Thank You Very Mulch by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Some things just go together: peanut butter and jelly, eggs and bacon, Mother’s Day and mulch. Wait! What?

It’s kind of a long story in our family, but Mother’s Day has become intertwined with the annual springtime chore of weeding and mulching the garden and so my wife declared that last Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, was Mulch Day. Kingstown delivered and stacked fifteen big bags of jet black mulch this year, my wife and I supplied the wheelbarrow, a rake, and some sweat. Load, distribute, dump, and spread. Slowly but surely, the garden began to take on a more tamed aspect as all those blemishing weeds disappeared and a warm earthy aroma enveloped the backyard. There was even a little leftover mulch so my wife planted a row of white impatients under the boxwoods out front. By day’s end, our backs were a little sore, there was dirt under our fingernails, and the washing machine was working overtime. But there was also the satisfaction of a job well done. The red rose buds, the white peonies, and the purple wisteria seemed to like all that shiny new black footing; the day lilies, lavender, and hydrangea are just awaiting their cue so they can show off all their summer finery, thanks in large part to all that lowly mulch.

Mulch is simple stuff, nothing more than a layer of decomposed material added to the surface soil to help preserve moisture by reducing evaporation, or to regulate temperature, control weed growth, or just add healthy organic material to fertilize the mix. Mulch may just be background material with no fanfare but it’s absolutely essential to a healthy garden. OK; maybe there’s also a little cosmetic value to mulch, but after that first application, it goes about its work pretty much unnoticed, doing its task silently and thanklessly. It’s the overlooked tech crew that makes a Broadway star shine, the string section of the orchestra that gets taken for granted in a symphony, the harmonic drone that underlies the flashy notes of my bagpipes. (Sorry; couldn’t resist.) The point is that mulch does most of the work and gets none of the credit; it’s the unsung hero of a healthy garden.

I know a few people like that here in town; I’m sure you do, too. They are the ones who shun the limelight; the applause meant for others is more than ample reward for all their behind-the-scenes toil. They find satisfaction within; theirs is a secret smile. I admire them beyond measure for they are the foundation upon which we continue to build this town. Without them, the garden that is this place wouldn’t be nearly so healthy and bright.

Woodchips, bark, sphagnum peat, or straw all make fine organic mulch. So does composted raw food or grass clippings or leaves from deciduous trees. Even cardboard and newspaper make for a good winter mulch under a layer of snow. And just as there are a lot of ways to mulch a garden, so, too, does a rich and diverse array of people doing good quiet work add health and color to our own patch of green here along the banks of the Chester. The policeman, the volunteer fireman, the nurse, the teacher, the handyman, the waitress. I thank them all very mulch!

I admit I like bright flowers; I suspect we all do. But just remember this: without mulch, nothing grows quite so well.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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