Barlow Nurseries

Growers of trees, shrubs and hardy herbaceous perennial garden plants near Newport, Shropshire



How much is too much mulch?

Mulching a herbaceous border

Front border, tidied and duveted for winter

If you have been too impatient to wait for Father Christmas to bring you a copy of Monty Don’s new book The Ivington Diaries ¹ you will probably have noticed his enthusiasm for mulch.

It’s an enthusiasm which sometimes seems to border on mania as he talks of truck loads of mushroom compost being dumped in his yard, and then whittling the mountain  away as he barrows the stuff around the garden, spreading a 3 inch blanket over any patch of bare soil he can find.

Perhaps inevitably, the wild enthusiasm of the early years turns to angst as he realises that his garden borders are gradually levitating above the surrounding paths and lawns;  if you mulch long enough and hard enough, it’s only a matter of time before your borders become raised beds, and they get higher, and higher, and higher…..

Which is pretty much where we are now with our front garden border.   It was last revamped and replanted 3 or 4 years ago, and we’ve been mulching annually since.   We are luckier than Monty in that we don’t have to buy-in mulch – the garden and nursery keep our compost heap more than well fed – and in truth, it’s growing faster than we can use it, so we mulch whenever we can.   Our soil is exactly the opposite of Monty’s;  he is struggling to open up heavy clay, and we’re trying to add some body to very light sand, but that’s the great thing about soil improver, it really is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ product – whatever soil you have, adding organic material makes it better.

But our front border is reaching its limit – we’ve just done this year’s autumn tidy and mulch, and standing back to admire our work left us wondering whether this might have to be the last time.   We’ve had to contour the soil level downwards to meet the drive – another layer of mulch next year might leave us with a small hillock rather than a border….

What we need is some more borders to help us work our way through our compost mountain (you probably think we’re joking, but it was very cold last week, and Nick wanted a warm job, and what better way to keep warm than a bit of  turf stripping ?).   More on that later.

¹   Monty Don tends to polarise attitudes amongst gardeners – his stewardship of our flagship television gardening programme might have been ‘Gardeners World – the Marmite years’ but we’re not Sue Townsend, so let’s just say you probably either like him, or you don’t.   If you are a fan, The Ivington Diaries is a very pleasant ramble through his gardening styles and philosophies;  his gentle but ferociously focused enthusiasm shines through, and makes you want to get out there and garden.

If you’re expecting a sequential diary telling the story of his garden’s development, you’ll be disappointed – these are random selections from the diaries he kept over several years of making his garden, chosen for their content and literary merit;  it’s not a ‘how I built it’ narrative.

But if you like Monty, it’s a good read;  if you don’t want to buy it yourself, it’s got to be a contender for the Christmas wish list.

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