Penkava: Introducing … the Lord of the Mulch!

I have written previously about my shortcomings as my wife’s Junior Assistant Apprentice Gardener. Yes, I have pulled up tulip bulbs that I thought were weeds with swollen roots. I have mutilated bushes in an effort to sculpt them into shapes of Disney characters. And I once figured out a way to destroy an entire lettuce crop with a single swoop of concentrated lawn fertilizer.

I am on weedwacker probation due to incidental contact with iris foliage and grounded from the lawn edger due to overzealous depth and width application. I am persona non grata with the hedge clippers and I’ve been given the heave hoe from long handled cultivating tools.

Thus, I have been relegated to wheelbarrow patrol, weeding driveway cracks and searching for my wife’s lost trowel. That, and I regularly pull compost turning duty.

However, on the bright side, I am almost totally entrusted with the grass cutting, with the exception of constant reminders to rotate the direction of the cutting, instructions to adjust the blade height to the specific needs of the grass, directions on whether to bag or mulch and supplications to not move slower than the grass can grow. Other than that, I am completely on my own.

Be that as it may, I still would like to have a semblance of expertise in some aspect of gardening. I know I will always be plodding in the shadow of my master gardener wife, but it sure would be nice to be put in charge of some horticultural mission other than schlepping stuff around.

I decided to analyze the various gardening steps to see if there was one that was possibly within the realm of my capabilities. I rejected soil preparation because you have to be Dmitri Mendeleev to discern the periodic table of organic fertilizers. The planting phase was out because I can’t tell a tomato plant from a hydrangea, and I am disqualified for life from weeding.

I was about to throw in the trowel when I discovered something amazing while schlepping mulch for my wife. I watched her as she scooped up handfuls of premium shredded hardwood mulch from the wheelbarrow and sprinkled it in the flower beds. “Geesh,” I thought, “that doesn’t look very hard,” as I imagined the bristly feel of shaved carbon-based timber pulp between my fingers. I just had to say something to my wife…

“Honey, would you like me to do that?”

“That’s OK.”

“No, really … I think I can mulch.”

“Like you thought you could weed whack?”

“That was a machinery malfunction … the string feeder thingy was messed up.”

“And the hedge clippers?”

“That wasn’t my fault … the sun kept getting in my eyes.”

The mulch negotiations weren’t going very well. Then I got an idea. I promised my wife I’d study up on mulch. I’d go online and watch mulch videos on YouTube. I’d read the Wikipedia entry on mulch. I’d write a mulch limerick …”There was a young lady from Dry Gulch…”

Surprisingly, my wife countered with “Relax, Michael … why don’t you just watch me? I’ll explain what I’m doing and then you can try it.” Geesh, that was easy.

I watched, I listened, and soon I was mulching … two to three inches spread evenly … gentle application around plants … don’t kneel on the flowers in the front to get to the back of the beds … no mulch Disney characters.

I must have convinced my wife that I was mulch worthy, for the next day I was sent solo to cover the area underneath our pine tree. Mission accomplished. Lord of the Mulch! But the best part is that if you look carefully, you can see the faint mulch outline of Mickey Mouse’s head just behind the tree trunk. Snicker.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He recommends frequent checks of the air pressure inflation of the wheelbarrow tire to insure maximum mulch-bearing efficiency. (Noticeable Barney Fife sagacious sniff.) He can be reached at

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