Mulch ado about home gardening, but nobody wants to do it

April 22, 2007|By SUSAN REIMER


Not to travel, not to read a book, not to get my nails done or clean out a closet.

I took a week's vacation to mulch, because I knew it would take me at least that long to move the shaggy pile of brown stuff -- about the size of a Mini Cooper -- from the driveway to my flower beds.

I had offers of help. But I consider mulching something you have to do yourself.

Only the gardener knows for certain where the perennials lie dormant in the cold earth. A stranger could easily suffocate them with a misplaced wheelbarrow full of mulch.

"Think of mulching as tucking a blanket under the chin of a baby," I told my husband, who offered his strong arms and back.

"Not piling all the blankets in the house on the baby's face."

I had plenty of company out there mulching. The air was filled with the strong ammonia smell that escapes when mulch is delivered, followed by the musty, dusty smell that lingers even after it is spread.

But it wasn't my neighbors out there spreading their mulch. It was the hired help.

On every corner, trucks were arriving, filled with mulch, wheelbarrows and lots of workers. The men cleared the flower beds of winter debris, edged the beds with sharp spades, spread the mulch and were gone -- in a single morning or afternoon.

It was astonishing how quickly they worked, and I was a little jealous. If I'd hired somebody, I could be getting my nails done, reading a book or cleaning out a closet.

"It used to be do-it-yourself. Now it is do-it-for-me," said Jeff Morey, publisher of Nursery Retailer magazine and, which reports on trends for independent garden centers.

Morey explained that the cable home and garden shows, with their 30-minute makeovers, had spawned an appetite for the perfect yard, but not the patience to do the work it requires.

Morey said that more and more garden centers are offering installation services, right down to preplanted pots and containers.

"Gardening is still a very popular hobby," he said. "And even more significant is what we call the garden lifestyle, the outdoor room and outdoor living. There is nothing hotter in design and decor than the outdoor room.

"But the real die-hard gardeners may be declining somewhat. It is something the industry is struggling with right now."

The popularity of fire pits, wind chimes, sundials, grills, outdoor furniture and lounge chairs, said Morey, means that the garden is a destination.

But homeowners aren't going there to garden. They are going there to relax and entertain, and they want it to look good.

It might have made sense for me to have some help to move all that mulch. I did corral some strong guys last summer when I opened up a new bed.

I knew I needed help digging out the turf and clay and moving in two trucks full of soil and amendments.

But I did the rest of the work myself and, truth be told, it didn't look anything like the final product on a home and garden show.

"The cable shows have been both good and bad," Morey said.

They are inspiring a new generation of gardeners, just as the Food Network is inspiring a new generation of cooks.

"But they are selling a dream," Morey said. "You can't redo your whole yard in 30 minutes."

That's for sure. After a week of mulching, the pile in my driveway looks only slightly diminished and there is still plenty to do.

I don't mind because that is the dream I am buying -- the contemplative nature of the task, the time spent outdoors, the soreness in the muscles that comes with such honest work.

"We feel good that the public loves the garden," Morey said. "The question is, do they love gardening?"

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