Friday, 24 August 2012 00:00

Growing Pains

What grows best?

The soil type, soil moisture conditions, amount of light and exposure to the wind will determine which plants will grow in your garden and which plants will not succeed.  

With a little homework and better understanding of the growing conditions in your garden you can reap more rewards and avoid expensive disappointments.  So, here is a brief guide to the essentials.

Soil Type

Generally, soils are classified as clay soils, sandy soils, or loamy soils. Clay is nutrient rich, but slow draining. Sand is quick draining, but loses nutrients and moisture easily. Loam is generally considered to be ideal soil because it retains moisture and nutrients but doesn’t stay soggy. Typically, north of Basingstoke, clay soil is the most common.    While many trees and shrubs grow well in clay, the roots of the majority of annuals, perennials and bulbs need good drainage to thrive.  

Moisture Levels

‘Moist but well drained’ soil is the ideal growing condition for most plants. The retained moisture supplies the plant with water, and the good drainage ensures enough air around the roots. Wet poorly drained clay soils on the other hand can be saturated for long periods, especially in winter, but dry and compacted in summer. Installing land drains can help but can be expensive.  Drainage can also be improved by digging and by adding large amounts of granular and organic material.  Raised beds can also help.  If none of these are possible, then there are plants, like lythrums and symphytums, which grow well in very wet in winter and dry conditions in summer.

Some plants, including many herbs and succulents, flourish in dry soil, and some will only survive the winter in very free draining soil.   Dry sandy soil can be made to retain more moisture by adding plenty of organic material every year.   
Boggy ground, that stays wet all year round, can often be drained. However, it is also an ideal place to grow moisture loving plants like astilbes and gunneras which will not grow elsewhere.

Light Levels

An open sunny situation will generally produce healthy sturdy plants, and minimise the need for staking.  Many plants that grow well in shade will also grow very well in full sun but there are some which are scorched by strong direct sun, for example certain ferns and primulas. There are lots of plants that grow well in shade. These are generally plants whose wild relatives are found in deciduous woods, like hellebores, euphorbias, ferns and primulas.


A sheltered site will protect plants from wind damage, and also greatly reduce water use in summer and damage from cold winds in winter.  In an exposed garden, planting a hedge or shelter belt of trees, or erecting a wind-break fence, is essential unless you choose your plants carefully.  There are plants that grow very well in a windy situation, especially those which grow wild in mountains and by the coast.

Plant labelling isn’t always that helpful, but garden centre staff usually are, so if in doubt about whether a plant is suitable for your growing conditions, do ask.

  • © Jane Jordan Gardens 2018