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Your garden: FEAT OF CLAY.

Byline: Edited by Adrienne Wild

I AM often asked what makes a good garden great...the answer is that it's not just fancy paving or trendy decking.

Quality plants put together in stunning combinations will not only give dramatic and often instant results, but they are also the cheapest way to transform your garden.

Whether your garden is in the sun or shade, there are an almost unlimited number of plants that will thrive.

You simply need to choose the right ones to suit your growing conditions - and that also means knowing and understanding your soil type.

Whether you have clay or sand, you can't do much about your soil texture.

However, you can do something about the structure of your soil, and any improvements you make will have a direct effect on the health of your plants.

Soil conditioners, such as well-rotted garden compost and manure, benefit all soils. Simply dig them in when planting and they'll improve drainage, especially on heavy soils, and help dry soils to hold on to moisture and nutrients.

Mediterranean plants, and shrubby aromatic herbs that need plenty of drainage, will flourish in sandy soils and, because it tends to be acid too, you'll be able to grow rhododendrons, azaleas, heathers and many other acid- loving plants too.

For hot sunny spots, look out for grey-leaved plants like santolina, teucrium and senecio, which are covered in fine hairs. They have the built-in ability to keep cool in hot weather. Plants such as lavender, rosemary and yarrow have evolved small needle-like leaves to cope with drier conditions. Performance plants which will thrive in those seemingly inhospitable dry, shady places under trees and next to buildings include ground-hugging lady's mantle, elephants ears or bergenias, perennial forget-me-nots, bugle, lamium and lungwort.

Shrubs that will provide impact in these areas include berberis, cotoneaster, euonymus and mahonia plus, of course, there's always good old ivy, which can be used to cover walls and floors or trained over tree stumps and topiary frames.

Wet soils are probably the most worrying, but it is possible for plants to survive and even thrive. Remember to keep off waterlogged soil - compacting the air spaces will only make the drainage problems worse.

Adding coarse grit when planting will immediately improve the drainage on heavy clay.

Dig deep and place gravel or stones in the bottom of the planting hole to aid drainage and keep plant roots out of persistently wet soil.

Plant up wet areas with moisture-loving bog plants such as candelabra Houttuynia Chameleon, Iris kaempferi, cadelabra primulas, hostas, astilbes, rodgersias and ferns whose roots are specially adapted to survive wet soil. Suitable shrubs include dogwoods, willows and Viburnum opulus.

Introducing plants to a soggy spot is often a solution for these problem sites as their roots help bind the soil together to prevent erosion caused by running surface water, and as they grow the roots will create channels in the soil for the water to drain away.

CAPTION(S):

ACID TEST: Rhododendrons; BRIGHT SPOT: A mahonia shrub; HOT STUFF: Lavender has small needle-like leaves to help it cope in drier conditions
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 2, 2003
Words:518
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