Steele: Adventures with soil

I often long for water-retentive, nutrient-rich clay where plants flourished and I hardly needed to water.

I’ve been thinking about the diversity of soils I’ve gardened in as an adult.

The first was on 3/4 acres on the east bench of Oyama. The soil was easy to dig. Everything grew very well without having to add organic matter.

We had no idea how wonderful the soil was until, after 11 years of commuting, we moved to Glenwood Avenue.

Sadly, before we bought the house, the former gardens and beautiful soil had been buried under a foot of excavation subsoil. It was compacted by vehicles moving the old house onto new foundations prior to subdividing.

I cried for the loss of that soil as we struggled to landscape the wasteland surrounding us.

With rain, the back yard became a mud lake, much enjoyed by two year old, Duncan. He was delighted with the dump truck load of sand until we spread it and rototilled it in, spoiling both his play places.

Fortunately the sand was very coarse or it would have become concrete when mixed with the clay. Loads of manure were added to build garden beds.

We craved privacy in our front yard so my husband dug out a sunken patio.

The soil was used on the street side of the property to create a curved berm. To make it higher we laid out concrete debris collected from the property. The soil went on top of this and then we added good topsoil.

We planted shrubs and an Amur maple on the berm and filled the rest with perennials.

The berm had been hard to plant to look good. It was too tall for its width. The garden was made just before I discovered xeriscaping.

The steep sides also created problems for both watering and mulching.

During 10 years of gardening at Glenwood, we changed careers to work in horticulture. This evolved into buying two acres on Curtis Road in North Glenmore to start a nursery.

I had heard about Glenmore clay but it was a shock when I jumped on the shovel and nothing happened.

To make the extensive demonstration gardens, we had a farmer plough the clay, then we made wide, mounded beds with a Bobcat, covered these with four inches of chunky organic matter and rototilled it in.

The beds were easy to dig and the plants thrived. Mounding helped with drainage. Organic matter loosened up the soil for plant roots.

The beds were kept mulched and needed little or no irrigation.

After nine years the nursery was sold. I moved to old Glenmore, near Redlich Pond, expecting more clay so was surprised to find sandy soil in the vegetable garden.

Test digs revealed sand everywhere. I was excited. I could dig easily. Nine years later, I often long for water-retentive, nutrient-rich clay where plants flourished and I hardly needed to water.

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