THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Jul03

Plants for Clay Soil

There are lots of plants for clay soil. Difficult as it is to work with, the opportunities to tend a fabulous garden of well-fed, strong and voluptuous plants are second to none (just try not to despair, at the end of the day, when trying to remove the clay from your boots!)

Oak House 26
Roses are the absolute first choice for clay.

We made a beautiful rose garden for a client in Hampshire. It was on blue clay and halfway down a gentle slope, so got plenty of water. Each bed had a single variety of rose in, 15 plants per bed, and it looked fabulous as you peered through the hornbeam arch (we chose hornbeam, though not as nice a hedge as beech, because it could cope with the site.)

The client had wanted lavender and box to edge the roses and fill in any gaps – but there is no way they would have survived. Ilex crenata may have coped better, but we doubted its longevity (the site really was wet at times.)

So instead we built a small seating area, added a sculpture and made sure the grass sward was beautiful and cut consistently.

Simple and striking seemed the way forward in this case.

Val Bourne gives a rundown of some fantastic plants in her book The Natural Gardener: The Way We All Want to Garden: Preserving Nature’s Jigsaw. She said…

“Roses (even those old-fashioned beauties), viburnums, hostas, phlox, monardas and asters will love your garden.”

You won’t go far wrong if you just planted these!

The hostas may get eaten by slugs, so if you don’t want the hassle either steer clear of growing them, use copper rings around the plants, or add gravel and grit across the whole bed. Decide on your maintenance capabilities really, and how much time you want to spend on picking off and squashing slugs. It wouldn’t be our first choice of jobs to do…

If you do want to buy hostas then you can see what is on offer here – Jersey Plants Direct – they also sell a Viburnum opulus at a fair price if you type that into the search. Viburnums are solid plants (see the V. carlesii in the picture below) and they provide a cluster of flowers at the start of the season and then berries at the end.

Do plant them!

viburnum carlesii


Cornus is another fine choice for soils that are damp – normally planted for winter stem colour, we also think they do a good job during the summer when in leaf – Cornus alba ‘elegantissima’ has a white margin on the green leaf, which provides a lovely calm backdrop for bigger summer flowers.

Astrantia is a favourite of ours, if you want something perennial. Let some aquilegia seed around it, maybe some campanula and forget-me-not, and you have a soft (possibly too soft? If so, add euphorbia palustris!) late spring scene of delightful flowers.

We always found, when growing dahlias, that lots of water helped. So though you will lose the tubers over winter in clay soil, putting them in for summer will give you a beautiful display. Crocus are currently doing a special offer on dahlias in there ‘bulbs’ section – so don’t miss it, go now!

That should get you started. Just remember to suit the plant to the place – that is what modern garden design is about, and it means the plant is happy and you won’t have as much work to do… unless (and it’s a fine problem to have) they grow too well…

All the plants we’ve talked about can be bought and delivered from Crocus or Jersey Plants Direct – Jersey Plants Direct offer a free delivery no matter the size of the order. Which we think is more than reasonable….

Or for decent books to use as a guide, try Beth Chatto…

Or this one on plants for problem places…

Or this one…

Sep29

New Topiary In South London Out Of Yew

Making a new topiary out of the large, dull facade of a Taxus blob… My work was to change it up from a ‘jelly drop’ shape and give it texture, open it out and let the light through, and make it a sculptural feature in the background of the garden in summer… yet a major part of the garden in winter. A few more years before it becomes something special, but there was far more leaf and growth inside the plant than I thought and so it will not take too long for it to gain in character and become …

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Sep27

Topiary Teacher – Put on The Spot!

topiary teacher

Two weeks ago I was invited to teach topiary at the garden of Griselda Kerr, the author of The Apprehensive Gardener. I love teaching and sharing skills, but I was placed on the spot in the afternoon and asked to show how I would make a new topiary from an existing shrub. So below is a speeded-up video of me creating a cloud-pruned topiary from an old boxwood tree. I particularly love the ending when the class get involved….! See the video here. One hour was all it took, and though it needed a little tidying-up, it was made by …

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Sep27

Book Yourself A Topiary Workshop 2022

organic topiary snow

Charlotte Molesworth, my topiary mentor, and I are running our popular topiary workshop again in 2022. You can email me for details – or go here for information, your ticket and to find out about dates. Book A Spot On A Topiary Workshop, September 2022