The Basis of a Good Flower Garden

No one would dare build a beautiful house today without good foundations and yet, again, attempts are made to produce magnificent flowers without giving the right attention to the foundation – the soil. Before starting on any planting scheme, the soil should be given every attention. There may be the necessity for drainage. There certainly will be a great need for digging in organic matter. There will be a lime requirement, but, of course, not in the area to be planted up with plants like Rhododendrons, that dislike lime.

Get to know your soil! Do not regard it as only containing disintegrated rock or minerals. It contains also certain quantities of organic matter, living organisms, moisture and ‘gasses’. Usually speaking, the top 200 or 225 mm (8 or 9 in) will be dark in colour due to organic matter and to oxidization, and the soil below, lighter.

Much has been done by all types of so-called agents to build up the substance we now know as soil. Wind has transported matter from a distance. Rivers have carried down silt. Glaciers in the past have worn down rocks to the finest powder. Burrowing animals have played their part, while the earth worms have done a great work not only by bringing portions of subsoil to the surface, but also by pulling down dead leaves and other decaying vegetable matter into the ground below.

Lots of plant roots in the past have penetrated the soil and aerated it. Soil bacteria by the million have worked on the organic matter and have initiated the formation of humus. Even ants have helped, and many a gardener has found the ant heap ideal for making seed beds when mixed with a little sand, even though he has not wanted them in his flower border or in his ‘ports’!

Which of these five classes of soil does yours most resemble? The clays, the sands, the loams, the limey or calcareous soils, and the peaty or moss lands. A clay soil is silky and smooth to the touch, and even when well-. drained it is apt to be wet. It is difficult to cultivate during wet periods, for if it worked at this time it may settle down like cement. Clay soils may have to be shallowly dug in the autumn and left so that the frost can somewhat pulverize them, and then, they are more easily workable in the spring. Clay soils need lime, for this helps to open them up and prevents them from becoming too sticky. Don’t despise the clay, however, for it will be much richer in plant food than a sandy soil, and in a dry season will have far better water retention properties. A clay can do with having plenty of powdery compost or sedge peat forked into it lightly.

A sand is light and dry, easy to cultivate, and can be worked at any time of the year. It is unusually poor in plant foods and in organic matter, and every year large amounts of well-rotted powdery compost should be forked in to keep up the humus content. Sands are poor in plant foods, especially potash, and they may be acid and need lime.

Loams have been said to be the ideal blend of sand and clay; they should have the advantages of the two and none of their disadvantages. Loams may differ in accordance with the proportions of sand and clay present.

Calcareous or limey and chalky soils lack humus and plant foods. Like clays they are often difficult to work in rainy periods and in the summer they generally suffer from lack of water. Plants growing on chalky soils often suffer from Chlorosis; that is, the leaves go yellow and the growth is often stunted. A great improvement can be effected if a large amount of properly prepared compost is forked in each year.

Peaty soils are sour. They are often waterlogged and may need draining. They have, however, plenty of organic matter present. The brown peats are preferred to the black peat.

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