Thursday 28 May 2015

Naturalising hyacinths in the garden

Au revoir dear Hyacinth, see you next year

We are cruel to our hyacinths when we grow this hardy plant indoors. We force it to grow out of season in unnaturally high temperatures without proper drainage on a table away from the window.
Worse when we let it die down. None gardeners throw it outside, roots exposed, into a dark corner on a freezing February day. 

The emphasis in ‘die down’ seems to be 'die'. Perhaps if we want them to flower next year we should rename the process  'live down'. Indeed when I tried to find a suitable word in the botany books to encapsulate the concept of leaves photosynthesising, eventually senescing and storing food in a vegetive organ there were none!

Indoor hyacinths when finished flowering should be placed in a bright outdoor situation - even better in a cold greenhouse - to continue their life cycle. It is not just a matter for the feeble remaining stored resources to translocate down to the developing new bulb. Green leaves need to work to manufacture new nourishing sugars. They need to be watered and even liquid fed. It might be late May before the leaves naturally turn yellow and shrivel. If you don't do these things you might just as well throw your old plants in the bin! It will take a few years for your hyacinths return to their former glory but most of us like to take on the challenge!

How to properly naturalise hyacinths

Naturalised in my gravel garden

Get your order in early and plant new bulbs directly outside in August. It can be as late as October but the sooner the better. Do not buy expensive 'treated' hyacinths, you are not going to force them. Top size is ostentatious, just get ordinary firm fat ones.

You need to plant them in clear soil. Unlike daffodils, snowdrops, Fritillaria meleagris and crocus, hyacinths do not have the constitution to naturalise in grass.
Plant as deep as their size. Don't be too fussy and if they are not completely upright or at a precise depth it does not really matter. As a none digger I don't make a hole but merely scoop with my spade and pop the bulb under the raised soil. I have never yet used a bulb planter and don’t intend to do so.

They don’t mind light shade

They like a gravel mulch but planting on gravel does not correct a badly drained soil
Don't bother to try and improve drainage by placing gravel at the base of a hole as is frequently recommended. It is a complete waste of time.
I hope you do not dig your borders or you will lose your future bulbs when dormant when you shred them.

Unless your soil is really fertile and well drained the flowers might not be as big in future years as in the first one but they will grow into healthy and arguably daintier clumps. I have been adding a few extra bulbs for several years and they are littered all over my borders. They get no special attention other than freedom from weed, an open position and chance to naturally die down. Each clump gets bigger every year.

They will have died down before the tall grass grows
Naturalising in outdoor tubs

This is the third year these have flowered without being disturbed
The same rules apply to when growing in the ground. You have the advantage of enjoying the flowers in a temporary display but their early growth and dying down period can take place in a light propagation area. 
In pots and containers unlike in the ground, it is necessary to liquid feed or top dress with fertiliser to compensate for nutrients lost by leaching. 
Unlike in open soil, you need to give keen attention to watering. It is very important to realise that on a dry windy late winter day substantial dehydration will occur when your plants have become leafy.
I usually find that I cannot recycle tubs of hyacinths more than three or four years. They get crowded, unbalanced, weaker and some bulbs might even die. I start again and any remaining bulbs are popped into the ground.

I recently blogged about ipheons flowering in January. They are still here in early May

Growing hyacinths indoors with Hyacinth  Bucket (pronounced 'bouquet')

Some of you will remember this lady played by Patricia Routledge in the TV series 'Keeping up Appearances'. She has been in my mind as I wrote this piece and in her honour I spelt Hyacinth in the title with a capital H!
Like indoor hyacinths she started from humble beginnings and married to higher status and became an hilarious snob. 

Many folk start their hyacinths in a cold cupboard - not really recommended - better to start in the cold outside. Brought inside they are 'forced' in warmer conditions. Like Hyacinth Bucket they are very heavily perfumed and if the scent was not so gorgeous you might think it sickly. Like Hyacinth, hyacinths are 'loud', plump and flamboyant rather than delicate, elegant and retiring.
Indoor hyacinths are frequently grown in a 'bucket' - well usually a shallow undrained container. I disapprove.
Hyacinth would not want water to drain on her elegant furniture. 
Only posh Hyacinth would insist on growing hyacinths in 'upmarket' bulb fibre - a really 'common' practice! Your indoor hyacinths are best grown in ordinary compost in normal drained pots with an outer container to catch the water. I wonder if Hyacinth would deign to empty out surplus water. She would perhaps wait for her servant. Brenda chastises me when she does the same for me at home.

