium clarkei 'Kashmir White', and geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' (which is evergreen for me in southern Scotland) all grow well in full sun.
I germinated and grew on young plants in neat coir last year. I wanted to experiment...some neat coir, some a mix of coir and peat based compost and some just peat compost. I saw no real difference in growth or health of plants