This past week, the seasons have been alternating between late winter and late spring. Yesterday it rained, and blew, And hailed!
The day before, though, was bright and sunny (though in the shade it was bitingly cold in the north wind!).
It was then that we pruned the rosa rugosa in the south-east of the garden, in what was the out-run for the Buff Orpington chickens. I say ‘pruned’, but more accurate would be ‘cut down’! We do this every four years or so, though we do about a quarter of all the rosa rugosa areas each year.
We also cut down and dug out a completely overgrown Escalonia rubra ‘Macrodonta’. This variety is often recommended as very effective in getting a shelter belt established around a hitherto exposed, bare garden. We’ve found that they are indeed very effective, but at heavy cost. Year by year, they grow ever larger, a the expense of anything and everything else, either by elbowing less forceful plants, by monopolizing the soil nutrients (including moisture), by casting shade, and by blanketing out low ground cover with dead leaves. We’re gradually eliminating them from the garden, one or two each year, bringing out all the heavy tools to get the job done.
The rosa rugosa is generally very easy to shred : it’s not too chunky, and it has a fairly crisp and crunchy character which means the machine never chokes or jams.
The escallonia is quite another matter! Much of the plant is excessively branched, and the wood is stiff and dense : it takes a lot of cutting up with secateurs, pruning shears, and pruning saws, to break it down into pieces small and compact enough that the machine will reliably swallow them. And in doing that, it’s tricky to avoid getting scratched, cut, or an eye plucked out!
Eventually, though, the tub under the machine has filled and been emptied a dozen or more times, and I head for the kitchen to make afternoon tea whilst J clears up and puts the machine and tools away.
This time, the mixed mulch goes around the fruit bushes and over the rhubarb bed. We dig in plentiful compost when preparing for planting replacement fruit bushes – every four to six years in autumn. In-between the replanting years, we mulch every year in late winter.
The woody mulch benefits the soil in multiple ways : it shades the soil and thus helps to reduce loss of moisture ; the slow degradation of the mulch encourages the multiplication of insects and worms, and these in turn attract birds like thrushes, robins, blackbirds … who help control pests, and dung the soil ; and the decomposing mulch itself serves as a slow-release fertilizer.
In the photo above, mulch has been spread over rhubarb patch. To the left of the wind-break fence, compost from our compost heap (seaweed amounts to about one third of the ingredients) has been spread and recently dug in, in preparation for planting potatoes. To the right of the rhubarb patch, you can see piles of compost for spreading and digging-in later : this will be for a single row of ‘specialist’ potatoes (not sure which, yet!). And to the right again – another area of woody mulch, around black-currant bushes.