16 March 2019 - 6:50pm

To mulch or not to mulch?

To mulch or not to mulch – that is the question at this time of year. Mulching your borders has real benefits especially if, like us at Charnwood, your soil is sticky, cold, heavy clay. It breaks it down, improving the structure so making it crumblier and easier to plant and sow into. The material you use will depend on what is available and what you can sensibly move around. It can be expensive too: the last big load we had delivered was well over £100. It was gorgeous stuff though; half farmyard manure and half mushroom compost. The plants loved it.
However, your own garden compost is free! I’m a real compost anorak and we have 9 compost bins in the garden, not including several large wire containers for leaf mould. Last year was so dry that grass clippings, the main ingredient to keep the compost hot and so nicely breaking down, were in very short supply. The sad upshot is that we now have several empty bins. Garden compost is a great mulch, both feeding and improving soil structure, but if it doesn’t get really hot to kill them off, it can contain weed seeds that germinate readily once spread around in the Spring. So it pays to have your hoe at the ready!

Other materials can be used if you want a weed suppressant. Bark chippings and coco shells are widely available in garden centres. Gravel looks good in a sunny, Mediterranean style setting and will make plants loving good drainage such as lavender, cistus, pinks and rosemary happy. It also fits well with the current Japanese garden fashion. In that vein we are having a go with some pebbles to create a kind of dry river bed in a sunny corner of Charnwood. To achieve the right effect we have treated ourselves to some dwarf trees: Pinus strobus ‘Minima’ (pictured) and a fabulous looking dwarf Japanese Larch. Fingers crossed they thrive and the rabbits/dog/squirrels/other random wildlife do not dig them up, wee on them or fancy a nibble.

The downside of mulching is that you can smother plants, including some of the nicer self seeders. This garden depends a lot on lovely plants such as poppies, foxgloves and verbena gently spreading their seed around to get a more natural looking, gentle effect that we love. ‘Neat’ doesn’t enter into our gardening vocabulary. We agree with the late and lovely Derek Jarman’s view that ‘if a garden isn’t fluffy, forget it’!

The aforementioned pine and larch came from a recent visit to Ashwood Nursery in Kingswinford. It is in the West Midlands and took an hour and a half to get there but it is well worth it if, like us, you love your plants. The nursery owner’s garden was also open the day we went: it was truly inspirational, even in February. Not at all our style of garden described above, it has beautifully clipped and topiarised holly and yew, trees including witch hazel and dogwoods and many shrubs rather than the softer herbaceous perennials , but beautiful nevertheless. If we all liked the same kind of garden the world would be a much less interesting place. Of course the same applies to other things in life too, but that’s a whole different column!

If you fancy a visit to Ashwood and want to see the garden as well, check when it’s open first on 01384 401 996 or the website www.ashwoodnurseries.com Hellebores are their speciality, they had a whole, big greenhouse full of them. They also have lots of interesting miniature pines ; we were spoilt for choice. Heaven! It has a good, if expensive café with delish cake too.

As I write in mid February the sun is shining and it is 10 degrees. I hope when you get to read this we are not knee deep in snow and ice, happy gardening!