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Help please - Cannot cope with heavy clay soil



  • BarbslBarbsl Posts: 11

    In the early days, OH bought a second hand digger and dug out a large deep pond with island. We didn't need to line it, as the natural clay held the water. It just gradually filled with rain water - the wildlife love it. So that is one benefit of clay soil. 

    Re the problem bed, I have added sharp sand, gravel, various compost, bark etc. I cannot afford to keep doing it.  I have checked our council and can't find anything about buying in large quantities.

    We certainly don't make life more difficult by trying to grow plants that don't like our conditions. I have lots of viburnums, alders, willows, cornus etc. As well as the cold clay, we have quite a windy exposed garden, so many plants I'd love to grow are out. We may well grow a few more sapling trees as light woodland with bulbs. It looks lovely in the old orchard.

    I think my problem bed needs drastic help. Unless I use a strong weedkiller painted on just the weeds that will kill them and not the plants right next to them.

  • raisingirlraisingirl Posts: 7,016

    A heavy dose of weedkiller, even if you could target it exactly where you want it, is a temporary solution - the weeds continue to blow in. You need to look at a different sort of planting scheme with more under-planting and ground cover, as Onopordum suggests.

    Digging it out completely, building a raised bed and filling with some much grittier soil, then planting it with more ground cover and more robust plants sounds like the way to go. Euphorbias, erigeron, verbena bonariensis, crocosmia, penstemon, agapanthus, grasses, and eryngiums all cope fine with our cold windy garden and clay soil with a bit of extra grit under their roots. Lilac, weigela and deutzia as well as rugosa roses also seem happy to tough it out with weedy grass in the natural clay soil.

    Move any of your roses that are suitable into some big pots, then the rest into the grass using the digger to make some wide planting holes, give each a thick bark mulch 'skirt' and then let them decide if they want to live or not. Your sanity is more important than your plants.

    Get back out into the local show gardens for some ideas and plenty of cake to cheer yourself up. You're obviously an experienced gardener. You just need to get your mojo back.

    “It's still magic even if you know how it's done.” 
  • ButtercupdaysButtercupdays Posts: 4,506

    Make a start on a small area, perhaps centred around a favourite rose.

    Get out any enormous weeds, then cover the rest with torn up bits of cardboard or newspapers to cover the soil and exclude light. You can fit the bits round the plants. Then mulch with whatever you've got - old compost from pots , garden compost, grass clippings, leaf mould from your woodland part, bought bark etc.  Then add some ground cover plants of your choice. You can plant them into the mulch if it is deep enough or just make a hole in the right place.Self seeders are also useful if you like them. I have Wlesh poppies, foxgloves, forgetmenots and Alchemilla mollis all over the place. I love them,  they are so cheery,  and they don't leave much room for  the things I call weeds.

    Hardy geraniums look good under roses, so do Hellebores. I have both under some roses in my garden, (cold, windy  and soil is quite clayey, though not as bad as yours sounds.) They cover the ground and even keep my ground elder from having things all its own way over a lot of the bed. I have snowdrops to precede and accompany the Hellebores, then Alliums and aquilegias to follow on, and some Polemoniums, Astrantia and foxgloves for height. Even when it is not weeded it still looks pretty (even with ground elder flowers!) and gives pleasure, as a garden should. Some weeds will still grow, but if the soil is easier to work, you will find is easier to keep on top of things - just watch out for self seeded babies.

    When you have done one bit you can do another and success will help you get back from the slough of despond. I know what that feels like, as my veg garden fell into neglect for varoius reasons and I could hardly bear to go near it as it made me feel so down. I have just spent a week digging out the old raised beds and paths and improving them  and I feel so much more optimistic about the whole thing now - and I'm in my sixties too!

  • OnopordumOnopordum Posts: 390
    Edd says:

    Please  tell me again what a weed is?

    I thought it was just a plant that you do not like in your garden?

    The RHS introduced Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) and described it as the best plant of the year! they also described,  Himalayan balsam and gave it an award!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Dog help us!

    What ever next? Cray fish, from the US?imageimage


    See original post

    I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Where did I recommend either Japanese Knotweed or Himalayan Balsam? The plants I suggested are all regular garden plants - I said vigorous, not invasive.

