Discovering a hidden haven in the Latrobe Valley, Victoria, Australia

It is a little disheartening as a novice gardener to fail at growing something and later read that it is one of the easiest ‘set and forget’ plants to grow. In fact, I won’t tell you how many websites I’ve just visited that start out with a variation along the lines of “Garlic is so simple to grow that anyone can do it.”

Anyone except muggins it seems.

I attempted to grow garlic for the first time last year and it rotted. Quite literally it dissolved away to nothing.

Belatedly I realise that my soil, which my roses and camellias seem to love to bits, is not to the liking of everyone in the garden. Especially not now that the drought is over (for now*) and winter is back with chilly and watery vengeance. Did I mention that I got sunburnt in Edinburgh a few short weeks ago?

In order to prove something that was already staring me in the face (especially after attempting to walk on the wet and greasy stuff in the rain and landing in it) I did a little experiment. Meet Clay:

Just add water!

Yep. My soil can hold water. Which, I acknowledge is not entirely a bad thing, as it did mean that deep-rooted plants like roses were able to survive the drought with little help. And it does, I read, mean that it is a soil that will hold nutrients. Sand, I imagine would be much harder to live with.

Still, at least I found confirmation via Organic Gardener Magazine that garlic is not overly keen on soggy wet feet. I know, you knew that already! Anyway, while improving my soil en-masse is not realistic, I’m going to have to start improving at least some of my soil.

Which means I’m going to have to learn something.

In fairness, I did improve the soil of the vege patch a little last year, but more by accident than design. I added lime and compost (even appropriately spaced apart in time) and well rotted manure.

But I put in compost simply because it was organic and I thought it would feed my young veges. I wasn’t really thinking about soil, so I didn’t really understand the role compost plays in improving soil. I thought the process of producing compost was all about producing something as intensely rich in useable organic matter as possible, so it was a real light bulb moment to read:

“Because of the humified nature of compost and its low concentrations of oxidizable carbon and available nitrogen, compost is relatively resistant to further decomposition, and additions of compost to the soil over time can increase the soil’s organic carbon and humic matter content. I add compost not so much to provide nutrients as to provide stabilized organic matter that will improve the physical properties of the soil.”

From and article by Keith Baldwin titled ‘Improving Clay Soils‘ on the Fine Gardening Magazine website.

Ah-ha! Now I get it! In fact, while I’ve never heard of  this magazine before (probably because it’s not an Australian publication) I found the whole article very useful and even did the ribbon test with a lump of my clay. The test confirmed that my soil is actually clay loam, rather than singularly clay. I’m not sure, but I think that clay loam is slightly more rubbish nutrient wise.

So, back to the garlic.  This time I have dug in some compost and  aged manure to the spot where I have planted my garlic. I also mounded the row the garlic is in to help with drainage.

I had hoped to grab some selected organic varieties from one of my favourite mail order seed catalogues, but I missed my chance when we were away. None of the local shops have any Australian grown garlic in at the moment either so the chance to grab some of that and pop it in the ground didn’t eventuate either.

I’ve heard that garlic imported from overseas (here they come in from China, Argentina and Mexico) can be heavily sprayed with chemicals, so I avoided those, but I must do some research and verify if it is true for myself one day. Anyway, I ended up just grabbing a couple of punnets of vaguely labelled ‘Australian Garlic’  from the nursery, comforting myself that at least they were getting on with the business of growing.

For insurance I have planted some garlic in a very big pot because I’m still not sure that I’ve done enough for those in the ground. It will be interesting to see of both groups survive and if they do, if there us any noticeable difference between them.

* After the 15 odd years before this one, it’s hard to say a drought is definitely over!

Just to show something does grow in my garden...I'm enjoying some emerging Helleborus


Comments on: "Garlic and the Clay Man." (16)

  1. Sorry that your garlic adventures have been so traumatic. And even sorrier to tell you that I have not had any probs growing garlic, but I am growing them in raised beds,(also have waterlogged, clay soil). We don’t have a wet winter tho, mostly a frozen one, so they are not sitting in a wet soil all winter. Hope the pot works out for you.

