Right Conditions for a Successful Garden

Range of Conditions and Sites

While other sections of this website deal in rather greater detail with shady gardens and other garden areas and sites posing particular problems, it is worth considering the possible diversity of the garden scene. So often one is expected to be gardening on the classic ‘deep, rich loam, well drained yet retentive of moisture’ which every well-brought up young plant appears to demand. This is sadly not true; as most of us do not. Soil and climate combine into a bewilderingly numerous range of types. It may be distressing that many gardens cannot be described as ‘favoured’, but the diversity precludes horticultural boredom — at least it would if more people were aware of the possibilities.



soil conditions The basic material on which the success of a garden depends is, of course, its soil. In particular it is the topsoil which matters. Soil is a combination of inorganic rock detritus, gradually broken down by aeons of weathering, and organic material. This organic ‘humus’ is the product of decayed vegetable and animal matter worked upon by earthworms, bacteria and the other myriad underground creatures. Weathering and decomposition release the basic elements needed for plant growth. Manures and fertilisers supplement these foods and they are both more available and more concentrated in the topsoil.



However chemically rich a soil, plants will not be happy if its physical structure is not right. In addition to foods, plant roots need water and air. An excess of water means lack of air and a heavy impervious soil in which plant roots rot off and die. Clay soils have this dangerous potential. The particles of which clay soils are made are extremely small and hence hold much moisture in the interparticle spaces: double digging and the addition of plenty of humus will help drainage. But in very badly drained soils, where water lays for long periods after heavy rain, artificial drains below the soil surface may be the only solution.

It is a common one in agriculture; however, back gardens do not get a government subsidy. It should be remembered that soil structure is very easily ruined by heavy machinery when houses are being built and even by excessive trampling. Clay soils have to be worked with when conditions permit; they cannot be fought.


Sandy Soil

Light, sandy soils are the opposite side of the coin. They are dry, as their large particles permit rapid drainage of water, and often poor because plant foods are washed out too. But they are easy to work, warming up quickly in spring. Plenty of additional organic matter here also helps to hold water like a sponge.



In between these extremes are the loams, which combine large and small particles and hence have the virtues of both. They have the potential for growing an extremely wide range of plants.


Acid or Alkaline

Another important factor about soil type is its being either acid or alkaline. This depends mainly upon the underlying rock of which the subsoil and ultimately the topsoil is a part. Granite produces an acid soil, chalk an alkaline or limy soil. It is measured, for convenience, on a scale of values called pH. In this, garden soils are likely to vary between pH 4, very acid, and pH 8.5 very limy. PH 7 is the neutral point.

PH is significant in that plant species are adapted to a certain soil type in their original wild habitat and succeed best when cultivated in a similar soil. Sometimes they are utterly unable to exist in any other way. Rhododendrons, camellias, heathers and other shrubs need an acid soil. Lime is anathema to them. Very few plants, however, insist on a high pH (though cabbages prefer it) and a soil just below pH 7 will permit the greatest range of plant

species to be grown. Acid soils can be changed by adding calcium carbonate in some form, but a limy soil stays that way. The only practical method of growing calcifuge plants in a limy garden is to make raised beds filled with imported soil.



A garden soil is continually being affected by the weather: water is added or evaporated; frost helps to ameliorate heavy clay if it has been dug over in autumn and left rough for the winter; heat and drought cause it to crack in the summer.

A successful gardener is one who is able to work happily within the climatic pattern of his garden.

England is in an extraordinary geographical position lying mainly between the fifty-degree and sixty-degree parallels. It enjoys a climate which is remarkable when it is realised that Edinburgh is about on a line with Moscow, and London is to the north of all Newfoundland Yet the Scilly Isles can rival Madeira in plant materials. We are helped, as every schoolboy knows, by the Transatlantic Gulf Stream drift bringing relatively warm water from the Caribbean to our western shores. This is why gardens to the west of the country, even in the far north, offer marvellous opportunities to the plantsman.

The South and East have alternative advantages. The nearness to the sea prevents extremes of temperature, but stronger sun and drier climate encourage plants from Mediterranean countries. All the aromatic herbs enjoy these conditions and plants grown for autumn colour are particularly fine.

It is from these differences that our marvellous diversity of plants follows. Fortunately in all but the wettest and coldest areas, the whole range of well-loved garden plants, from roses and delphiniums to pinks and peonies do marvellously well. What is necessary is to appreciate any particular problems and, especially, potentials and to capitalise upon them.



This map shows England to have a maritime-type climate which is governed by the warm water brought by the Transatlantic Gulf Stream.

It ensures warmer winters and cooler summers than those which exist in the transitional and continental regions, whose winters are sub-zero and summers are hotter than on the coast.

Maritime areas also have rain all the year round rather than the seasonal, fairly low rainfall, by contrast, of the continental interiors.

10. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Planning and Design, Soil Improvement | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Right Conditions for a Successful Garden


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