You see something unfamiliar at the garden centre, look at the label to see what it is, and read: ‘plant in well-drained soil.’
If you’re me, you put it back down again. And then repeat, and repeat. Because plant labels never say anything else.
I’m sure it’s an ‘insurance policy’ on the growers’ part, so you can’t complain if whatever it is doesn’t take.
But it’s disappointing that nothing ever says:
‘plant in a mix of flint, chalk and broken glass from long-demolished greenhouses’.
‘plant in a mix of clay and old house brick.’
To give two examples from personal experience.
Clay – good for unintended ‘water features’
My current (front and back) plots are just clay. I could probably found my own pottery. Dig a hole for a plant, and one shower of rain later, I have a pond.
Even if I hired an industrial excavator to take away the top few feet of the stuff, and replace it with good soil, anything planted would still be sitting ultimately on an impermeable block. Rock-solid when baked in a dry spell; slimy and sliceable when wet.
I tend to dig big holes, add lots of gravel and compost and soil, and avoid plants that really hate getting their feet wet, like lavender.
The ‘clay-soil recommended’ viburnum has taken a few years to get going, but camellias and azaleas like the acidity, acers are a handsome addition, mahonia japonica brings winter colour, pieris is jolly in spring, and the bergenia cordifolia is settling in just fine. And I inherited a showy, cheerful peony that pops up each spring, laughing in the face of the wisdom that ‘for peonies, good drainage is essential’.
Hebes, such as the one in the main photo, do ok, but don’t flower as well as they would in better conditions.
Best recommendation if you really like something that hates waterlogging, and don’t fancy digging, is lots of pots. Among other pluses: if you move house, you can take them with you.