Hyacinth Bucket is a very ‘pushy’ lady. Here my overwintered dahlia seems to be doing the pushing. Is this inspired planting or just a happy accident?

I let my hyacinths die down naturally without cutting back. My policy is to just let them fade away as early summer plants take over. Another accident too far?

I expect Mrs Bucket would plant in straight lines

I think this is Hyacinth Bucket’s favourite colour 

Seaton Ross Village Open Gardens: Sunday June 7th, 12-5pm

At the moment no pictures. I will publish some later. I know some of you live too far away to come and might like to see our village gardens after the event.
It is some years now since the village last held this very successful event. 

Parking is next to the Village Hall where wonderful teas can be purchased. You can walk the village to see most of the gardens that are open. If you are not very mobile you can park in the road outside each venue. In my own case I live outside the village and the round trip is rather more than a mile from the village hall and you will be best to come in your car.
On previous occasions most of the visitors have not deigned to come to me at all - they have been too exhausted viewing the beautiful village gardens.
If it is a nice day there will be several hundred visitors. We hope so. My friend Peter Williams at Weathervane House will be hoping for better weather than the cold windy day when he was open recently under the ‘Yellow Book Scheme’.

It is all very relaxed. I remember when we  first came to the village and the Open Gardens were then a very low key event. It was a miserable wet day and Brenda and I sat on a bench by a garden pond in a short interlude of sunshine. The residents looked out to see two lone decrepit old age pensioners sitting on their lawn and came out concerned that we had strayed!
On another occasion we had double booked our own calendar and were away. Folks walked round unattended.

     Notes provided to visitors
         Boundary Cottage

         You need to get in your car to come the half mile out of the village. Not in the Open Garden scheme    this year so the only chance to see it. A ¾ acre plantsman’s garden which includes twin ponds, gravel  borders, cactus and succulent plants, herbaceous borders, boggy planting, a rock garden and fruit and vegetables. I hold the National Dicentra collection and blog about my garden as Roger Brook nodiggardener.

Weathervane House
         This is a two-acre woodland garden with magnolias, rhododendrons, azaleas, flowering trees and shrubs together with mixed herbaceous borders, lawns and a circular meadow.  The woodland areas are at their best in April and May and the herbaceous border looks attractive from early June. There is also a fruit garden, a glasshouse and a large polytunnel with specimen rhododendrons and many other plants propagated on site. Plants are for sale.
         Parish Plot

The parish plot is owned by the Parish Council for the use of villagers and it has gradually been reclaimed from wild since 2005. Overgrown with ground elder it was treated with glyphosate several times and garden plants introduced over the previous six years. Once charitable homes for old age village residents the old fruit trees remain but only foundations of the house. It is now a wild garden.

        Chapel Farm

         At the front of the house, behind the large shrubbery is a pretty cottage garden with a small lawn surrounded by borders of lupins, delphiniums, geraniums, peonies, asters and an array of other cottage garden plants bringing seasonal colour all through the year. At the far side of the drive, between the pampas and conifers, is an autumn bed with echinaceas, rudbeckia, crocosmia and heleniums for late summer colour. Behind this bed is a small wooded area. The rear of the house has a wonderful open vista with views across to the Wolds. There is a newly planted patio area with a walled section for fruit bushes. The pond is full of newts and weed…. a project for another day!

        This garden has been planned with low maintenance in mind. There are shrubs such as rhododendrons and roses under planted with spring and summer bulbs and some herbaceous foliage plants like hostas and ferns. Part of the garden is shaded by the trees in the churchyard so by trial and error we have found what grows in the ‘Twilight Zone’. There are paths behind the beds so we may take a walk around and among the garden rather than just look out on to it.


         This small garden is made up of several smaller areas including a wildlife garden, a sunken rockery and herbaceous borders – generally a quirky cottage garden. It is hard to describe – it is just ‘mine!’

        Beech Tree View

         A wildlife friendly garden created in the last ten years. It has winding gravel paths surrounding beds planted with trees, shrubs and masses of flowers. There is also a small lawn, a newly planted woodland/shady area and an insect hotel. Fruit is grown amongst the flowers and we have a small selection of vegetables growing in large pots.

