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I'm planning a new border - advice/help needed... (sketch included!)

(17 Posts)
NotAnEMERGENCY Thu 14-Jul-16 17:15:48

I'm feeling quite overwhelmed by all the decisions/choices so I could do with some help.

The border in question is west-facing, 11m long and ranges from 3m to 2m to 1m in depth. The deep section on the left-hand side of the sketch is in partial shade because of the big cherry tree. The rest of the border is pretty sunny. Soil is clay (not too heavy so drainage not too bad).

The 'blobs' marked 'A' on the sketch show where I'm planning on having shrubs. 'B' indicates tall perennials (probably lupins, delphiniums or foxgloves). The crosses symbolize medium height and low perennials. The colour theme is purple/blue/pink/white.

In the left-hand section on the sketch, I’d like the two shrubs at the back to be Viburnum tinus Eve Price, with maybe a Sarcococca in front.

In the right-hand section, I was considering having two Choisya ternata for the shrubs at the back and a Hebe rakaiensis at the front. Then I started wondering whether I should have Viburnum tinus at the back there too (i.e. 4 Viburnum in total).

My OH thinks it would be too ‘samey’ even if there are two shrubs the same. I think if I have four different shrubs at the back (plus another two different ones at the front) it will be too disjointed. And anyway, repetition can be aesthetically pleasing – can’t it? (Not to mention the fact that it makes things easier for me, the fewer types of different plants I need to think about/care for.)

Do you:

1)Agree with my OH and think there should be more variation? (If so, suggestions are welcome, preferably evergreen.)
2)Think I should go with 2 Viburnum and 2 Choisya?
3)Think I should go with 4 Viburnum?

I’ll probably have quite a few more questions about this border but I’ll start off with just this…


NotAnEMERGENCY Fri 15-Jul-16 11:39:03

Will 8 inches of topsoil be enough?

I'm getting conflicting advice from 'professionals' about the soil, which is making me very unsure about what advice to trust!

There are a lot of wood avens in this border. The landscape gardener was going to put weed matting down and then add 8 inches of topsoil so I can start 'afresh'. That way I can start planting straight away and won't have to faff with improving the clay soil first.

However, the man at the garden centre said he wouldn't bother with weed matting. He said it would be OK if I was just intending to plant shrubs but because I also want lots of perennials, it would just make planting harder and also make it harder for spreading/mat forming plants to grow. He said I should just spray the wood avens with glyphosate and then again a couple of weeks later, and that should be good enough. When I'd done this I should mix in compost/manure with the soil to improve the condition of the clay.

Will it be OK for me to stick with the landscape gardener's plan? Will 8 inches of topsoil be enough? Or do I REALLY need to bother with improving the clay?

Sooverthis Sat 16-Jul-16 06:51:08

I am a new gardener so feel free to totally ignore me but we have spent two years on our clay garden digging over adding manure and topsoil and home made compost and I agree with garden center man. The one bit of advice I have is dig, dig shit in and then dig again if you can. Stuff we just planted has really struggled and the matting/top soil sounds like an expensive cheat option to get the garden looking good quickly.

Kr1stina Sat 16-Jul-16 16:46:52

I'd listen to the garden centre man and fire the landscaper.

Re plants - I have clay soil and grow all the plants you suggest . I find the sarococca are good under a smallish ash tree ( about 5m tall ) where it's dry but not especially shady

The Tall perennials won't be happy under that cherry tree, they will get all leggy .

Re repeating shrubs - it's a matter of personal taste . Repetition gives a more simple look which many people prefer . Personally I am too greedy and I want more different things, but I guess it looks more " cottage garden " and less designer .

trickyex Sat 16-Jul-16 16:58:40

I would also bin off the landscaper, weed matting is no good for a border.
Add well rotted horse manure now and then again in the autumn, plant up then and not now in mid summer (too hot).
How about some prettier shrubs, Hydrangea Annabelle is lovely in summer and will cope in clay soil.
Also look at Choisya Aztec Pearl which is a prettier version of Choisya ternata with finer foliage.
I think 4 Viburnums is a bit dull, mix it up a bit.
Astrantia are also good in Clay soil - Delphiniums are v high maintenance, need staking and are often munched by snails.
Also look at herbaceous geraniums for good choice of colour and habit.