  2. I was going to recommend growing it in a pot. I have clay soil, and things that don’t grow well for me in the ground usually grow better in a pot.

    Coneflowers are the flowers that everyone says is easy to grow, that don’t do well for me. I’ve tried twice now, and this second time, they’re hanging on, but just. Definitely not a set it and forget it plant for me!

    • Hello Kyna! Sorry to hear about your Coneflowers. I tried them for the first time last year and they seemed to grow ok, but not great, so you have my sympathy there!

  3. The first time I tried to grow garlic, it died in the ground, all of it, but like you our soil was clay. So clay in fact, than in summer you’d need a jackhammer to dig through it. Here we grew our garlic in raised beds, and the soil was heavily amended with compost, but also some sand to keep the soil free draining. Don’t get me wrong, the soil isn’t beach-worthy, but adding a little sand to planting area might help. Honestly though, your soil looks so clay, I’d be very tempted to make a raised bed where you can completely control the composition of the soil. I never used to garden in raised beds, but now I do, I really understand why some rave about them. No more rotted garlic, and no more square carrots either! 😛 I hope your next round of garlic goes well, I’ll be curious to see how the garlic grown in the container compares to that in the ground.

    • Hi Clare, thanks for the sand tip…I might look into adding a little as it certainly would take a lot to tip the balance! I might look a bit more into raised beds too, I was put off when people started saying that they didn’t cope well with the drought…but maybe that won’t be an issue in the coming years (fingers crossed!) and I think it depended on the type of materials they were made from.

  4. Count me as one of those people with sandy soil. Whenever I see that a plant needs “well-drained soil,” I think, “Hey, no problem!” On the other hand, organic matter leaches out of my sand almost instantly. I have learned that I just need to top-dress every spring with several inches of compost (I use it as mulch). Maybe I should try growing some garlic! 🙂

    • Hello Jean, yes, garlic certainly sounds like it might do well in your garden between the free draining sand and the compost! But I might have to see if I can pop around and ‘borrow’ some if mine fails again!

  5. Yep we had the same thing happen, garlic rotted during last year’s Central Queensland wet season. Not much luck since either… but like you we will not give up because minced garlic in a jar is easy but there is nothing as sweet as a fresh roasted garlic clove.

    • Hello Suzy 🙂 Oh, you’re making my mouth water talking about roasted garlic…Yum! I’ll keep persisting, even if it ends up all having to be grown in big tubs, as I just love fresh garlic!

  6. Love these Helleborus, my 2 favourite colours in 1 flower…… what variety are they please ?

    • Hi Suzy, typically I’ve lost the labels for some of them! The greenish one at the top is Helleborus x hybridus single Bicolour, the one at the bottom is single Plum Purple, the two either side are single Dark Pink…and the pretty double in the middle is the one I’ve lost the label for! I think it is White Spots double. I think they are all from Post Office Farm Nursery who have a lovely website at

  7. Ah clay soil … I know it well. Greasy in the Spring, concrete in the summer. (BTW – L.O.V.E. the clay doll !!!) Here in the Midwest – “prairie plants” are considered natives (lots of grasses). I just planted a “Morning Light Maiden Grass” this year – thin blade, variegated; it may become a new favorite.

    Great post! 🙂 (the Hellebore is gorgeous)

  8. Stopping by to say “Hi”! Hope all is well – looking forward to your return to the Blogosphere.

    (I’ve slowed way down on posts this summer. I’ve noticed many garden bloggers have been offline much of the season. Busy lives we lead.)

  9. Me again! Just sayin’ “Hi”. 🙂

  10. […] moaning about my lack of success with ‘easy to grow’ garlic not that long ago, I gave it another go and experimented with growing it both in a compost improved garden bed and in […]

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