Clay soil is often seen as problematic, but it can be turned to your advantage with a bit of work and a prudent choice of plants.
Plants that will thrive in clay soil include roses, hydrangeas, viburnums, dogwoods, as well as perennials like Japanese anemones, brunnera and pulmonarias.
The plants we’ve chosen for a clay border will combine well to create a soft and luxuriant display. These plants are not expensive or hard to get hold of and you can plant them in spring, to enjoy in summer.
More advice on gardening on clay soil:
Make the most of a heavy soil, with this selection of border plants.
Rosa ‘Thomas á Becket’
Rose ‘Thomas á Becket’
Roses grow well in clay soil, and there are lots of types and colours to choose from. Rosa ‘Thomas á Becket’ has crimson flowers and a loose, shrubby shape, which will work nicely in this informal scheme. If you’re looking to plant a new rose, go for a disease-resistant variety like this one.
Height x spread: 1.2m x 1m.
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’
This is a fast-growing, shrubby climber with masses of highly scented, tubular flowers from July to October. Its two-tone blooms are yellow with dark purple-red streaks. ‘Serotina’ grows best with its roots shaded and its head in the sun, so aim to grow plants in front of it to shelter the rootball.
H x S: 8m x 1.5m.
Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, is a fine ground cover plant that can grow nearly anywhere. Its velvety, scallop-shaped leaves hold water droplets beautifully, while in summer its frothy lime-green flowers bring a lightness to the border and seem to intensify other colours. It’s a prolific self-seeder, too.
H x S: 50cm x 50cm.
Lychnis coronaria Atrosanguinea Group
Lychnis ‘Gardeners’ World’
Lychnis coronaria is a fantastic short-lived perennial, lasting around two years, but often self-seeds. The leaves are slender and woolly, and the flowers bright magenta. It’s long-flowering if regularly deadheaded, beginning the display from midsummer onwards.
H x S: 1m x 50cm.
Astrantia major ‘Claret’
Astrantias are summer-flowering perennials that grow well on clay soil in sun or partial shade, so they’re ideal for linking areas together. ‘Claret’ is a showy variety with ruby-red flowers held high on dark stems above foliage that’s dark green and deeply lobed.
H x S: 1m x 50cm.
Border care plan
Buying and planting
- Dig over the soil well and incorporate plenty of organic material and grit to make it workable and improve drainage and moisture retention
- Give the honeysuckle support to climb up
- If planning for next year, buy a bare-root rose in autumn as it’s cheaper than a container plant
- Mulch the border each spring with organic matter such as well-rotted farmyard manure
- Cut back the astrantia and alchemilla when the flowers have faded and are starting to look shabby, and lift and divide large clumps in spring
- Cut back the honeysuckle by about a third after flowering to keep it tidy
- Prune the rose in winter, taking stems back by a third and creating an open shape
- The lychnis is short-lived, so replant as necessary or let it self-seed, and then cut back or pull it out
- Give all plants a feed as they come into flower
Creating more plants for free
- Save money and sow alchemilla and lychnis seeds in pots in spring to plant out in early summer. They will also self-seed freely, so you can collect the seeds and sow again in spring
Take hardwood cuttings of the rose
- Propagate the honeysuckle in autumn by layering: bend a low stem down to the soil, peg in place until it roots, then cut from the plant and transplant