Garden just unusable in autumn/winter- help?

(24 Posts)

I love gardening and it really helps my mental health, but for 5 months of the year the garden is impossible. The main problem is the clay soil, which just holds all the water on the surface and turns the lawn into a bog with odd clumps of grass (even in summer the lawn is horrible despite multiple attempts to reseed). I have raised beds for vegetables now, but with everything else awash it's difficult and unpleasant to do anything with them.

The trouble is, we are on a fixed income (I care for my husband) and there is literally no chance of spending any significant money on the garden- for example returfing or decking would be completely out of our reach. So I need ideas and motivation for changes that would be low cost- I'm talking well under £50 here- and that I can do myself.

I would say I need ideas to make the garden look less awful, especially the lawn, ways I can still grow things in winter and ways to protect everything from the effects of the constant soaking! Please?

mistlethrush Wed 29-Jan-14 13:35:47

Sorry to hear your clay soil is getting you down.

I have heavy clay too - and, yes, its quagmire like at times. I have standing water in the edge of my borders as the water table is so high.

You might live in an area that has seams of gravel - if you do, and could dig down to one, you could construct a soakaway, and then you could put in french drains to drain your lawn into it. However, if you're in a situation like me, you won't have any gravel seams within a workable depth. My garden is slightly higher than the neighbours' garden - and it clearly had been drained to a single spot in our boundary - all the clay drainage tiles come out of the lawn if you dig down. I have dug a 'bog garden' in the centre of the garden, adjoining this boundary drainage point that was already established, and have drained my lawn with french drains into that area - that then overflows to the neighbours property where it has always drained out - I don't know if something like that might be workable?

I have exactly the same problem as you.

I just moved in 3 months and my new 'garden' appears to be a swamp of wet clay - it did not look like this last summer when we viewed the the house.

We have also made it a bit worse by building a wall (to create space for an extension) and piling up wet earth behind wall to level out the garden.

We have been left with practically no grass and pools of water on top of the soil.

I also don't have the strength or money to double dig in sand/gravel or create drainage drains. So this is what I'm going to do:

1.Pretend that all of it is plantable.
2. Put down occasional cheap paving slabs or quads of bricks for stepping stones all over so you don't go up to your knees in mud every time you go out. Put them up to the corners so you can get in to plant stuff/weed.
3. Plant stuff - I've bought 300 plus bulbs to go in the ground as cheaply as possible
4. I'm not bothering with grass - I am going to bother with mass planting of soil retaining plants that they use on motorway verges so that there's no slippage. As I get more money/raise stuff from seed I will just keep planting.

5. Cheap paving slabs - I'm looking on EBay/people free cycling them. I don't care if they don't match because if I keep planting you eventually won't see them

I'm doing none of this til it warms up a bit - I don't find gardening fun until it's at least 13 degrees outside. I don't go to the allotment til the end of February as gardening in the mud makes me frustrated and cry blush

HindsightisaMarvellousThing Wed 29-Jan-14 13:58:29

My garden isn't as bad as that, though I think everywhere is suffering from the rain at present.

What about continuing your theme of raised beds and going for container gardening? You can use anything as a container, junk, tins, boxes etc, and paint them to give a unified theme, or age up new terracotta pots with yoghurt. At least then you aren't waiting for summer all the time and can get out there in most weathers.

My local building firm delivers top soil and sharp sand in dumpy bags, relatively cheaply too if you didn't want to bulk buy expensive compost.

There are many books in my local library on this to give inspiration if you like the idea.

All good ideas to pursue thanks! I will have to do some reading up on french drains, that's a new one on me.

We do have some paving stones on the lawn- they get all caked with mud though, but more would definitely help. We have to keep the lawn as we have 2 dogs. In fact, I think dog two is what has finished the grass off completely, digging holes which then fill up with rain for days on end!

I was considering container gardening and it's the best quick fix, but I think I'd have to arrange some sort of awning to keep rain off and water them instead... What I would really love is a porch on the back of the house, the type that counts as temporary (so no planning permission) made of wood posts and a plastic roof. Not sure how to go about that though.

The other big issue is that I have loads of brambly things constantly coming in from my neighbour's garden. They seem to live behind her hedge, so no problem for her- and I imagine would be very hard to eradicate from there as well- but they come through and over the fence and cover everything if left for even a fortnight. Neighbour is lovely and I would never complain to her, especially after suffering years of awful neighbours and I really don't think there is much she could do anyway.

Okay, I think that's all the moaning done for today!

funnyperson Thu 30-Jan-14 19:06:19

Dear silverdragonfly do not despair! Many many English gardens are grown on exactly the type of soggy clay soil you describe. Monty in his garden books is always talking about the soggy clay in his garden. I used to have impossible soggy clay in my garden. I am not the hardworking digging type so I assure you if my garden soil can improve, anyone's can.

Firstly it helped to put slabs of paving ( I chose rajasthani fossil stuff from b and q. It was a nice golden colour to start with but soon turned muddy brown) with breaks in between at the edges of the lawn and flower beds so that I didnt impact the lawn when the ground was soggy.

Secondly it helps to put a layer of mulch aka organic compost at least 2 ins deep in the spring ( ie late feb) and autumn (ie late oct) Modern thinking is you dont have to dig it in and it is better for the carbon footprint if you dont.

Whenever you plant stuff (and do plant lots of stuff) choose stuff suitable for clay and dig a big hole and put some horticultural grit in the bottom of the hole and plenty of organic compost. This will get your plants off to a good start and the compost will help improve your soil generally.

The thing about spiking the lawn and brushing in a mixture of sand and compost in the spring (ie late feb/early march) really does help.

