Improving Soil Against All The Odds
The friends we stayed with in Ireland a month or so ago had delightful borders full of thriving herbaceous plants. Yet Lucy, an excellent garden designer and gardener, discovered after buying the house a few years back that the ground was pretty near solid rock. Pickaxes were needed to break up the rocks and layer upon layer of horse manure, garden compost and imported top soil was needed to transform the ground into good enough earth to grow an abundance of plants. She succeeded against all odds and the deep borders were full of healthy plants many of them in flower in October.
I was reminded of this when I read a fascinating book review: The Hidden Half of Nature by Anne Bikle and David R Montgomery. The book explores the power of microbes in the soil and is based on the authors speedy transformation of the seriously rocky soil in their own garden in Seattle. Layers of coffee grounds, leaf mould, animal manure and wood chip were added to the beds which in turn cultivated beneficial microbes and created fertile soil soon teaming with worms and living organisms. This rapidly re-built the soil fertility and the most inauspicious ground was transformed into healthy beds which in turn supported healthy plants. These beneficial microbes interacting with plant roots exchange a vast array of essential compounds. When Bikle was diagnosed with cancer they discover startling insights into the similarities between plant roots and the human gut. They say ‘We are not what we eat. We are all, for better or for worse, the product of what our microbes in the gut eat’. This chimed with my blog last week on keeping the gut healthy through diet. And thinking about Lucy’s garden in Ireland and the experience of the writers of this book with effort any ground can be turned into a decent growing medium.
I looked out at the garden this morning and felt my heart sink since there was very little in flower. But venturing outside the lovely Chaenomeles speciosa was blooming against the shelter of a stone wall.
And outside the kitchen door the deliciously scented Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is in flower. It’s a deciduous shrub so the blossom sits on bare branches but it’s likely to flower through till spring. And whatever the weather the soft pink flowers scent the air and are in my view one of the best things about winter.
The spent flowers of the golden hop Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ are looking very pretty draped over the rusty arbour and may last till Christmas to add to the decorations.
And there was more Calamintha with its lovely scented leaves to pick with a white Vinca (periwinkle) and Arum italicum ‘ Marmoratum’ plus Lamium ‘Lambrook Silver’.