        Manor Farm

         Manor House Farm is set in three acres of land. At the front of the property is a natural pond, two copses and the wild wood! Most of the trees were planted in 1992. The faster growing trees such a cherry and silver birch give cover for the slower growing english oak and ash. The field between the public footpath and the house is mainly left as long grass as it makes a good hunting ground for barn owls which can be seen most evenings at this time of year as they look for food for their young. Inside the beech hedge (again planted in 1992) you will find the rose and lavender garden (planted in 2012) and from there you can walk through to the flower garden (planted 2012, 2013 and 2014 and still under development!). The flower garden has an ornamental pond and photographs to show how the garden has changed over the years will be on display in the summerhouse

Thursday 21 May 2015

Beautiful Barnsley Birdwell bluebells on almost wordless Worsbrough Wednesday

Clematis montana grows in from a neighbour. I might call it borrowed landscape

Osteospermum ruber is completely hardy in Barnsley

No crowds like at Chelsea. I have it all to myself

Sunday 17 May 2015

I would like to do no-dig but I have sticky Foggathorpe clay!

Oh yes you can. You don't have to dig your vegetable garden

Read last friday’s post about clay as homework and now read on.

This spade has woodworm. It won’t dig clay anymore

I am frequently told by gardeners that my ideas are quite interesting but they have heavy clay. It's a gooey mess when wet and rock hard when dry and surplus water just won't drain away. They just have to dig to do anything with it.
People just don't accept that their hard work digging which gives immediate short term gratification will in the long run destroy soil structure so that by the end of the season - or sooner - they must dig it again. Just junkies getting their fix. The very process of exposing delicate crumbs to wind and water separates out the fine clay particles to display them in tooth and claw. Ready to toast hard or puddle together when wet.

Soil structure is not just much loved crumbs in a handful of soil, it belongs to the whole soil profile.  A good soil is honeycombed with channels, cracks and connections through which air and water can move. Worms wriggle and spread organic fertility. Worm-casts accumulate on the surface to enable a fine tilth. A firm settled surface gives the gardener access in all kinds of weather without causing compaction. Most of the gardening world confuses a firm settled surface with compaction!

One of the problems with clay is that the broken up cultivated clay soil goes between transitions from acceptable loosened soil to horrible stickiness and hard rockiness over a very short period of time. By the end of the season just as the soil is starting to get closer to nature the wretched digger digs it again and returns to square one. 
He is correct to believe that his roughed up soil when exposed to winter freezing and drying will develop a nice frost mould in Spring. He is wrong to assume that an un-dug soil will not benefit in the same way.

The real benefits of not digging take a few years to come through. After the first season results start to show, but the real pay off takes several years. It is worth waiting a few years just to experience the pleasure of kicking out a lovely seedbed - although as you modify your growing techniques you will probably be doing more planting than sowing as you pop your plants into nicks from your spade. 

Oh the joy of no weeds! You of course eliminated the perennial weed at the very beginning. Weeds from seed eventually decline as a result of your new sense of purpose and extra available time and you now never let weeds seed. The hundred years-worth of buried weed seed is no more brought to the surface each year by cultivation.

Let your plants do the work to improve your soil when you grow your vegetables and flowers all the year round. No longer should allotments be abandoned for the winter. You will merely stroll round to kill the very few weeds, crop lovely winter vegetables and view beautiful spring flowers.     
I am a great believer in deep and wide-spreading winter brassica roots to improve the structure of clay soil. Early reader Grant Penner wrote in about clay-busting daikon radish to break up clay without any digging. He told all his friends but they never believed him. Brassica roots have recently had a very bad press: they do not make mycorrhizal associations. They might not accumulate wonderful glomalin but they are still fantastic soil improvers. 

Note that permanent roots grow in the cracks in the clay. Cracks in clay soils open and close in the same place with wetting and drying. Don’t disrupt air and water movement, root growth and worm action by digging!

What about no dig for growing vegetables?

I am more strident than usual to make my point today. I hope my earlier posts have given a more balanced view of the merits of cultivations. I am in truth quite ambivalent about what other vegetable growers do and fully recognise that many 'normal' gardeners grow better vegetables than I do.
What I do care about are those diggers who shred the roots of their plants when they dig borders in the rest of the garden.

What I learnt at Oxford. (On the local allotments, silly)
Why so few vegetable gardeners fail to use minimum cultivation.

Any volunteers to take on this allotment? Ironically the soil will be in better condition than when it was regularly dug

I have walked around several allotments recently. I am convinced that many gardeners just do not 'get' weeds. If you cannot control your weeds you need soil cultivation. When sixty years ago farmers started to use herbicides it was widely believed that soil needed to be stirred! Much research was carried out which showed that without regular cultivation yields of many plants, especially perennials, were higher than ever. It was concluded the only real need for cultivating soil was to control weeds. 

