This week, our back yard reaches its high point of the year. Sure, there is some brown in the grass of our tiny, kidney-shaped lawn — inevitably — but with fresh black mulch just laid down that is still emanating that distinctive mulchy fragrance, and the bright spring growth fresh on our trees and shrubs, our patch of ground looks sharp and edged and well tended.
It will be pretty much all downhill from here. We’ll have a yard resurgence when the flowers bloom in a few weeks, but without fail the thick coating of luxurious mulch will lose its fragrance and its dark color thanks to the upcoming spring and summer thunderstorms and the bleaching effect of the pounding July and August sunshine. By the end of the summer it will find itself in unseemly clumps of dried, shredded wood, leaving the beds a pale shadow of their current selves. The grass will wither and die and vanish into yawning bare spots where new grass will stubbornly refuse to grow, no matter what kind of patch mixture I try. And by next winter, most of the mulch will have mysteriously vanished on the wings of the winds, leaving the dirt in the beds uncovered and defenseless, to inevitably return to its natural state of a dull gray, brick-like consistency that yearns for another mulchy treatment next spring.
Where does the mulch go? Perhaps it channels its inner Hamlet, and simply resolves itself into a dew. It’s something that only a yard specialist could say for sure. And when did mulch become such a key part of the yard grooming process, anyhow? I don’t remember the sturdy suburban Dads in the neighborhoods of my childhood spreading mounds of mulch in their obsessive, competitive quests for fine-looking lawns and gardens. Mulch is another example of the awesome creativity of American businessmen and marketing experts who somehow convinced everyone that their flower beds really required an annual spread of wood chips soaked in come kind of rich biological stew that involves cow flop as a key ingredient.
But now we’re conditioned. Mulch is required, so mulch it is. And, really, the back yard does look pretty good right now.