Tuesday, June 10, 2014

No ‘Bark Mulch’ At Old New England Homes


No ‘Bark Mulch’
At old New England homes.
“Weeding” is done
At old New England homes.
If ‘anything’ is done
At old New England homes.... 
-  The Chimney Cupboard (Link)






38 comments:

Mayes Hall said...

I love a crisp white monochromatic house.

DT said...

Not many rain gutters mounted either.

Anonymous said...

Never thought of this, but so right.

Steve said...

Why would you? But if you're living in a state that's in drought conditions, you need it.

Bitsy said...

I admit that I mulch my perennials, but I use compost -- it looks like dirt.

Michael Rowe said...

As I am just home from the Amesbury/Newburyport/Exeter axis of white clapboard, these photos remind me of how hard it is to come down from the kind of a full-body beauty contact high that is New England in early June. Just glorious.

Anonymous said...

Just green and white, so refreshing!! --Holly in PA

Jess said...

In general there were no beds or plantings done around ANY older homes. Look at old pictures. Only in the '50s, when concrete foundations needed to be hid, did foundation plantings begin. Now it is the style do older homes (at least here in NJ) have also adopted.

Preppy With A Twist said...

These photos are amazing!!! I love the beautiful old white homes!

GLH said...

I admit that I mulch my flower beds, but it's for water savings and weed control. Last year I saw for the first time a business that was built around painting old mulch to look new. I have no idea what compound they were using, but I guess not a good business venture in New England.

DSF said...

I do not get it. Why is mulching a bad thing? It goes back to the 17th century. It works. It does not look bad if done properly. It saves time and effort. It is good for the plants.

I have heard that some New Englanders still have outhouses with shelfs designed to hold outdated Sears, Roebuck catalogues. I have heard that some New Englanders still have stocks of Sears catalogues that they use parsimoniously so that they will not have to buy new-fangled toilet paper. Is the mulching thing a similar phenomenon?

Anonymous said...

I rarely give foundations much thought, except for a genuine fondness for fieldstone and old brick. I’ve always preferred crisp New England houses with grass growing right up to the stone, and the architectural emphasis on clean lines and minimal decoration. Even the first house is a simple version of Victorian, with just the right shade of red paint on the door.

I can easily picture myself sitting on the front steps of the colonial, eating my lobster roll and sipping an iced tea as the sun begins to set. I love that transitional time when the coolness of evening displaces the warmth of the afternoon, when grass dampens and takes on a deeper shade of green.

If I could time-travel back many decades, and transport myself to my grandparents house in Vermont, I’d be hoping the Templeton girl from down the street would walk by.

MGC

Anonymous said...

I miss the crushed oyster shell driveway...

Anonymous said...

No bark mulch at this 1840s southern house and no foundation plantings either. Modern mulch would look oddly anachronistic and I'm not mulching near the house with goat compost. It's good stuff but it goes out in the fields.

Unknown said...

Further proof that I need to move to New England. I live in a suburb where mulching with black bark (? Not sure what it is-it smells awful). Is an annual ritual. I hate the stuff. It gives every property the same bland uniform look. I really dislike when I see it piled a foot deep around the base of a tree.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. No one can do better than the austere beauty of New England.

WRJ said...

White-on-white really can't be beat, particularly with a cedar roof. I have no strong feelings on the topic of mulch, but I'm happy whenever you link to the Chimney Cupboard, whose strong feelings on so many subjects are consistently entertaining.

GLH said...

Good point DSF. I see not shame in mulching and I don't know why I started my prior comment with "I admit." I love the pictures Muffy posted, but the gardens that surround my house and "soften" the foundation provide me with daily activities that ease the mind and soothe the soul.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 9:39 - I recently went to Williamsburg and walked through the Historic Area. Couldn't believe they are slowly replacing the crushed oyster shell paths with mulch type material. It's probably hard to get the shells now but it was (ridiculously) upsetting. Glad to know i'm not the only one who likes that look.

Unknown - it's surprising how many people don't know how to mulch...the worse thing to do is pile it up so high against the plants and trees. It will suffocate & eventually kill everything. Black and red mulch is just tacky.

Pigtown*Design said...

Nothing worse than bark mulch piled up around the base of a tree like a volcano! At that point, it prevents the water from reaching the roots, instead of holding the moisture in the soil. Plus, it's hideous looking!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Muffy. I dislike the appearance of bark mulch very much. I do see a lot of it in my suburban town in New England. To me it suggests an ugly and lazy approach to gardening.

Laurie Ann said...

Ah, the great mulch debate! As an avid gardener, I only use compost as a mulch in all of my beds. The compost feeds the plants, improves the soil and aids in water retention. Over time, my soil has become rich and loamy and my plantings are happy and healthy.

Bark mulches, especially the colored ones, do absolutely nothing for the plantings and can even cause harm when piled high around stems and trunks.

The only other covering I would consider is pine straw. Found mainly in the south, it looks lovely in shade beds.

GLH said...

Actually piling the mulch high around the base is potentially dangerous to the plant not because it prevents water from reaching roots or suffocates, but because the roots (water enters the plant from the fine root hairs less than a year old) will actually grow through the mulch. Mulch is susceptible to drying and this causes water stress in the plant greater than that which would occur if the root hairs were in the mineral soil and organic horizon layers.

Anonymous said...

I never realized that mulch could be so divisive a topic. I think that its usage might fall at least partially across rural vs. suburban lines. I grew up on a horse farm in rural central Virginia. We didn't have mulch around our house or any of the barns or other outbuildings. The same was true for everyone else we knew. Looking back, this was probably a matter of function. After all, there was plenty of work to do; beyond cutting the grass and making sure that things were in general good form, landscaping wasn't something that got much thought.