Clay soil dug in May is bad practice. This gardener has buried his ‘frost mould’. Look at the fleshy rhizomes of bindweed. What superb propagation!

Dave has a nice frost mould that can be knocked into a seedbed

When I saw on these allotments so many gardeners failing to have a rational weed control policy the horrible truth suddenly hit me. They are slaves to their weeds and have to chop them away or at the end of the season bury them to have a clean start.
Hardly a clean start with buried roots of couch, ground elder, convolvulus and much more!

Get the sprayer out Dave - this couch is quite receptive to glyphosate. Get rid of it for ever!
When I recently went down to brother-in-law's allotment he had several weedy areas well way from his vegetables. They were just right to spray. Dave has eliminated most of his own perennial weed with glyphosate but there was some couch grass very receptive to weed killing spray. You don't have to spray with Roundup to eliminate perennial weeds but it certainly helps. (I concede that there are many brilliant organic gardeners - who would not be seen dead with a sprayer - who don’t dig).

I am working on Dave to recycle his weeds.
Dave kindly dug down to his subsoil - and a worm popped out of its tunnel to say hello

The importance of bulky organic matter
Bulky organic matter is the secret ingredient to improve clay soil. Why dig weeds out and take this manna away when weed can be sprayed with glyphosate and desiccate and die in situ. 
Not only does digging out weeds take your best soil away, every time your soil is stirred lovely black organic matter is oxidised to carbon dioxide and water. I suggested to Dave if he could spray off weed in all crop-less places every three weeks as the very first job on his allotment visit, he would soon have good weed control. Kill the perennial weeds and never again let 'annual' weeds seed. Damn it, they even have a knapsack sprayer available in his communal allotment shed. It will only take ten minutes. 
This allotmenteer’s chickweed is winning and every time it is forked out the soil is damaged and a new seedbed is created for new weed seedlings. Prevent the weed seeding by frequent shallow hoeing. Leave it to dessicate and die on the surface

Weeds between growing crops should of course be regularly hoed. If you must take organic matter away it must go to the compost heap and when rotted returned as a mulch.

This heavy soil really lacks organic matter. Don’t waste any organic remains that nature provides

To speed up any conversion from organic-deficient cultivated soil to a no dig system do not be ashamed to gather all the bulky organic matter you can from wherever you can find it. Apply it as a mulch and for most gardeners this will be after composting. My own penchant is to recycle all organic matter directly but for most tidy folk this is a step too far!

I have been discussing with soil scientist friend Peter Williams how to improve damaged clay soil. He agrees that good clay soil structure is mainly about bulky organic matter. He personally might sometimes dig it in. I prefer to leave the job to the worms.

Would a no dig gardener ever dig to improve a damaged clay soil?

Say the soil had a hard plough pan, had been stripped of most of its topsoil to expose sticky xyz clay😱 - 😪apply your own description - and had been generally abused when wet. I might just consider digging. I have previously posted about incorporating newspaper, woody prunings, charcoal, imported soil and gritty materials. I am not as dogmatic as I might seem.
I do want to persuade gardeners that digging is not  the natural start of a new gardening project, but even I might be inclined to dig a site ruined by heavy machinery and cultivation. Just once!

Converting a soil that has been completely stripped of it's topsoil down to pure sticky clay is beyond the scope of my article today.
All the allotments on clay soil that I have recently observed, would, with an enlightened no digging policy become highly fertile.

There are wonderful characters on every allotment. Perhaps this gentleman knows that grassing down is an excellent way to improve soil structure

And good news for vegetables growers with heavy clay soils…..
Quote from a major technical site for farmers
Minimal cultivation or direct drilling is best carried out on stable soils that maintain their structure throughout the season. Clays, silty clay loams or clay loams are often the best soils for such techniques.

The soils that have most to gain by not digging are clay ones!

So what is so special about Foggathorpe clay?

A present from Foggathorpe
Michael announced himself as ‘anonymous’ when he claimed on one of my earlier ‘no dig posts’ that I must have never seen Foggathorpe clay. I soon learned that he cycles past my house every day. He would  banter that my methods would not work on his Foggathorpe garden.
When I wanted a picture of clay for today’s post I took the opportunity to ask him and he kindly invited me down. I had some difficulty because when I knocked at number four a lady peeped out of her window, came to the door and said she had never heard of him! After several conversations with local residents - I learnt a lot about Rhea Ferdinand and Manchester United - I discovered number four across the road from number four. Michael explained that there are actually four number fours. Fourggathorpe clay clearly affects the mind.

