When I saw the bright and shiny Facebook ad that proclaimed “FREE MULCH—DELIVERED!” my heart almost skipped a beat. All too well, I remembered mulching my flowerbeds last Spring. It took many trips to the hardware store in my trusty blue minivan to buy enough bagged cypress mulch to get the job done. Not to mention the expense. Mulch is affordable if you’re picking up a bag or two, but when you’re talking 50-60 bags, it really starts to add up.
The ad promised to save me from a repeat experience. All I had to do was sign up to be on a list, and a friendly arborist would drop a neat pile of mulch in my driveway. The form warned that there might be some leaves in the batch. Not a big deal. What were a couple of leaves when you could mulch your beds for free? I clicked “Submit” and sat back to wait for a pickup truck of mulch to appear in my drive. How easy is that?
In the busy rush of life and raising four kids, I forgot about mulch and trucks and replenishing my flower beds.
Then one evening there was a knock on the door.
I shuffled our barking Labrador and border collie into my office, then answered it, a gaggle of gawking children behind me. A thin man stood before us, face dirtied from hard work and deeply tanned by the oppressive Florida sun.
“May I help you?” I tentatively asked.
“Ma’am, did you order some mulch?” he said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand.
My face brightened. “Yes!”
“Where would you like it?”
“The driveway is fine,” I replied. He turned to go back to his truck, and I put my shoes on and rushed out to join him.
The truck took my breath away. Backing down my drive was no pickup truck. No, no, no—it was a dump truck. Suddenly its bed reared with a screech like a riled elephant, and mulch cascaded like a waterfall: 10-feet wide, 16-20 feet in length, and at least 8-feet high. The driver waved as he drove off. He had a grin on his face.
I stood there frozen, my mouth ajar. What on God’s green earth had I done?
Cars slowed down. Drivers stared. A neighbor keeled over with laughter.
The kids clambered up the pile. “Mommy, you ordered us a mountain!”
Yes, there was mulch. There were also tons of sticks, palm fronds, spiky saw palmetto, tree bark, leaves, stumps with roots still attached, and bits of logs.
We do not live on a farm. We do not live in the country. We live in a very nice neighborhood just outside a major city, the kind of suburban neighborhood with an HOA.
What would the grounds committee say? What would they do? Images of fines and public shaming flooded my imagination. Hadn’t they sent me a warning letter last Summer just for failing to adequately edge my lawn? This was much, much worse.
Oh, well … I might as well start mulching the beds.
One neighbor brought over a garden wagon. Another brought a wheelbarrow and pitchfork. The kids and I shoveled and dumped, shoveled and spread until it was dark. Load, push, dump. Load, push, dump.
The next day, my husband left for a month of military training.
I offered to pay Alexandria (13), Ethan (11), Derek (9), and Bella (8), for each wagon-full. Together, we vowed to finish the mountain by the time Daddy returned. That day we shoveled and dumped: Load, push, dump. Load, push, dump.
I posted a picture on our neighborhood Facebook page offering mulch to anyone who might want some.
One neighbor bemoaned the time he had gotten a mulch drop: “If you don’t move that pile fast, it’ll get hot and attract critters.”
We shoveled and dumped. The mountain began to diminish ever so slightly.
I posted a picture on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace with the caption, “Free mulch! Come take what you like!”
One man filled a tarp in the back of his SUV. Another brought a trailer attached to his sedan. We struck up a brilliant conversation about gardening and plants. It turns out he is nearly as plant-crazy as I am. I love kindred spirits.
We shoveled and dumped. Now half its size, the mound was more junk than mulch. We scooped jumbles of hot, steamy fronds and leaves into the wagon. A three-inch palmetto bug scurried between my legs. Another scoop uncovered a giant Southern bullfrog. We found a bag of dog waste and shredded tissues, too. I changed out of shorts and tennis shoes and into jeans and hiking boots, despite the humidity and heat. Who knew what other creepy crawlies lurked within?
The flowerbeds filled fast. The fence line looked fancy adorned with its new border of oak and pine mulch. My garden was lush and happy. But where could the rest of the mulch possibly go?
Yet we were determined. The kids and I got up early the third day and hit that pile again. Load, push, dump. Load, push, dump.
There were many, many breaks for popsicles and ice cream.
Gallons of lemonade and ice water disappeared.
I sweetened my deal with the kids: “If you help me get rid of this mess, I will take you out to dinner absolutely anywhere you like.”
We did it—yelling and cheering triumphantly when the last pile landed in the wheelbarrow. The Melville’s Mulch Mountain was no more.
Over 200 wheelbarrows full of mulch got spread. Hundreds of wagon-full loads were dumped. My garden and flowerbeds, border and yard were flush with mulch. The kids’ nature trail system in the preserve behind our home is now beautifully lined with a thick layer of mulch, leaves, and sticks.
Our dogs happily chew pieces of bark and logs in the yard.
Our neighbors think we are eccentric, but that’s totally fine with me.
We learned some major lessons here.
No job is too big if you tackle it a scoop at a time.
Teamwork beats the heck out of working alone.
Never, ever wish for a mountain of mulch in your driveway.
Nothing—no, nothing is really free. (Certainly not mulch!) That pile cost gallons of sweat, gobs of dollars for kid labor (they are expensive workers!) and an exciting trip to Golden Corral.
But man, those beds and gardens do look pretty. ❖
This article was published originally in 2023, in GreenPrints Issue #134.