Now (many years later), I live in the suburbs. We have mulched landscape beds around our plantings. In this particular micro-environment, it's the norm, and its absence would look strange.

I agree that odd or jarring colors of mulch are unattractive. Ours is dark. We have someone deliver and spread it each spring. It seems to disappear/dissolve throughout the year, so I suppose there could be some organic benefit to it. The bushes and flowers in the beds seem to do pretty well.

Greenfield said...

That's what's so great about perennials; you don't have to "do" very much of anything! ; )

Bark mulch draws attention to itself.

John G said...

Mulch no, soil conditioner yes where necessary

The Down East Dilettante said...

I so fear that the bark mulch war is lost beyond repair. I have, with increasingly weak voice, pled the case for the beauty and neatness of the crisp old house that meets the lawn, enhanced by maybe only a few old fashioneds---Solomon Seal, ferns, etc., that die down in fall. But the tide of suburbanites buying the houses and planting them up (often to the detriment of both clapboard and paint job) is unquenchable, as are the lawn services that support this hideous landscape style. Being an arbiter of restrained taste in a world that doesn't want it is a thankless avocation :-)

Wonderful photos.

Jennifer said...

My husband and I are big fans of gardening expert Mike McGrath. He's been on a campaign for years to stop the use of shredded wood for mulch, and this article explains why: http://www.gardensalive.com/article.asp?ai=760

betsy said...

I learned an interesting bit of foundation planting history when touring the LBJ birthplace in Texas. The children were sent out to remove any bit of plant material around the house for a significant distance. Not a blade of grass or flower was allowed. This was fire protection in the days before nearby fire departments and fire hydrants on the corner.

Just a bit of trivia with your morning coffee...

Anonymous said...

It has been proven that mulching beds or around trees causes one to shop at Crate And Barrel and at William Sonoma. Just a bit of trivia.

EJF

BlueTrain said...

We don't mulch anything at our house but the smell of fresh mulch is one of the signs of spring around here.

Anonymous said...

I'm the commenter from 6/11 @ 328PM above.

It's true that that we each have individual aesthetic preferences, but some of the comments seem to be straying into unfortunate territory. While half the fun of belonging to a club is excluding other people from doing the same, this question of mulch seems like the establishment of a secret litmus test to allow one group of people to sneer at another. I'm reminded of all those sneetches and their stars.

There's nothing gauche about mulch beds, for goodness sake. Some people like them and others don't. The people who like them should have them in their yards, and the people who don't...shouldn't.

Flo said...

I guess I never gave it much thought, but we didn't start using mulch until we moved in to town. Before we had so much yard to care for, we would have needed a bank loan to do it all. I'm still getting used to the number of people in our new neighborhood that pay lawn services and to have their grass sprayed with chemicals-yuck!

Anonymous said...

Hmm...so bark mulch is out? Why? I like the way it looks...it makes things neat and tidy. Reading through the earlier comments, it seems that the only reason for opposing it is the fact that it wasn't used around the older original houses in New England. Well, of course not...the original owners were probably all busy dying of consumption, or whatever killed people off back then.

-Mike

charliedog99 said...

Now I understand why so many yards/ homes here in Connecticut look "unfinished" to me. We moved here two years ago from the west coast and couldn't understand why the grass went straight up to the house. We also couldn't understand why so many houses lacked planting beds. We have spent our lives living in the Midwest, dry Texas, New Mexico, and California.

Funny story...when we moved here and were looking at houses to rent, we asked the realtor where the sprinklers were located and who was responsible for paying the water bill. She looked at me like I was from another planet. In California and other western states the landlord will pay the water bill to ensure that the yard is watered properly. A lot of housing associations will mandate that the grass has to be green unless there are watering restrictions in place. This poor realtor had her hands full with us.

Anonymous said...

Coming in late on this - bark mulch is one thing but even worse are those fist sized stones that some people use around their plants.

KHM said...

Dying of consumption.....now I'm dying of laughter.

Anonymous said...

I think a distinction needs to be made between the general concept of mulching and the now ubiquitous shredded bark mulch. The use of shredded bark is very much an American "issue". I don't ever recall seeing it back in England (although it may be used there now to some extent).

Mulching is GOOD for plants that are spaced far apart and/or are not surrounded by some kind of decorative groundcover planting. It helps maintain soil moisture, cuts down on weeds and can help improve the composition and structure of the soil - BUT ONLY if it's an appropriate material such as compost, leaf mould, (very) well rotted manure or in some situations, spent mushroom soil (which should never be placed around ericaceous/acid-loving plants such as azaleas and rhodos).

While it's fine to use for making paths, shredded bark mulch is not appropriate for mulching around plants. As it decays, the decomposition process removes nitrogen from the underlying soil, thus helping to deplete nutrients. It can also, as others have noted, cause rotting when piled up against trunks and stems. It does not provide any benefit (nutritional or structural)to the soil.

This is really a big marketing scam - a way to sell a byproduct of other wood industries. So every year or two, you have to pay to have more "waste" delivered to your yard - and then compensate by spending even more on fertilizers and plant food due to your mulch.

The colors added are dyes! Not something you really want to add to your garden is it? And if you don't let them cure in the sun properly before spreading, they can permanently stain walks, decks and other nearby surfaces.

Sometimes they are full of mold spores as well.

As for style/look - it's a matter of taste and fashion. These huge beds and borders of bark mulch that you see everywhere weren't nearly so common 25 year ago.

Whether you like it or not (I hate the look and smell) you aren't doing your plants any favors.