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in Garden design
We've been in our house for the past 5 years nearly, and have mananged to successfully transform the bottom end to a veggie garden with raised beds that we are really happy with.... so now it's time to tackle the rest of the garden.... which is just grass really with one hugmungous apple tree in the centre and a patio next to the house with 3 smaller fruit trees up in one corner.
It's probably about 100ft long, and is just grass. Over the winter we airated the grass with a hollow tine airator, as it gets very water logged (espcially in this weather)!
The plan is to put a curvy flower bed in down one side initially (as we have 2 small kids so need a lawn and space for the climbing frame etc), but the soil is made up of what seems to just be a lot of clay. I think it's going to take a lot of work to get it useable. We have pet chickens and I've read we need to add orangic matter to the soil. I'm due to do their six monthly run clean out - can I use this - it's bark chippings and lots of chicken pooh (usually goes on the veg beds)?
Has anyone any other tips or suggestions for getting the soil ready for flowers (or a better idea of design!)?
Dig it. Add organic matter (from the chicken pen and more) and plenty of grit. You want to open the soil up. Clay sticks in sodden clumps that can be easily compacted and whilst it can be fertile, it needs breaking up into small pieces and keeping light and fluffy.
No walking on the bed, use boards to disperse your weight evenly and really don't scrimp on the organic matter and grit. It's really hard work, but the plants will struggle without an investment of hard work first.
I'd also mulch the bed once you've prepared it, clay can bake solid in the summer.
That's all I know, thankfully I have sticky sand that turns to dust without mulch but is easy to dig.
You can also add gypsum to improve matters. This is sold commercially as "clay breaker", but found much more cheaply in a builders' yard as gypsum (plaster).
I've had exactly this problem in more than one garden myself. First thing to ay - CLAY IS A GOOD THING! No really!! Once you get it improved a bit, it holds so much more water and nutrient in is, most plants will thrive. One of the best things for digging in is composted bark. It can be tricky to find (DON'T use the chipped stuff that's meant for mulching or ground cover). The bag needs to say "composted". Its really fibrous and rough and is better than anything else I've found for preventing the clay you've just dug from clumping back together as soon as it rains. Any sort of general compost is also fine - the rougher grade the better -, plus grit, sand, leaf mould... I've even been known to chuck grass and conifer clippings in, but only where I wasn't planning to plant immediately. Digging a mixture of the above into stuff you could make pots from, you end up with what I think of as christmas cake soil - dark, rich, moist, full of bits to keep it open. Lovely. If you have a lot of huge sticky lumps, you can leave them on patio to bake dry / freeze. depending on the time of year, and then chuck them hard onto the ground to break them up. Of, you can just use them to lay paving on along the lawn edge... Good luck - it'll be so worth the effort.
From my experiences, it will take a good two or three years of work improving the soil before it will be any good, but this should be a continuous process anyway. If you have children then do not try to redesign the whole space, but allow it to evolve as the children get older and their demands on the garden change. Or how about dividing the garden into 'rooms', to give the children their own play space, and have a space for the adults to grow flowers and shrubs? By the way, roses love clay soil!