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I have a small square garden space 4x4 meters, where I just took of pavement slabs and stones to reveal a mixture of aggregate, pebbles and clay under a 20-25 cm of soil, not the best grade, though. I need to improve drainage, as I'm preparing to lay turf. I've dug the 30cm of the material that was there and waiting for Horticultural grit, composted manure and high grade top soil (it will be raised compared to old slabs level). The plan is to shape the slope in a way that follows natural hill (left to right downwards, for this context) and at the right end create a bedding that will host some water hungry plants to help get the moisture out.

Here is my question, is this right approach, given excavation, drainage and any heavy labour are out of question.

I'm located in North West England, we have a mix of good sunny weather, but also a fair bit of rainfall.

If the weather is good the end of the slope I'm planning to use for natural, plant based drainage gets sun blasting from 8am to 3pm March to September. We usually don't get winter temperatures below 0'C, but it rains a lot.

If so, what garden plants would allow me to drag water from shallow ground and disperse it in air (dry the ground out, basically)?

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Although the soil seems wet now, even planting a few herbaceous plants will quickly dry out the soil.

TLDR: Start with a tomatoes or grapes. Ferns are also pretty apt. Don't use a lot of mulch, half an inch at best. I wouldn't say no mulch because mulch helps with weed suppression.

Soil amendments:

  1. Don't use pinebark.
  2. Gypsum can help if you have clay soil.

Which plants to plant will heavily depend on how fertile your soil is. But seems like you're rejuvenating the soil, so my recommendations are the following.

  1. Plants that typically exhaust water are your leafy greens and vegetables. You could probably pick any juicy vegetable plant and not go wrong. Cilantro, celery, mint are also very water hungry.
  2. I don't how temperate the weather is in NW england, but banana trees are extremely water hungry. You can probably grow dwarf varieties.
  3. Same with citrus plants. They require more temperate weather but if you can get one to take root in your soil, it'll use up the water quickly.
  4. Dwarf maple plants, such as the trident maple are also vigorous growers and will suck the water quickly. It'd be well suited for your weather as well.
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  • Do not add gypsum without a soil test. I gardened on horrible clay soil for seven year - the soil test showed a pH of 7,8; gypsum would've made it worse, not better. If you need to improve clay soil, add organic material.
    – Jurp
    Apr 2 at 13:16
  • Good point, I should have mentioned that
    – Christian
    Apr 3 at 19:14
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I recommend that you plant at least part of the area with rain garden plants. These are plants that thrive in poorly drained areas. The Rain Garden Alliance is an excellent source to help you get started. It also contains a list of possible plants for you to use. The Alliance is US-based, I think, but many of the plants listed should be available in the UK. Here's another plant list that may contain some different plants from the Rain Garden Alliance list. You may be able to find similar lists from like-minded UK organizations.

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