It had rained heavily the previous night. Michael in triumph showed me his flooded front garden! On the contrary to his supposition, if poor drainage is caused by an impermeable subsoil whether you dig or do not dig is entirely irrelevant. If I had been pugnacious I might have commented that his digging had not done much good.
His attractive back garden was un-flooded. His vegetable garden - the bone of contention - was slightly raised. A very good strategy if your drainage is poor. His dad had formerly used very generous quantities of horse manure and Michael had clearly continued. His black soil looked very fertile and the Kerria in his flower border was twice the height of mine. Clay soils grow wonderful plants!

Mike reduced his drainage problem by raising his levels - but not in a twee trendy raised bed

Cathi had warned Michael that I was a fragile old man and he insisted on digging the hole. To my amazement the clay was nearly two foot down. 
I always forget to ask the crucial questions. How often does he dig and how deep? In my opinion the more shallow, the more infrequent, so much the better! My guess was once a year and not very deeply (although he did have a very big spade). It won’t apply to Michael but many gardeners who claim to dig just scratch the surface.
He has a very nice soil rich in organic matter. As he dug his hole deeper than he would normally go, the undisturbed soil had a beautiful honeycomb structure. And then we got to the clay!
My impression was that if Michael stopped digging his vegetable  garden and controlled his weeds by hoeing - and in any large gaps used glyphosate - that the conversion to the benefits of ‘no dig’ would be immediate.

Friday 15 May 2015

Understanding clay soil

What you never knew about clay and never dared ask.

Clay particles are the smallest mineral particles in the soil. So light and small that if you disperse them in water the tiny grains float. Indeed without interference the smallest might float for ever. Clay particles are defined in soil science as the mineral component in soils less than 0.002mm. This crude definition distinguishes clay which is both chemically and physically different from the the larger mineral particles, silt and sand. 
All three minerals, sand, silt and clay, are unchanged in properties and size by anything the gardener might do. 

Notorious Foggathorpe clay! Genuine clay subsoil!  Blue tones in clay indicates  poor drainage and lack of oxygen when it is saturated. More rusty colours in clay  indicate the presence of oxygen which converts  blue/green ferrous iron compounds into the ferric condition.

Only on the smallest of sites is it possible to change the mineral make up of soil. This normally unchangeable characteristic is described as soil texture. To change the proportions of sand, silt and clay by incorporation of imported minerals is fraught with problems and is beyond the scope of my article today.

Clay is described as a secondary mineral. It has been produced over the millennia by physical and chemical geological change. It bares little resemblance to any obvious mineral bedrock as it has often been deposited from water over many thousands of years. There are hundreds of clays all subtly different - even within your own garden. There are of course well defined and classified broad clay categories each with significantly different characteristics. 
Ask any gardener and he will tell you that his is the worst clay in the country. On the contrary It is important to realise that when a soil contains a proportion of clay it is a very good thing!

Gardeners often imagine when they dig down to the subsoil it is pure clay. On this ‘heavy’ Oxford soil there is plenty of clay but sand and silt too.

Soils with plenty of clay are described as heavy. This is a traditional measure of a soil’s workability and nothing to do with its weight! My sandy soil here would have once been described as a ‘one horse soil’. A sticky clay might have needed four horses to pull the same plough!

Concentrated clay tends to occur in what gardeners and farmers call subsoil. Topsoil which descends gradually down to the subsoil is often the result of mixing of sand, silt and clay components by historic cultivation. The nearer the surface the darker and more fertile the topsoil will be. In my opinion it is usually a bad thing to bring sticky clay subsoil to the surface. 
It is important to recognise that subsoil is not usually just clay and will also contain silt and sand. Some subsoils are very similar in constitution to their topsoil and merely lack the magic of organic matter. 
Pity the poor gardener who inherits a sticky clay subsoil stripped of its topsoil!

A study of clay
Tiny particles of clay have a platelike composition. Water is absorbed within its volume as well as on its very large capillary surface. Most clays are expandable and swell  - but not all. Some clay soils expand several inches between dry summer and wet winter and the whole garden rises or sinks. 
Differential expansion and contraction induced by the presence of tree roots can cause considerable damage to buildings.  

The surfaces of clay particles have negative electrostatic charges. This enables clay to hold positively charged ions. These include plant nutrients such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium. On acid soils hydrogen ions displace some of these nutrients. Negatively charged nutrient ions such as nitrate are NOT held by clay and are liable to leach from a soil in winter Some negative nutrients such as phosphate are held in the soil by other mechanisms.
Clay does not hold its nutrients so tightly that they are unavailable to plants.

