Mulch Ado About Nothing – House Proud, The Toronto Sun

A neighbour recently made a comment that rattled me a little. We had been discussing the many issues I was having with my front garden. He responded, “You have to keep up appearances, you know. After all, you write House Proud!” 

Suddenly the harmless gaze of another neighbour from across the road, the one whose garden is manicured to within an inch of its life and whose plants are a shade of green normally seen only in vivid oil paintings, seemed like a silent admonishment of my bare patches of ground and spindly flora. Children passing by on their skateboards appeared to be thinking, Sure am glad I don’t live here! It was time to make cleaning up the garden a priority. I spend so much time working on the inside of my home that the outside sometimes gets a little neglected. No one had mistaken it for an open field yet, so it hadn’t descended into an actual embarrassment, but it sure wasn’t very pretty.

This spring we pulled out two overgrown, gnarly bushes that had overtaken the front of the house, but instead of making the area appear neater, it left our home bare and looking unloved. Some carefully chosen and hastily planted hostas, ground cover and grafted hydrangeas helped fill in the open spaces, but it will be a couple of years before they spread out enough do a proper job of it.

I raked the bald patches but found myself repeatedly returning to the same spots, near the tall ornamental grasses, to pull out families of nasty weeds. After a couple of particularly busy weeks, the weeds threatened to take over every open swath of dirt, and I was getting frustrated from not having the time to spend fending them off. So even though I’ve never claimed to be a gardening great, my friend’s comment shone a spotlight on what I’d previously thought of as my own dark little challenge: to have a front garden that we could be proud of.

In past years, I would have turned the soil by hoeing or breaking it up with a stiff rake. But then, a brief online search turned up a landscaping centre not far from our home that welcomed me into its wonderful world of mulch. A yard of mulch generally fills the bed of an average pickup truck, so off we went, and we settled on a yard of black-dyed pine chips. First, I plucked out the worst of the weeds and laid some weed barrier material around the most prone areas, cutting around plants and trees. We layered about two inches of mulch on top, spreading it over the entire garden, carefully releasing tender plants from under the chips.

As I considered what to do with the leftover mulch, my partner in life and crime suggested we just pile it on top. “It’s going to settle,” he reasoned. The two-inch depth quickly became four. I raked it until it was fairly level and marvelled at how simple the task turned out to be. For less than $50 and a couple of hours of dedication, we ended up with a beautiful-looking garden that seems ridiculously fussed over and cared for — just what we wanted!

Mulch comes in a variety of colours in hard and soft woods. It can be big and chunky or smaller and more delicate. It covers a slew of sins, from tiny weeds that will die out once they’re covered over to uneven patches of ground with small hills and holes. Now we have a garden that gives a much better first impression of our home and I no longer fear the gazes of passersby. In fact, I welcome them.