Floating Borders

It’s been quiet on the blog recently as I’ve been forced inside during the last several weeks as rain is followed by more rain and then again by yet even more rain. The garden is completely saturated and the brief breaks between the rain are not enough to drain and dry the garden – not by a long way. Walking on the grass is reserved for emergencies and I’m stuck to roaming the high ground of the upper terrace (patio). Thankfully the expected Easter snow didn’t turn up but that didn’t mean it was nice and warm. I think it rained all day and then rained in the subsequent days too. In fact it’s raining now as well. The mediterranean holiday terrace looks further away than ever.

Out in the garden the water level is so high that the borders aren’t able to soak it up and so each one has a silver lining that comes from the water filling up at the edges.

The water here is in a border that is among the last to fill so if I see it here, then it has been very, very wet indeed and it’s probably best not to see what state the other borders might be in. The poor drainage from our heavy clay soil and the overwhelming rain we get in late winter are the main reasons we’ve spent so much time and effort in creating the large mounded borders, where each border has literally tonnes of added manure and compost all dug in with the existing soil right down to the sand layer. The compacted sand layer can be more than two feet down in some places. The mounded borders lift the plant roots above the water layer and prevent them from drowning. The picture shows part of the corner border, which is filled with exotics such as trachycarpus, gingers, dahlias and bulbs. They can only survive because they’re held above the water, otherwise they would simply rot from the ground up.

The picture is also a good example of the different planting zones created by having mounded borders, the Iris Sibirica likes being wet and planting it lower down the slope, closer to the water is fine. It will definitely appreciate being closer to the water in summer when we have the opposite problem to too much rain. The hostas, which haven’t yet emerged, are right down in the water, but that’s OK as they’re still dormant. The phormium is planted higher up as it prefers drier conditions. The trachycarpus (which is out of shot) is planted on the levelled top, high above the water so that its feet should be well clear of the cold wet.

All the large borders in the garden are mounded, sometimes up to three feet above ground. It gives a much wider range of planting conditions and lets me have plants that would otherwise find the garden too wet. It does mean that I tend to plant in ribbons that follow the contour lines of the borders. There have been instances where I’ve planted a group of plants from the bottom to the top of a mounded border and they’ve naturally thrived at the level they prefer the most. The volume from all that extra soil acts as a sponge to absorb water and keep plants from wilting drier times. It’s been so successful that once I’ve planted and watered in new plants into a border, I’ve not had to water them again.

As another rain squall moves in and it starts throwing it down yet again, the garden borders will float above all that water and keep the plants from drowning in April showers.

6 Comments


  1. Hi Sunil, annoying as all this rain may be, you seem well able to cope with the situation, similar to the conditions we had in Cheshire with the clay soil. Here in Fife, we have had our share of cold and rain. The garden is now coming alive and a seat in a sunny sheltered spot is encouraging.

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    1. Hello Alistair, it’s a lot better than it used to be but it takes so long for the garden to dry it hasn’t had a chance to drain for months due to the repeated rain. That seat here will need to be under an umbrella with a sun lamp to encourage me to go outside!

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  2. Happy Spring, Sunil! We have had snow, and rain too. although we have clay about 6 feet under our topsoil, it usually manages to drain away eventually, and we don’t get pooling, like you. However, with some sunny days it has been magic for self seeders! Some I want, but loads I don’t!! When it’s dry enough to get the kneeler out, I will be pulling those weedy buggers out sharpish. But isn’t it lovely to see the signs of growth for all the lovely things you have?

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    1. Hello Mrs Mac. I’ve had to go onto the wet grass to reach the jobs that need to be done, though I try and minimise it, it’s not pleasant feeling the ground squelch and give. I’ve managed to plant out some things that were desperately escaping their pots and I’m glad I don’t have to water them in – which is one of the few good things about all this rain.

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  3. Yikes! All that rain is a nightmare with poorly draining soil. Your mounded beds are a smart approach.

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    1. Yep, we’ve had weeks and weeks of endless dull grey and rain. We’re looking forward to a complete change next week when temperatures are expected to skyrocket to 20+ degC with blue skies and sunshine for several days. I can only imagine how fast the garden will grow to make up for lost time!

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