Clay particles stick together and its called flocculation. The significance of this is frequently confused when lime is claimed to improve soil structure. There is a classical schoolboy experiment when lime water is added to dispersed clay particles shaken up in a test tube of water. In a modern miracle the particles stick together and flocs of clay rapidly settle out.
In 1953 many square miles of Southern England were flooded by sea water.  Sodium displaced calcium on clay on large tracts of land. The clay became deflocculated and  became an absolute mash up. The soils were eventually restored by adding significant quantities of calcium sulphate that ‘knocked out’ the sodium. (Calcium sulphate is the only form of lime that does not make a soil alkaline). The soil was saved by re-flocculation!
Ever since then soil textbooks have been paranoid about deflocculation!
I argue that the ‘default position’ for clay in normal soil is flocculation. If it is flocculated, lime cannot flocculate soil even more. 
Even though I claim that this is not the reason why lime improves clay soil structure, secondary effects of lime might do so and gardeners will continue to add lime to clay soil to improve it’s condition. But don’t add too much and perhaps use calcium sulphate.

The wonderful thing about clay is that the particles do mix and stick together with the help of organic and mineral ‘glues’ such as glomalin, humus and iron compounds. Intimate mixtures with organic matter and sand and silt form soil crumbs. Crumbs in clay soils are much more stable than any in other soil types but are likely to be destroyed by heavy rain or irrigation and especially by excessive cultivation. The formation of crumbs and other loosely bound larger soil structures is called aggregation. It is rather confusing, as such aggregates are NOT what you buy at B&Q to make concrete!
It is a gardener’s ambition for his soil to be made up of ‘water stable aggregates’

Good things about clay soil

1. Assuming your soil to be some favourable mixture of sand, silt and clay then clay does many fine things to your soil. (Any pun is deliberate).

2. Clay holds many nutrients that are readily available to plants. Sand and silt do not although some gardeners do effectively add finely crushed granite as a slow release fertiliser. Mineral chalk and limestone also release soluble calcium and raise pH.

3. Clay is water retentive and significantly improves soil water holding capacity. En passant, I  might mention that the plant is unable to ‘suck out’ the last half of its fully wet content. Nevertheless that’s still a lot of available water.

4. Clay readily forms fairly stable aggregates with organic matter and contributes hugely to good soil structure.

5. The repeated expansion and contraction of clay as it freezes and thaws in Winter helps when making a ‘frost mould’ seedbed in Spring. This temporary improvement  is not exclusive to dug soil!
Farmers and gardeners recognise that there are very narrow ‘windows of opportunity’ after rain to make a conventional seedbed tilth in Spring. This window might be as short as 24 hours between being too wet and sticky, or lumpy hard dry.

A clay profile exposed to drying in a local wood. Note that it cracks in an approximate hexagonal pattern

Bad things about clay soil

1. Damage to buildings! My ‘lunatic’ friend Po Simpson used to be a house damage insurance assessor. He did not last long - he is too kind. He sent me this link. Apparently if  there was a tree on a clay soil it was always to blame. Even when it wasn’t!

2. Too much clay in a soil leads to a sticky plasticene structure when wet - and a hard impenetrable surface when dry. You get the same effect in a ‘normal’ clay soil when natural structure and aggregation is destroyed by excessive cultivation. (In ‘my book’ most cultivation qualifies to be excessive!).

3. Loosened clay soil is seriously damaged when walked on when wet.

4. If clay soil is ‘puddled’ by compression when wet it will impede drainage. I have even seen water stand on the soil surface when it is dry below!

You cannot change clay.

Clay will always be clay – well unless you wait thousands of years! I know this comment is insulting to the knowledge of most of my readers, but when I was a kid new to gardening I did not ‘get’ this fact. I think new gardeners sometimes think that by working the soil they will change the nature of the soil mineral particles. They won’t. 
Cultivation will change the overall soil condition – called structure: usually for bad, sometimes for good. It will not change the physical and chemical nature of the clay particles.
Clay soil is ‘improved’ when the particles stick together with each other and sand and silt. Organic matter and natural glues are fundamental in this weak  and intimate bonding together.
Soil is also ‘improved’ when natural channels, cracks and spaces are undisturbed
Where clay particles are torn apart from crumbs disaster follows.

A hundred and fifty year old clay spade. Perhaps it was used to dig out the clay at Brickyard Farm down the road?

I have puddled in clay before.

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