Extreme gardening: Anyone who is serious about her plot has endured it. A friend whose garden includes an iris- and lily-bordered pond spends hours knee-deep in muck pulling the interconnected roots of cattails (“you can’t hire someone to do it”). Clearing brush, always oddly satisfying to me (although I remain nonplussed that only Republican Presidents ever seem to share my enthusiasm), also fits squarely in this category. But hauling 20-pound bags of mulch up the rocky slope of my Riverside garden on a humid June afternoon is one of the most, well, extreme examples.
Not that I don’t appreciate the 25 bags of organic cedar mulch that the Parks Department left for me last week. Cedar, with its lovely aroma and neutral pH, is a primo mulch. Laid a few inches deep, it not only suppresses weed growth, it’s essential to plant health, maintaining a steady root temperature and preventing rainwater from evaporating. Last year’s donation of mulch—plain wood chips, not cedar—was not only unsightly (this stuff could have qualified as kindling), but after a few rainstorms it gravitated downhill, where it still sits, slowly decomposing and probably robbing the soil of nitrogen, which is key to root growth. This year I got lucky.
I ended up spreading only 10 of the bags; the rest will have to wait for a cooler day. So for now, my garden looks like a patchwork, with a third of the ground having the reddish-brown tone of the cedar, a third filled with grayish chunky chips and a third bare, an invitation for some nasty weeds to stake a claim. Let me know if you’re looking for a workout.