Kr1stina Sat 16-Jul-16 17:05:05

I have a border shaped just like yours , except it's about double the length and backed by a hedge . In it I have ( shrubs only )

Large viburnum bodnantense Dawn
2 small trees - 2 birch, 2 sorbus, 1 malus, 1 hawthorn
2 large euphorbia
2 hebe rakiensis
Large Nellia
5 buddleja Lochinch
Weigelia frorida variegata
2 Cotinus Grace ( v small )
Large cotoneaster
Small arbutus
2 Eleagnus
Small Rosemary
Medium prunus
Abelia grandiflora Francis Masson
3 viburnum tinus Eve

And that's not including any perennials . Now I admit that some people might think my border is over crowded , but unless you like a neat look with big spaces between plans, yours is going to look a bit bare with just the plants you have mentioned.

So I'd go for more variety ( if you like that look ) or multiples of the plants you have suggested .

Kr1stina Sat 16-Jul-16 17:10:05

I forgot to say , don't feel overwhelmed . You don't have to plant it all at once.

You can buy the shrubs you want and lay the pots out on the bed and stare at them for a few days, move everything around. They will be fine in the post as long as you keep them watered ( yes even if it rains, unless its heavy / light drizzle all day, they dry out much quicker than in the ground )

Sooverthis Sat 16-Jul-16 18:42:49

And chat to your neighbours since I moved in we've started a plant swopping thing whenever any of us move/shift plants or split plants they get divided up between us. I've shared loads and received loads and its a lovely way to get to know everyone.

Ferguson Sat 16-Jul-16 20:24:18

I didn't know what Wood Avens is, but just looked it up and realise we have some, but I just dig it out when necessary.

YES to geraniums (cranesbill), vast range of sizes and colours.

Heuchera are nice, many have all-year interest, and wide range of colours:

Also ornamental grasses can be good; Stipa Gigantea is very decorative:

NotAnEMERGENCY Mon 18-Jul-16 12:55:17

Lots of suggestions - thank you!

Are you recommending improving the existing clay soil because you think it's better for the plants than 8 inches of topsoil or because it's cheaper? (I would hire someone to do the digging in but no idea how much that would cost. The landscaper said it'd cost £200 extra if I went for 8 inches rather than 2 inches of topsoil.)

In terms of improving the soil, I don't have any homemade compost ready yet so it would be a matter of buying something in. There aren't any farms that offer horse manure for free round here so I imagine I would have to buy it on ebay.

Is manure better than compost? (I've read that normal bought compost just rots down after a certain amount of time and so doesn't help the soil condition that much.) Chicken manure is mainly for improving fertility, right? (I don't think I need that.)

How much manure/compost do I need per square meter? Would it be the same amount again when the digging in is repeated in autumn?

If I hire someone to do the digging in, is it worth getting a gardener or would a general (cheaper) handyman do a good enough job? I think there are lots of roots from nearby trees but the trees are all mature so I'm hoping that chopping through them shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Kr1stina Mon 18-Jul-16 14:07:17

You can't grow large shrubs let alone a tree in 8 inches of soil, it's a silly idea . I just moved a small weigela yesterday ( I've had it 18 months and it was about 75cm ) and the rootball was about 6 inches deep.

The fabric disintegrates aftre a few years anyway . But before that , the weed will come up through the gaps. That's why they are weeds - they are evil buggers very persistent .

And I have no idea why he's talking about 2" of topsoil - that's barely a top dressing, it will achieve very little . I put that much mulch on each spring.

Honestly the man's an idiot . He's clearly used to doing roundabouts for the council and not domestic gardens.

Is your soil really REALLY bad ? Can we see a photo? What colour is the clay ?

