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Help please - Cannot cope with heavy clay soil

I am at the end of my tether with our garden. It is a 7 acre old small holding, most is a field and orchard which my husband keeps cut with old tractor. But round the house we have flower beds chock full of roses and perennials, and perennial weeds and grass. It is blue slip very heavy clay with high water table.

We have been struggling for 20 years, and in my mid 60s I cannot face trying to weed any more.This seems to be "my job" but I hate it.  I have just been digging in one bed. It is so hard just to even get fork in to loosen roots. Then a grass clump comes out with huge amount of solid clay on it, which will not break off. So then the flower bed has lost a lot of soil. In the past I have added lots of material, mushroom compost etc but can't afford to keep buying it every year.

I would happily move somewhere smaller but OH doesn't want to. It's getting me down seeing it such a mess. Can't afford a gardener. I don't want to spend hours every day battling with it.

I am thinking of saying we should get rid of all flower beds and just having grass which he can mow. I don't want to. Are there any other ideas please? Was wondering about just having a couple of raised beds and replacing with a lighter soil.

Anyone else had this problem please. Thankyou.



  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,551

    I should tell your husband you've been dealing with it for 20 years, now it's his turn.image

  • Singing GardenerSinging Gardener Posts: 1,229

    Raised beds sound like a good way to go. If you are inventive then you don't have to have straight edges. In a previous garden I constructed a bed using a low brick wall with loose laid bricks (no mortar) so very easy to do. Or for something a bit more formal, there's a company that do small wood blocks fitted together which also can do angles and curves (I think the name might be woodblox(?)). They are expensive though.

  • pansyfacepansyface Posts: 22,299

    A GOAT?

    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
    If you live in Derbyshire, as I do.
  • NewBoy2NewBoy2 Posts: 1,813

    Definition of Selfish

    (of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.

    As we say in Bristol...." Say ne mere "

    You could change your husband !!

    It might be easier

    Everyone is just trying to be Happy.....So lets help Them.
  • RedwingRedwing Posts: 1,439

    I can sympathise Barbs!!!! I am in my 60s too and have been struggling with heavy clay gardens (4) for over 40 years!  It's tough.  I am not going to say work with it and incorporate as much organic matter as you can ( that's the only solution if you want flower beds though) but when you are in your 60s it is TOO MUCH WORK! I think growing grass is a good idea.  But before you sow how about planting as many spring bulbs as you can; muscari, narcissi, bluebells, fritillaries, tulips and also primroses and cowslips? Lots more too.  Then you could have the wonderful spring bulbs in your garden and mow from June onwards. Keeping the grass longish will enable the primroses to keep going.  I think too many people want perfect tennis court style lawns but there is much that can make it much more interesting if you keep it on the long side. It's also better for wildlife.

    You could perhaps keep one or two beds around the house for your favourite plants.  Another alternative would be to have some effective ground covering plants in the borders.  One plant that I have discovered that is really good at suppressing weeds on clay is the dwarf Comfrey.  It isn't spectacular but does stay evergreen and provides a reasonable flower display in spring/early summer. It seems like almost no weeds will grow through it, in my experience anyway.

    I really hope you work this out.  Being fed up with a garden because it is too much hard work is tough. If you have a high water table on heavy clay there is not really that much you can do except remove the clay and drain it.  That is major work.  Possible but costly and then refill with a sharp sand mix.  It would be easier to work but only you can decide if it is worth it.  We did it in a courtyard garden  and if you really want to know I can provide more details.  

    Based in Sussex, I garden to encourage as many birds to my garden as possible.
  • raisingirlraisingirl Posts: 6,896

    You've got 3 times as much land and 15 years on me - respect to you for managing so long.image

    I had a much heavier clay soil garden before the one we have now, which is still pretty bad in places. I was wondering how to design this one so that it wouldn't kill me, as we plan to stay here if we can. But the experience of being utterly defeated by the previous place has taught me to be less idealistic about what I can physically actually do.

