Digging the beds

Growing anything in clay is hard. It’s hard to dig in and hard for the plants to get established.

Since our soil is mostly clay, I tried amending it with peat and gypsum to improve drainage. Peat adds organic matter and gypsum is supposed to make clay less dense – more crumbly. At first, I tried spreading the peat and gypsum on top and digging it in but that didn’t really help much. The soil was still mucky and very clay-ey.

Back in my home town, azaleas and camellias were everywhere. The azaleas made a terrific show in spring and the camellias brightened the winter months. I missed them. I bought four of the then-new Encore azaleas and planted them across the back of our little yard. They were small and grew slowly.

The main point to the Encore (as opposed to other varieties) was that they would bloom more than once a year. It took three years before we got repeat blooms. Only a few at first, but over the years they did better and better.

Finally, after a couple of years, I decided that desperate measures were called for. I outlined a where I wanted the beds to be and began to remove the soil to a spade’s depth. I bought a cheap plastic wheelbarrow at Home Depot and began to haul the clay to just past the end of our unit where the ground sloped away. After digging out the first layer, I then turned the clay remaining in the bed (in an attempt to improve drainage). Finally, I bought many, many bags of topsoil and dumped them in the bed. All of this took me several weeks.

Finally, I had a bed I could grow in. Now, what to plant?

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