Planting into terrible, packed, stony soil ?

(14 Posts)
GrendelsMum Sat 23-Mar-13 13:50:39

Has anyone ever tried to plant into hard-packed, stony, probably nutrient free soil?

I have a fairly large gravelled area which the previous owners used as a driveway for their car collection, but which DH and I don't need. They'd covered it in gravel (plus, we think, possibly a few patches of concrete under the gravel, but we're not sure about taht).

We've just left it for a few years, and it's started to self-seed with colonisers like oregano, euphorbia and buddleia. I'd now like to try planting into it (probably with plants I've grown myself in order not to risk the costs if it goes wrong). I'm thinking about grasses and Mediterranean plants, shrubs, herbs etc - somewhat like Beth Chatto's gravel garden. We're in East Anglia, so in some years it can be very dry.

Has anyone tried this before, and have any tips?

Do I need to go at it with a pickaxe to create planting holes? I'm wary of enriching planting holes with compost and discouraging the plants from extending their roots into the more dubious soil. I'm currently thinking about putting in much smaller plants and letting them grow tough.

HeathRobinson Sat 23-Mar-13 13:58:18

Hmm, I wonder if it'd be better just to seed it? Then if anything grows, it'll really be able to handle the conditions.

The other way, of course, is to make much bigger planting holes than you need, break up the bottom/sides of the hole and have a 50/50 planting mixture/original soil in that. With the plant in its planting mixture over the top/centre. Hope that's clear. hmm

The advantage being that the plant gets off to a good start, then is introduced to a poorer mixture as its roots venture out and, hopefully adapts to the original soil by the time it reaches it.

Rhubarbgarden Sat 23-Mar-13 14:00:42

Yes small plants are the way to go. Grow from seed so you've got plenty to play with. Oriental poppies, digitalis and verbascum would work well and should self seed.

GrendelsMum Sat 23-Mar-13 14:24:54

Ha! Clearly all the gardeners are stuck inside on Mumsnet today!

I see what HeathRobinson means about the bigger planting holes with a mix of original soil and compost. If I go for small plants, that might not be too much work either.

My friend has bought me a seed packet (one of the Pictoral Meadows varieties) so I'll be trying that out as well.

It's so frustrating - I was dying to get out and dry digging holes today and instead we're deep in snow!

HeathRobinson Sat 23-Mar-13 18:13:46

Also, maybe, you could mulch the area annually, to get more organic matter into the soil?

GrendelsMum Sat 23-Mar-13 18:44:47

But if I mulch, then I'm going to lose the gravel topping, aren't I?

I've actually got Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden book, so maybe I need to go through that and see what she does?

Thanks for the thoughts - very much appreciated!

GrendelsMum Sun 07-Apr-13 18:16:54

Just to let you know that I've started the gravel garden this weekend, planting small plants into slightly enriched planting holes as per comments on this thread.

We'll have to see how it goes.

MandragoraWurzelstock Sun 07-Apr-13 18:23:54

That sounds a lovely idea Grendelsmum. (I have always liked your name btw - lovely name for a little girl!)

I took a pick axe to our front drive a few years back, to plant two climbers to go over the front window. It was hard! But successful - I made two holes in the few-inches-thick concrete, put in some nice compost, planted them and assumed the worst...they are now huge and flourishing. I have no idea how, the soil under must be great!

The other day I finally managed to get someone to dig up a proper bed though, around the two plants, so now I've to fill it with compost and plant stuff properly <excited>.

I hope your garden works out well.

MandragoraWurzelstock Sun 07-Apr-13 18:26:53

Btw had you thought of hiring a digging thingy - not sure what they are called - the man I hijacked is a local gardener and used I think it's called a pneumatic drill, once he had cut the tarmac with a circular saw/angle grinder thing for a neatish edge.

I've had to scoop out the hardcore by hand, it weighs a ton, and it's very sandy...but given a skip and a full weekend you might well manage to lift the whole lot.

I mean if the original idea doesn't work, which I hope it will!

GrendelsMum Sun 07-Apr-13 18:31:53

Oh, I do sympathise with you on digging out the hardcore. I was at the tip today (my glamorous life) and I remembered dragging bag after bag of hardcore to the appropriate skip - but the worst of it all is that I couldn't even remember where in the garden the hardcore had come from or why.

The fallback plan is to get a digging thing, but a very knowledgeable professional relative of mine thinks it's likely to work as is.

Rhubarbgarden Sun 07-Apr-13 21:02:07

Good luck - let us know if it works.

CuttedUpPear Mon 08-Apr-13 23:11:47

Verbena bonariensis loves growing in gravel. Just broadcast the seeds later this month. Icelandic poppies also, and thyme.

Liara Mon 08-Apr-13 23:17:42

I have a similar area, it was basically a dug out hole which got filled up with rubble. I am also in a mediterranean climate, so it gets bloody dry.

Things that have done well (I just chucked a bit of soil from elsewhere in the garden and planted up) have been:

Irises
rosemary (from very small cuttings)
santolina
pinks
euphorbias
verbascums

And that's pretty much it. Unfortunately, although it could really do with some height I have not managed to get anything larger to establish (not surprising, really, there is absolutely no soil).

GrendelsMum Tue 09-Apr-13 21:48:39

Thanks, CuttedUp. I'd forgotten VB.

And thanks very much indeed, Liara. You give me hope! I may well try some of those.

I've also got some Dieramas that I might try dividing and moving down there.

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