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Spring moving into summer of 2021, and we are outdoors again and enjoying some unmasked time, finally.

I’ve been encouraged and even prodded by fellow novice gardeners to visit some local gardening centers and to get some potting soil under my fingertips. I always feel like I’m lagging behind when I begin to see flowers and veggies in others’ yards and my planters and containers remain in the garage gathering a bit more dust. All is well now, however, and my annuals are bringing us some beautiful early summer color.

Bird feeders are filled and offering outdoor dining to newly arriving feathered friends, as well as to a few tourists just passing through.

Indeed, things are looking hopeful around here as we venture forth for a more normal summer of outdoor pastimes.

With all this planting and backyard activity recently, we decided to spruce things up with a new order of mulch.

Not only did we need to refurbish the mulch to keep down the weeds, but also our pup continued to dine on the larger pieces of wood chips in the mulch we had. And so we decided we needed finer mulch to stop his munching. It’s at this point in my story that things start turning dark, really dark, so be forewarned.

We ordered fine brown mulch (not in person, but online), and there perhaps was our first mistake. It looked dark brown in the picture; never mind what it said, and the next day we had a heaping mountain of black mulch engulfing our driveway!

After letting this situation sink in and coming to grips with the fact that we had only ourselves to blame, we took a deep breath and began to shovel black mulch all around the perimeter of our backyard, under trees, and edging the patio.

Our hands were as black as the mulch. We carried mulch inside on our shoes. Charlie, our year-old Cavalier, thought we had purchased it just for him, evidently, and he rolled in it, slept in it and munched on the more delectable pieces. (So much for our theory that he wouldn’t be interested in the finer stuff.)

His coat was covered with tiny little particles that he deposited on chairs, couches and carpets inside.

I was vacuuming, sweeping and picking up specks of dark woodchips on my hands and knees all over the house. I was beset with the black mulch blues!

Now, black mulch is fine for those who knowingly want it and order it, but we just couldn’t adjust our overall landscaping plan to this deep, rich, prairie-soil-colored landscape.

Plan B took place after living with our backyard mistake for several days. The black mulch had to go! We shoveled wheelbarrows full of the noir mulch and placed it under a huge shade tree at the corner of our property, a time-consuming, arduous task … and a costly one at that.

We offered it freely to friends and neighbors, and little by little we felt we were getting a handle on our black mulch debacle. Things like this never end, though, do they?

We were right back where we started but had little desire to order more twigs and bark.

Instead, we decided to use river rock and re-landscape the entire backyard. Thus, another project began taking shape at our house. What size rock did we want to use?

How long does it take to examine each shovelfull of rock to see if we’re getting just the right color combination? How many times can we move the rocks and the edging once they’re in place to redesign a curve as these stones wander through our back yard?

Now we are becoming reluctant experts in varieties of plastic edging, landscape fabric, tall and carpet-like groundcovers and shade plants. This will pretty much take us the rest of the summer, I’m figuring.

Charlie is not interested in the rocks and does not eat them or dig in them. Wait a minute. I almost wish I hadn’t written that last sentence. Oh well, I’ll just cross my fingers that Charles doesn’t rock the boat and remains steady as a rock as he ignores our newest landscaping adventure.

Donna Reed of Champaign is a freelance writer.

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