Saturday, July 25, 2009


Permit me to vent, just once, then I’ll get to the inspiration business. 

A new client’s garden needed weeding today. I do that, among other services, which do not include shaving shrubs with power instruments, or scraping the ground clean of messy leaves and twigs and then laying down uniform chips of recycled industrial wood. Dismal expanses of this product, available at garden centers everywhere dyed brown (to simulate dirt), black (to simulate wet dirt), and red (to simulate a carpet in a brothel), are a common sight. And no wonder, the stuff can be laid down with big blowers since it has very little moisture, conveniently saving the landscaper from hiring an extra employee or two. As I jimmied out nutsedge and thistle from the vast zones of fungus-free mulch, I didn’t see a single worm or larva. But (says the manufacturer) the non-fading color gives the landscape “eye-catching curb appeal.” So. Where do we even start to teach homeowners that decorator colors applied four inches thick do not a beautiful garden make? And that it matters.

It matters that it will take years for earthworms to digest dried, chipped pallets.

It matters that threads of mycelia have important functions in the food and decay chains.

It matters that when pine needles fall under pine trees, there are good reasons to leave them there.

It matters that we respect polycultures of all kinds, that we embrace fading as a sign of maturity, and that we value the beauty of a complex, well-functioning, vital system over the temporary satisfaction of tidiness.

It matters that cicada killers have a place to call home (ok, truce).

If you’re already addicted to the brown, black, or red stuff I can help. Just for one year, mulch with straw. Only straw. It will fade to a lovely umber, feed your worms, and (if you look really close) make the world a beautiful place.  Plus, it will save your back.

The photo is of my (mostly) straw-mulched garden.

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