Sunday, 8 November 2015

Planting on steep slopes: board-and-post pockets

One of my gardens has a very, very steep bank - actually, several of them - and I am constantly trying to find better ways to get plants established.

Usually I chip a hole in the clay - always hard to do, and tends to fracture the face of the slope - and stuff it with decent compost before ramming in the plant.  I try to make a "lip" to catch the rain, as the plants rarely get watered once planted, poor things!

Last week I was presented with three small shrubs and asked to get them established way, way up one of the bank: not an easy job, but, hey! I like a challenge.

Last year I planted a couple of buddliea on another part of the slope, and as an experiment I had wedged a piece of timber across the slope for one of them, making a sort of miniature terrace, intending to see if the terraced plant did better than the unterraced one.

Surprise surprise, it did.

So for these little shrubs, I thought I'd take that idea and formalise it.

 Here is the first one: as you can see, it is quite literally just a short length of board, with a couple of pegs of odd half-round timber hammered vertically into the slope, to hold it in place. All materials were found on the rubbish wood pile, and hacked roughly to length with my trusty bowsaw.

I then dug a hole above the wood into the chalk, using the rough lumpy 'orrible "soil" to pack in at the bottom of the inside of the new terrace - hopefully, to hold in any rainwater.

Then I heaved a bucket full of compost up, tipped it in, mixed it round, firmed it down a bit, inserted the plant, and levelled it off.

Here is the second one, above and to one side of the first one: exactly the same.

This gives you some idea of the slope - it really is one-in-one, and I have to scramble up, heart in mouth, on my hands and knees.

I then have to brace myself like one of those mad free-climbers, while hammering in the posts.

Don't even ask how about how I get down - here's a clue, it's not graceful, and it involves sliding on my bottom.

 I told the Client that I was intending to get a rustic, artfully non-level look to the boards and pegs: to be in keeping with the casual nature of this bank, and to avoid introducing a jarring note of military precision.

All right, I admit it, this was the best I could manage while clinging to the slope!

I managed to get half a bucketful of water up there - yes, it was a full bucket when I started the climb - to give them a head start, and now they have been left to their own devices to see how they survive the experience.

I shall report back in due course! 


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  1. That's quite a slope! We have some slightly shallower clay slopes in our garden and I've always gone for the dig-and-stuff method with mixed results. I'll have to give pockets a try.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Yes, isn't it! People often think I'm exaggerating about the nearly 1-in-1 slope, but it's a very steep garden in places.

    It's made quite a difference - not only does the board prevent soil erosion underneath the pocket, it also traps - or at least, slows down - the water when it rains, and so far the plants are looking good. I actually started writing this article about a month ago, so they've had a chance to get established.

    Of course, the tricky bit is going to prevent them from being smothered in weeds, as I don't often get the chance to clamber up there and tidy up!


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