The Cambridge dictionary describes an acid test as ‘the true test of the value of something’. Well, that may be particularly true when it comes to assessing the pH levels in a garden. This simple test is one of the easiest things you can do to tailor your choice of planting to the conditions in your garden and, yet, I’ve only just got round to doing it in mine.
The main reason for my delay is that I felt I had a pretty good idea what it was already. Soil acidity is controlled in part by the history of a garden (has the soil been worked and in what way), but the key factor is the composition of the natural minerals existing in that area. I know enough about soil to have already been pretty sure that mine has some clay, some gravel, some organic material and no obvious lime, suggesting that the pH is probably reasonably close to neutral (7). Coincidentally it is absolutely heaving with worms, which the birds come out to forage for whenever I’ve been working the soil. (Many of the gardens in the local region have thick, heavy clay and I was absolutely delighted when I found the house I’d chosen had such wonderful soil.)
Having said that, I’m now considering the inclusion of a couple of plants that are more picky about pH, one being a small rhododendron, and so this weekend I finally decided to take a proper look at the acidity levels in my garden. As I suspected the pH is about 6.5 in the natural soil. In the raised beds, one of the borders and the woodland area under the beech hedge it gets closer to 6, but never quite reaches it.
So it looks like I’m in with a shot of making a rhododendron happy, though I’m going to have to do something to bring the pH down a bit where I choose to put it. Definitely worth a try though. It’s also got me thinking of adding a magnolia – a beautiful, flowering tree that I adore and which would look wonderful at the front of the house. So, after delaying getting to out all this time, it looks like my ‘acid test’ has shown me new value in my soil that I didn’t know it had…!