After the triumph of Magnolia Hill, we moved onto working another border that sits along the beech hedge at the right hand side of the garden. The soil here is no different and remains a heavy compacted clay. It consists of so much clay that you could probably take it straight out of the ground, twirl it on wheel, throw it into the oven and come out with a gritty dining set for six.
Lifeless heavy clay and wet sand: a horticultural nightmare.
The layer of clay is about a foot deep or so, immediately below that is sand, heavy, compacted and wet sand. In the picture above, I’ve taken a slice into this soil and put a spade’s worth on its side so you can see the cross-section. There’s no immediate mixed zone, solid clay gives way to compacted sand.
And I’m supposed to grow a garden in it?
That’s the crazy plan and it will happen thanks to the help of tonnes of imported top-soil, compost and manure – oh and an electric tiller – this is one job that should not be done by hand.
Just to remind myself of the scale of this job, I took my mind back to when the grass was first cleared of the worst of the rubbish and the garden was much more of a blank canvas than it is now.
The garden as work got underway
Just from looking at this picture, so much has changed that it’s hard to imagine the garden used to be just one large piece of grass, with a defunct electric car hiding in the bamboo at the back. From this piece of grass I formed my master plan on a scrap piece of A5 paper that we normally use to write the shopping list on and translated that into marking out the borders with sticks, assisted by my then-new and glamorous wheelbarrow.
Marking the new borders with sticks.
Then came out my trusty lawn edger, which must have carved several miles worth of border edges by now and so laying sticks were turned into real, visible border edges.
Using the lawn edger in anger.
An effortless way to do away with the pesky grass covering the new borders was to simply cover them with a membrane. This should also do away with any weeds too. When I ran out of good weather, membrane, sticks pegs and energy, I ended up with a garden with ready-to-dig borders just waiting for the fabric to be unpeeled and endless weeks of relentless digging to commence.
Membrane-covered new borders.
As all the small borders around the house had been restored, we tackled the big middle one in the garden proper and created Magnolia Hill. After this we moved on to the border on the right against the beech hedge – but only after taking receipt of six tonnes of material to put in it. We started at the bulging end nearest the patio and worked back from the house. The grass was most definitely gone by the time we peeled back the membrane.
Uncovering that new long border.
It would have been so easy if the soil was any good, but simply digging the clay is not enough as it will simply compact, stick together and revert to airless clay again. Instead, we had to dig it all up and incorporate lots of topsoil, compost and manure in order to loosen the soil structure, add air, fertility and stop it from remaining terminally wet. When we mixed the new material in we dug right down to the sand layer.
Tilling that new long border.
The heavy clay was transformed into a light friable soil that should be incredibly fertile and well mixed. The tiller did most of the hard work but the material still had to be wheel-barrowed in from the front where it sits in bulk bags on the drive. The picture doesn’t give and idea of how highly mounded this border is. If we look at it from the side:
Creating mounded borders for better planting.
The top is almost two feet above the grass surface. The final height of this border is going to be a bit lower, but it’s still a substantial mound. The mounding of the borders means:
- The original clay is well mixed in with all the new material, so it will have a hard time re-compacting as it is so well diluted
- The plant roots sit above the terminally wet sand layer so they don’t rot
- The plants have a great deal more soil for their roots to enjoy, meaning I can plant densely
- It adds interest to what would be a flat garden
- It gives different planting conditions (in terms of water running off the top and down the sides
- It lifts the plants, slightly prolonging the hours of sunshine
- It lifts the plants, so raising them above what could be a winter frost pocket
- The larger surface area and mass of soil may stay warmer in the winter and heat up quicker in spring
This border is still a long way from being planted, but I already have ideas of what is going in. I’ll reveal those when there’s more progress.