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It takes years to alter soil if it can be done at all. Just keep piling on the compost and grit. Keep it away from the fence, that will be easier when the border is more than a foot wide.
Should help Red. Polyanthus don't mind sticky soil though do they. Don't seem to anyway. Id choose plants that like this sort of soil, something a bit substantial with roots that go well into the soil. Keep improving it as much as you can though.
What's in front of the border at the moment? If it's lawn you can dig this up, pile it up somewhere upside down and cover it so it rots down (6 months or more) and you can then use it as top soil.
Your borders need to be as deep as possible - 3ft is good and 6ft! is even better. You will probably find your perennials flopping over the front in just 1ft borders.
As nutcutlet says it's not easy improving clay soil - I know as I've also got it and lots of compost, leaf mould, well-rotted manure and horticultural grit (which has been washed) helps a lot.
I mulch my clay areas with the product of the shredder. It holds the moisture in summer and avoids some of the cracking. If the soil does crack the shreddings fall down the holes and roots aren't exposed.
I have heavy clay - the hellebores are loving it. I found some stuff called 'soil improver' that's pretty cheap, made from recycled garden waste, and well rotted manure can be obtained inexpensively. You could try applying it as a mulch round the base of the plants to keep it from the edges, but building up the height of the bed will improve drainage.
I am a novice and still learning but I have one piece of advice - avoid adding sand. We've just cleared a patio and gravelled area that had been levelled with sand and some parts had turned into something concrete - like!
RD - I've also have clay in every garden I've had and I know what you mean about the cost of improving it especially if you don't have room to make your own compost. Lots of councils offer compost at a good rate though so maybe it's worth a call? As mentioned already growing plants that like the soil is the best option really. I did this and then, as the soil improved over time, I added other plants that I liked which needed slightly different conditions. Have you thought of raising the front edge of the border and perhaps putting an extra barrier along the bottom of the fence? Even polythene will help as it protects the timber. I put gravel boards at the bottom of fences when I put them in to help with this but it would be hard for you to do that now. Like bookmonster I also used soil improver called 6x and it was very helpful.