The garden wont improve in a day: it does take time, but it will happen and it is useful to remember that lots of plants will grow in 18 ins of soil. If the garden is really boggy you could plant bog loving plants ie lots and lots of water flag irises and rushes and hostas etc which are v trendy.

bumbumsmummy Thu 30-Jan-14 19:19:30

Turn your garden into a meadow with meadow in my garden they do one for clay soil and its not too expensive

bumbumsmummy Thu 30-Jan-14 19:20:02

Ooh save the seeds from your fruit and veg

mistlethrush Sun 02-Feb-14 08:40:32

funnyperson - improving things like that is all very well if your water table is not as high as it is here. Putting grit at the bottom of a hole and putting the plant on top is a waste of time in my garden because, I do that and put the plant on top and the water simply fills the whole hole up again, including the roots of the new plant - as the water table is about an inch below the surface of the soil for the winter (or last summer, the summer too!).

I agree with the mulching - that helps - at least you don't need to get onto the soil and weed it as much.

GrendelsMum Sun 02-Feb-14 17:28:02

Does your council do free compost / soil improver? (i.e. from the green waste) Ours does, and it has made a huge difference to our very heavy clay soil. I can actually see where I ran out of council compost, because the plants do less well in half a bed than they do in the other half.

The other thing I've done that cheers me up, at least, is to do more arrangements in pots around the back door, the back gate, etc. They're a little cheesy, perhaps (e.g. autumn planting of chrysanths, violets, heather, etc across about 5 large posts) but they really give me a lift, even when some of the garden is depressing me hugely.

GrendelsMum Sun 02-Feb-14 17:30:03

oh yes, re. the issue about planting holes. What I do is to dig deeper and backfill with a bit of extra gravel mixed into the soil. It generally seems to be working okay, although I've just put in a wisteria onto what turned out to be the most revolting clay, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Sun 02-Feb-14 20:29:46

I agree with GrendelsMum about the value of using compost to improve the soil. Sand or gravel will improve drainage, it's true, but sand in particular can turn heavy clay into a claggy mess, whereas compost will improve both the structure and nutrient levels. I have been mulching my heavy clay soil with a layer of composted bark for several years - I don't dig it in and let the worms do the work - and there has been a very visible improvement.

mistlethrush Mon 03-Feb-14 09:17:17

It all depends where the watertable is doesn't it - I do mulch my borders etc - so I have 'better soil structure but still underwater' borders rather than 'clay you can cut into cubes'. Mind you, I used some clay that did come up in cubes out of the bog garden area to fill my raised vegetable bed and have heavily composted and put some chalk on and that is really lovely in a remarkably short time - you can hand pull weeds and don't need to dig it. And being clay based is ideal for a raised bed as it does retain the water for longer when you do need to water (eg some summers). Mind you, we do have a raised bed for the veg as they will float away otherwise....

funnyperson Mon 03-Feb-14 20:09:29

I thought of this thread today on the way to work in the morning - the water table is so high everywhere at the moment- I am not joking: there were long sections of the motorway with rivers running alongside that I am sure weren't there before, and whole fields of water meadows. I wonder if this is a freak year or whether wet flooded winters will be a feature of the future.
Anyway here are 213 plants that grow in poorly drained clay according to the rhs
apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/selectionresults?st=162&ms=167&op=0
Of these I like Actea, ajuga, angelica, astrantia, ferns, lily of the valley, deutzia, filipendula, hosta,gunnera, day lilies, japanese water irises, yellow flag irises,lysimachia, myositis, persicaria and pulmonaria bu you may like others.
When short of gardening funds the following strategy worked well for me:
1)create a computer table with 'plants in garden' 'plants to be planted' 'plants to be propagated' and 'plants wanted'
2) propagate plants and plant plants when you have no funds.
3)make sure that plants which will go well with the plants already
in your garden and in your soil type go in the 'plants wanted' section.
4)look up bargains for your 'plants wanted' just like you would shop around for your model washing machine etc. These may be slightly out of season or on ebay or in lidl or aldi or poundland or at the local fete.

funnyperson Mon 03-Feb-14 20:29:14

Another thing to help suck up the water is willow
www.willowkits.co.uk/html/make_a_wigwam.html

mistlethrush Mon 03-Feb-14 20:56:51

If you want to create potential subsidence plant a willow!

ComeIntoTheGardenMaud Mon 03-Feb-14 22:19:47

Depending on where you plant it and how close to buildings, surely?

mistlethrush Mon 03-Feb-14 22:33:01

Yes, and how big you let it grow... but with heavy clay and willow it is one of those well-known combinations... and most modern gardens are not sufficiently large to accommodate a willow safely if its allowed to get big enough.

funnyperson Tue 04-Feb-14 01:34:07

Well that's why I thought a willow wigwam (as per link) could be a good solution.

Thanks for all the replies! I thought this thread was dead and didn't check back until now. Making a list of all your suggestions.

ShoeWhore Sun 02-Mar-14 17:29:39

I would echo the advice about mulching. You can often get free manure if you live near a stables or a farm which is great for very cheaply improving the soil. (you may prefer to dig this in though - it's not as decorative as other mulches grin )

Our London garden was full of clay and we massively improved the soil with lots and lots of compost and composted bark - we were planting from scratch so we did it in sections and dug it all in as we planted. It was blooming hard work but it paid off. The other thing I suppose is choosing plants that don't mind the type of soil and situation you've got - no point choosing a Mediterranean planting scheme if you've got heavy clay in shade! The RHS plant selector is good for ideas. The upside of clay is that it is very rich in nutrients so get the plants right and they should thrive.

I actually volunteer on a farm!

ShoeWhore Mon 03-Mar-14 21:58:45

Sorted then grin

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