Is there anyone in your street with a nice garden ? If so, knock on the door and ask them about the soil , what it's like and how they manage it, what grows well. There isn't a gardener in the UK who doesn't like to talk about their garden .

Your border isn't that big - why don't you just poison / dig out the weeds yourself and get the materials delivered and dig it over yourselves ? Assuming that you are reasonably fit and able bodied .

Hire a local teenager to do some barrowing if you like - someone's DD/DS who's off for the summer . They'll be glad of a tenner an hour ( it's heavy work ) .

Save your money for buying plants , because you'll need several times more than you think.

You don't need to dig it again in the autumn . You just keep putting organic matter on the top and dig in it a bit when you are planting something . The worms take it down .

If you are determined to have someone in to do this work, please get a second opinion and another quote.

Kr1stina Mon 18-Jul-16 14:10:18

Sorry missed this - yes manure is better than commercially produced compost but it needs to be well rotted. What about stables ?

Chicken manure is just pellets you buy in a plastic container , yes it's feed and not what you need right now. You want something to improve the structure of your soil , clay is usually quite fertile .

NotAnEMERGENCY Mon 18-Jul-16 17:10:46

Right - feeling much more confident that I can do it myself now!

A neighbour has a horse at a nearby stable and I've just asked her. She's going to investigate about manure for me.

The clay isn't too heavy as clay goes. It's fairly dark brown near the top but can be a lot lighter further down. It does get quite dry baked when there's a lot of sun and can get pretty squelchy when there's been a lot of rain but I don't think the drainage is that bad as we don't get puddles of water on it.

How much manure would I want per square meter? I understand the more, the better... but a rough idea in litres or kg (in case I do end up having to buy it online)?

Kr1stina Mon 18-Jul-16 17:59:41

sorry I have no idea about quantities in litres because I get it from a neighbour who brings it in a load all and dumps it on a tarp. Then I barrow it across to the beds - if I'm digging over the whole bed like you I'd use about one barrow load per square meter.

I think you have about 22 M2 ?

It's cheaper to get grit delivered by the ton from a builders merchant but I'm not sure if that woudl be too much for you . Remember to check that it comes in a bag and not loose. Then you need your teen to barrow it for you

It's a lot of work but it's really worth investing in the soil and doing the job well at this stage . Then you can just top dress with bark every year and your weeding won't be too bad. You get a few weed seeds in the manure but it's ok aftre the first summer .

trickyex Mon 18-Jul-16 22:27:28

If you do use horse manure it needs to be well rotted and not fresh. This will take at least 6 months.
Unlikely you will order it online, most stables want it collected.
I think it may be worth getting a local gardener in to help you, he/she will have a look at and a dig of your soil and be able to tell what needs doing.

NotAnEMERGENCY Sun 24-Jul-16 13:00:01

Thanks for all the responses so far - they've been really helpful!

A couple more questions:

1) I really like jasmine and honeysuckle. Are there any types that don't need a trellis? I don't want to put a trellis up against the fence (yet) because the house next door is being sold and the new neighbours may well get a new fence soon as the old one is in rather bad shape. (It's their boundary.)

2) How feasible is it to keep plants that can grow quite large (in terms of height and spread) smaller by pruning? For example: buddleja, choisya, viburnum, osmanthus, hibiscus. I'd probably not want them to grow more than 2m. I know they can take ~10 years to reach max size so should I just not worry about it? If it takes a shrub 10 years to reach 3m, does that mean it'll be 2m after 6 years? Or does it not work like that? How difficult is it to get rid of a 2m high shrub if I think it's getting too tall?

Kr1stina Sun 24-Jul-16 17:03:04

Jasmine and honeysuckle are used to climbing through trees, they need something to grow through or twirl around , not just a plain wall .

Very easy to prune many shrubs . Most buddlejas should be cut to to knee height every spring .

Viburnum - if you mean viburnum tinus is easy to keep in shape

Osmamthus - you just need to do it carefully so you don't spoil the shape ( unless you want the big lump look )

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