Sandy’s Garden ... Barking

Sandy Simpson

Sandy Simpson

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Wrong! In the column which I sent to the Editor last week, I wrote that Friday 24th June was the longest day, the Summer Solstice.

Although I was well aware that the usual date is the 21st or the 22nd. And, rather than leave my keyboard to fetch my diary, I turned to the internet to check the date for 2016 and accepted the first date offered there. Wrong! It was the 21st, which reinforces the truism that you can’t always believe what you read on the internet.

But the title of this column does not refer to my opinion of the top news story of Friday 24th June - the result of the Referendum on Europe. It refers to what I did after casting my vote in that Referendum and to what I did after learning the result. After voting, I drove to one of my local garden centres to make a bulky purchase; and the next day, I distributed what I had bought in a part of my garden; and neither of these acts was related to either the Referendum or to the result. Let me explain.

My garden, which is not large by any absolute standard but which is much larger than is allowed to the buyers of most of today’s houses, is big enough to be quite demanding for one person to look after. The soil … and I use that word ‘soil’ simply because it is the accepted name for it rather than because it adequately describes the substance … is poor and stony. Twenty-five and more years ago, a labourer who had spent three hard days digging the trench for the foundations of a small extension to my home gave me his professional opinion: “I’m b***** glad I’m not gardening in this!” Anyway, I had already reached the conclusion that a so-called ‘easy-care’ garden was what was needed; and to that end I had decided that the exposed surface of the ground around shrubs and in borders would be best covered in bark to minimise the opportunities for weeds to take root and so reduce the need for time-consuming weeding. I ordered 2 000 litres of bark … yes, twenty 100-litre bags of the stuff … from a garden centre, had it delivered and set about the task of spreading it. The bags were heavy, for the bark was rather damp: but the bark was obviously what it said on the label – bark, the outer protective layer of the trunks of trees. And I was well pleased with the result. It did exactly what the label said it would do – suppressed and discouraged the growth of weeds; reduced the need for watering after a warm, dry spell; and looked attractive.

Bark is, of course, organic and decomposes in a few years to become a sort of soil additive. In short, the bark disappears, meaning that it has to be topped up on a regular basis if the desirable consequences of using it as mulch are to be maintained. And for a number of years I was able to buy good quality bark regardless of which garden centre I bought it from and regardless of which brand name was on the bags. Mark you, the bags became ever-heavier, for the bark became ever-more saturated. And as the years progressed, the quality of the product seemed to deteriorate, again regardless of where it was bought and of the brand name. I found that, to obtain bark which looked well … an important consideration in what is a garden for pleasure … I had to buy the rather more expensive ‘decorative’ bark. And last week, I bought some bags of decorative bark sold under a respectable brand name. It turned out to be no more than absolutely saturated wood waste. Decorative? Not in my book!

My experience is that the quality of the so-called ‘bark’ has sunk to an all-time low. The only product close to what I bought twenty-five years ago is ‘pine bark’, which is sold in much smaller bags to disguise just how much more expensive it is but is usually dry, pleasant to handle and genuinely is decorative. But I’m glad I don’t need 2000 litres of it at one go!