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Six ways to winter-proof your garden: spike the soil, raise the beds and plant moisture-loving hydrangeas, lilies and lush ferns

Is your lawn a paddling pool? Try these tricks to beat autumn and winter deluges.

By
25 October 2019
O

ur underlying clay soil is notoriously bad at letting rain through in London. Throw in the compaction of well-trodden lawns and borders and you have the recipe for a soggy mess.

With extremes of weather increasingly the norm, we may need to plant and plan differently to make our gardens more resilient to the yo-yoing between summer droughts and winter deluges.

But in the short-term, there are a few easy things you can do to prevent waterlogging this autumn and winter.

1. Spike your lawn

If you see puddles on your lawn after heavy rain, you’ve a drainage problem. The compacted soil under the turf isn’t letting water through.

To really fix it you’d need to re-lay the lawn, adding a free-draining layer of sand and then topsoil before returfing or seeding.

But a short-term fix is to spike the lawn, either with a hollow-tined tool (Kent & Stowe’s Stainless Steel Lawn Aerator, four-prong, marshalls-seeds.co.uk, £29.99), or a garden fork, pushing it into the lawn as deep as possible and then brushing horticultural sand into the holes.

Sweep any excess water away with a broom first and try to stay off the lawn as much as possible if it’s really saturated, or you can damage it.

2. Plant a lot, and wisely

One of the best ways to mop up excess water is to include lots of plants to absorb it.

But few areas of the garden stay damp all year round so you need all-rounders that can cope with both dry and wet soils.

Luckily there are some beautiful contenders. Ecological garden expert Nigel Dunnett recommends thalictrum Splendide White, rudbeckia fulgida var deamii and astilbe Purpurlanze.

Purple moor grass and Japanese anenomes are good, too.

If you have an area of the garden that is always boggy, go with it and plant moisture-loving plants. Rodgersias, hydrangeas, arum lilies and plenty of lush ferns will be in their element.

Even massive gunnera manicata — giant rhubarb — can look amazing if you have enough space.

Plant wisely: Astilbe Purpurlanze is a good all-rounder that can cope with both wet and dry soils / Nigel Dunnett

3. Build raised beds

If your garden borders are resolutely soggy whatever you seem to do, sometimes you’ve just to give up and build raised beds.

From entry-level DIY wooden raised bed kits to bespoke rendered block beds made by a builder, they will give you pretty much carte blanche to plant anything if you fill them with decent topsoil.

4. Mulch and improve

For a quick fix, bark chippings will absorb water like kitchen towel on a mug of spilt tea. Add a layer at least 5cm thick to boggy borders, taking care not to bury any plants in the process since they really won’t appreciate this.

Long-term, though, you need to improve your soil drainage and the way to do this is by adding lots of garden compost.

Leaf mould, though less fertile, is just as good at helping soggy soils and now’s a good time to make it.

Just collect up any fallen leaves and put them in a breathable sack (Leaf Mould Bags, sarahraven.co.uk, £7.50 for two) or use a bin bag with a few holes made in it for air.

Chuck it behind the shed or somewhere out of view and in a year or two you can add the crumbly stuff to the soil.

5. Pave it forward

For terraced areas, consider gravel to let water soak away. If you do lay paving slabs, ensure they are on a bed of sand not cement and that the joints are left unmortared.

They should also be laid at a slight fall so that water can run into beds filled with plants that will appreciate it.

6. Create a rain garden

If you’re really serious about making your garden resilient to climate change, check out Nigel Dunnett’s latest book, Naturalistic Planting Design: the Essential Guide (Filbert Press, £35).

Water, water everywhere: create a living wall and plump for wetland plants / courtesy RHS / Neil Hepworth

Dunnett has long been an advocate of “rain gardens” that filter and absorb rain rather than let it run into the mains where it can cause dangerous flash flooding.

“Disconnect your downpipes!” he urges. In his sloping town front garden all rain from his house roof is directed through a colourful matrix of water-loving plants such as astilbes, lythrum, crocosmia and ligularia and then soaks safely back into the earth.

On a smaller scale you could create a sunken area where water tends to collect in your garden and plant with damp-loving plants to safely absorb the run off.

Beautiful — and future-proof.