I am so passionate about mulch that one of my design goals is never to see it. And I just found out that Monet agreed with me.
That is what brought the subject to mind. Yesterday, at a meeting of the HORTNetwork, an association of landscape professionals in Kansas, there was a presentation about Monet’s garden – the one in France and the homage at the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanic Garden. And it was mentioned that Monet did not like to see mulch. Every inch of ground was to be covered with plants. What a wise man.
As I travel around I see mulch piled in “volcanoes” over a foot high around tree trunks, causing them to rot, smothering the surface roots and making a nice home for destructive mice and voles. Mulch is used to create planting beds sparsely planted with the occasional shrub or Miscanthus grass. The mulch is red or pink or light brown and is regularly topped up and kept impossibly and unnaturally neat. It seems to be used as an ornamental.
It is used to do everything except what it is supposed to do.
When trees in a forest lose their leaves and the leaves cover the forest floor – that is mulch. It protects and improves the soil – keeping down weeds, holding in moisture, and — as it decomposes it improves the soil by adding organic material and nutrients.
When I create specifications – the detailed instructions – for a garden I have designed I always include a description of the kind of mulch I to be used. Landscapers who have done work for me know me for this ‘peculiarity’. Sometimes I name the brand (Sweet Peet if it is available and affordable), but always the composition – finely shredded, not chunks, and compost rich.
And in a garden, until it becomes part of the soil, or is covered with thriving plants, mulch should look like the soil it protects. It should be rich, dark brown! Mulch is not an ornamental.