The purpose of mulch is multifaceted. In nature, plants drop leaves and they form a natural mulch. It decomposes where it falls and the nutrients return to the soil for the plants to use again. In gardens, we often remove this natural mulch layer to “clean up” the garden. (This is why fertilizers or seasonal compost applications become necessary.) Then we replace the decomposing leaf mulch with something organic (carbon based) like bark or wood chips, or inorganic such as gravel. Despite lacking in nutrients, this mulch still serves a purpose: it insulates the soil and keeps it from drying out so fast in the sun, it keeps the soil warmer at night for the plants’ roots, and it quells evaporation from the soil.
Back in April, a friend of mine from work gave me this really cool tree botanically known as Cussonia transvaalensis. The common name for this tree is the Grey Cabbage Tree. It’s a perfect illustration of the trouble with common names, since a few other trees are also known by the Cabbage Tree name.
Cussonia transvaalensis comes from a particular region of South Africa with a former independent republic that was known as Transvaal. Given that the region has a Mediterranean Climate like our own (dry, mild summers with wet, mild winters), the tree is perfectly suited to life here in California. Its relatively compact form makes it a good SF yard tree.
This particular gifting was of a small, pot-bound plant. It had become a casualty of a necessary clearing of plants for my coworker, and I was glad to take it off his hands! 🙂 It had been living for some time in a tight little classic urn, and had developed quite the lovely caudex. After letting it hang out for a month or so while I figured out where to put it, I finally decided to bust it out of the urn and plant it in this square pot with a little cluster of succulents. Nice and petite and cute. I mean, the tree was only 10 inches tall after all.
It liked having new soil and not being pot-bound. Whooooooo, girl, it took off! Critter grew a foot a month! Time to move it up again. A friend had given me this wine barrel, so we up-potted the tree about a month ago and gave it the brightest spot in the yard.
Now the Cussonia is five feet tall, from soil to tip. Insanity, I tell ya! Tony had been collecting bottle caps with the intention of nailing them all over a planter he had built (you see the planter peeking in, near said wine barrel.) After mangling a handful of caps, and a finger or two, he came up with this fantastic idea. Why not use the caps as mulch?! Fabulous! I LOVE the way it turned out. It’s fantastically colorful, and it provides a creative place to toss caps during summer garden parties. The wine barrel gives me the notion that corks would be quite a lovely option, too…