  • Nanny BeachNanny Beach Posts: 8,669

    Boy thats a lot of land!  I thought I had a big garden till I read this.  We are on sussex clay, and is a killer (also in my late 60s) Hubby dug out and removed clay from a border lat year, bought and filled it with new top soil.  Have replaced some on other beds as well.  But if he is adamant about no moving yes I think raised beds.  or what about wildflower meadow you just cut once a year, you can get it especially for clay soils, in fact last week we hired a turf cutter, (we have a little orchard at the bottom of our garden) just left paths of grass turf, cut out the rest to plant wildflower meadow.  I saw on TV a couple of years ago, folk getting on with big gardens, "rent" out some of it to folk with no garden, not for any money, they just make use of the ground like an allotment, I thought that was a brilliant idea.Huh, trust some lady to say what about you driving the tractor, and are you unestimating the amount of work hubby does.  If you are like me, you do the cooking, cleaning,washing,ironing shopping, look after the grandkids PLUS doing the garden.  Its the kind of thing they say on "mumsnet"!

  • BarbslBarbsl Posts: 11

    Ha ha Nanny Beach - so true ! It's boys and their toys, he does like a bit of machinery! To be fair, he does a lot outside, but the weed filled beds don't bother him. He has good tools for the job re hedge cutting etc - you must for this amount of land. He wants to stay so accepts he has to keep it fairly in check (but not beds round the house)

    We do have a wild flower meadow, we just cut at the right time and the flowers came including the orchids.I may try adding some more, and some more bulbs, as you say, it is easy to look after then.

    I would be very careful now about invasive plants. When we started the pond a "kind neighbour" gave us some reed mace. Eventually it had taken over the whole pond, the moorhens loved it, but we could see no water at all. So we got a man with tracked digger to scoop it all out, and now have clear water and just some iris, marsh marigolds, water lilies, fish and newts. 

    I have been trying to take your advice Buttercup. I have weeded round a few roses. I have to get the fork in with quite a few hard pushes down, finally loosen a great clod of clay, bang it a lot to get some soil off, then pull out as many grass roots as possible. It is rock solid like cement, and of course a lot of roots are left in there to pop up again. Not a pleasurable experience! I may have another go at the mulching, as I have some chopped bark.

  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053

    I truly sympathise with you. It must be soul destroying to see your vision being overtaken by nature. I think you are quite right now to call a halt and put some plans in place for the future. I am ages with you and over the past few years my garden has been sadly neglected due to ill health which had a knock-on effect on my mental health. This year I have felt much better both physically and mentally due to changes in my medication and I resolved at the beginning of the year to take my garden in hand. I employed someone to help in the initial stages - only for 3 hours but what a godsend he was. He dug out a lot of shrubs etc that were too big for me to manage and I did the rest. It has taken me about 6 weeks from start to finish and I have bought a huge number of new plants which are now in. My enthusiasm has been totally re-awakened. 

    I think your idea of a few manageable raised beds is a good one. You will have to harden your heart and only move much loved plants having scrupulously inspected their roots for couch grass etc.  Once you have cleared the existing beds, Either turn then into grass if that's feasible or cover them with membrane and a good thickness of gravel and grow some pockets of choice alpines etc. (Zen type gardening).  I am sure you have some huge stones on your land that your husband could move to give it the right dressing.  Could be a whole new world of interest for you if you have not grown alpines before and it would be easy enough to make their little pockets free draining. Once things are more manageable your garden will turn again into being solace for the soul instead of soul destroying.  

    Good luck and please let us know how things go. 

    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • yarrow2yarrow2 Posts: 782

    Wouldn't it be a great thing if there was a tv producer looking for an ideal project for a tv programme to rehabilitate your garden for you and do a deal where they pretty much used it as an example of what could be done to rectify your problems and you didn't have to pay a penny!  I would be seriously tempted to write to some known gardening individuals - declaring your despair and love of your property and garden area etc etc.  I'm wondering also if there are any gardening university type projects looking for a garden such as yours to give potential up and coming garden students a massive project to undertake.

    Wishful thinking - but I'd sure give it a try!  You never know.

  • BarbslBarbsl Posts: 11

    Oh yes Yarrow great idea, ... there are so many possibilities. It would be wonderful. We are out in the sticks at bit in North Suffolk. There is an agricultural college not too far away. I'll give it some thought - need to compose a good letter with some "before "pics.

  • BarbslBarbsl Posts: 11

    It would be a dream come true .... lots of young able people getting stuck in, me making the tea!!!

    I've always thought we should try planting living willow bowers. Willow is always breaking off and rooting here there and everywhere. 

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