    In which frame of mind I was wondering round Batsford Arboretum, thinking how lovely it is. But then stop and look at it, and really its just big shrubs and trees planted in grass - much of which is pretty weedy - with paths mown through to form routes around and views. Under most of the trees - except a few selected specimens - it's nettles and daisies and cow parsley. But the tightly mown grass along the edges makes it all look somehow far more ordered and tidy than it actually is. So that was my inspiration and that is now the look I'm aiming for in 80% of the garden.

    Go to some open gardens near you - large park type gardens, National Trust, etc. Avoid the wonderful walled gardens and parterres and rose gardens - head out into the tree park areas and really look at those. Then take some ideas you like, and make a little mini Capability Brown parkland at your place. Your husband can mow the paths, you can keep a few flowers in pots, the rest of it can mature and age gracefully as you do and the weeding will be a thing of the past image

    Last edited: 12 May 2017 20:27:43

    “It's still magic even if you know how it's done.” 
  • BarbslBarbsl Posts: 11

    Thanks everyone for your help. I have made several shrub/tree beds over the years, and these are now very full, so although weeds grow up, they don't win. We also have a meadow area with marsh orchids etc, which I'm pleased with.OH does a lot of work around the place, he's just never been good at weeding. he prefers a strimmer or weedkiller!!

    It's mainly the beds around the house. One particular one has terrible "claggy" soil. There are some nice roses but long grass and weeds intertwined. It is a narrow bed cut out from old concrete and I'm sure the drainage and the soil are poor.

    This is one of two which cause me most problems. I may have to sacrifice the roses, clear it completely. Scoop out and dispose of all the soil out (we have a digger). Possibly use weed killer to kill any perennial weed roots left. Then possible make raised sides, about 1 foot high. Then put gravel in base for drainage, followed by some lighter soil we bring in. I could then keep it for small rockery type plants and things that like free draining soil, that I can't normally grow. I could try moving the roses perhaps. Don't want yet another bed to manage though.!

    The dwarf comfrey is of interest, thanks. Normal comfrey grows like a weed at ours.Primroses and cowslips do well, and I keep splitting them as I want them all over. Ours is definitely a wildlife unkempt garden! Tulips seem to rot, I haven't tried fritilliries. 

    I do enjoy looking round gardens, and also local open gardens, for ideas. Lately I am so defeated with it, I have lost interest in doing anything in our garden, which is a shame. Thanks so much for your ideas.

  • B3B3 Posts: 26,465

    I've always gardened on clay soil. The thing that I've learnt is not to fight it. There are many plants that thrive in clay soil.   Go with what you've got. It's much more fertile than some of the alternatives.

    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • OnopordumOnopordum Posts: 390

    Depending on where you live you should be able to get council green waste compost delivered for a reasonable price. We got a 5.5 tonne lorry load for about £135 last year (mostly delivery cost). You can use that as a thick weed-suppressing mulch on top of the clay (no need to dig it in).

    Another thing is to grow more vigorous plants which will compete well with weeds (not roses). E.g. look at the book 'Dream Plants for the Natural Garden'. Cough grass for instance is very persistent but it's not very competitive - suitably vigorous plants will swamp it out. E.g. Persicaria polymorpha, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Cardoon, Perennial sunflowers, Red hot poker, Echinops, Perennial Cornflower, Tall Asters etc.

  • IamweedyIamweedy Posts: 1,364

    Raised beds and pots might be the answer . Avoid the deadful clay soil or use it for pottery making. My father had clay in his garden you could throw pots with in Northamptonshire.

    I am on very sandy soil now and I could not manage a heavy soil. I have a dodgy back and I have learnt not to do heavy digging.  I have to enlist my  OH to do heavy stuff.

    He is not really interested in the garden but will do odd heavy digging.  It would be wonderful to have an enthusiastic gardener for a  partner.

    'You must have some bread with it me duck!'

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