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Clay is full of nutrients and most plants do quite well as long as it is not solid, dry so you cannot dig it. People normally tell you to add in grit but I found that easier said than done as when I dug a whole I had one solid lump of clay on the end of my spade. My garden is on so solid a clay that all we had to do to get a pond was to dig a hole. I have yellow clay and blue clay. My chidren made vases out of it and I dried them in the oven and they are excellent vases I still use. The flower beds were wet and cold in winter and like concrete in the summer, I have however had alot of success with Cynara Cardons, roses, clematis, day lilies, fox gloves, ferns, grasses, hostas, some irises, snow drops, daffodials and crocus and for trees, acers, cherries, hawthorns, etc then if it stays wetish you can try astilbe, ligularia etc. Most shrubs are ok as well from hydangeas to spireas and weigelas. In fact all sorts of things. Just make sure you dig a hole at least twice as large and deep as the pot of the plant you are putting in and add lots and lots of compost, and make sure you water when needed.In addition ever year I pile about 7 -10cm of homemade compost on top of my clay soil, no chance of digging it in but I have found that the worms absorb it into the clay and over the 11 years I have added it, I now have about 30cm or more of lovely soil before I hit the heavy clay. Even after the first year I added it there was quite a lot of improvement, so much so that I often forget that I am on very heavy clay until I decided to create an annual wild flower meadow and had to strip of the turf. I ran my Mantis over it which just scratched the top few inches but I still sowed it and it has been lovely all summer.
Dig as much compost and well-rotted farmyard manure into it as you possibly can.
Roses do well on clay soil, and here's a list of other plants that will do well on a clay soil enriched as above.
Don't worry, some of the prettiest gardens I know are on clay soil
Yeah, there's LOADS that'll like it just fine. I'm sure Dove's list is pretty comprehensive. I'd recommend a good layer of composted (NOT chipped) bark over the lot once or twice a year and the worms'll reward you with lovely xmas-cakey soil in no time. Personal faves in clay are choisya, bergenia, golden spirea, geraniums, iris sibirica and phormium. Bx
I've always gardened on clay wendy and adding well rotted manure or even the dried stuff you can buy is the best solution along with plenty of grit. I add a handfull or two whenever I plant anything. A bit of prep might seem expensive but it's well worth it in the end. Some nurseries also sell off old compost cheaply and that's useful for adding to beds to make the soil more friable without it costing a fortune. At this time of year some of the diy outlets will be having offers on compost so that can be a cheaper way of getting some 'lightness' into the soil- a few of these big bulk bags will go a long way.
You don't mention how wide the borders are or how high you want the planting to be but for lower growing planting hardy geraniums are always a good bet and if you have some sun, the sedums which flower just now ( ice plants)will grow well and Hebes are evergreen if you want structure all year round. Many bulbs will thrive there and if you have some shady bits, Heucheras and lots of grasses- the sedges - will also do well.
Thank you everyone so very much and sorry for delay in replying. I am out , as we speak, sorting it out, based on all of your advice. nice to see summer coming along again soon x
Hi Wendy, some excellent advice above - all I'll add is that if you also top-dress it every autumn with 2-3 inches of compost, it will improve as the years go by (with worms doing most of the hard work for you!)
Edit: Oops, aunty betty already said as much!
Totally agree with all of the above. I have very heavy clay soil which is virtually impossible to work when it's wet and then dries like concrete in the summer so the window of opportunity to work with it is very small.... Especially in very rainy Devon! However, having said that, there's nothing I've tried to grow here which has failed. Most plants seem to LOVE the soil - roses in particular grow really well. I have a "cottage" garden with all the usual suspects and they are all perfectly happy. If in doubt, I try growing from seed or cuttings and then it's not an expensive mistake if it should fail. So far though, nothing has. Good luck!
here is a picture of it after a good dig today (arms are aching) but it is a start!