Monolithic mulch

So you’ve seen organic mulch – you’ve almost certainly spread some, if not made some.  You’d also have seen gravel mulch.  But have you ever stumbled on monolith mulch?

I can’t think what else to call it.


These pics were taken in a small section of Le Domaine de Maizerets, just outside Quebec City in Canada.


OK, so it’s not quite mulch.  It was more a pivotal and bold design decision, and a fabulous one.  But to consider it as such makes me rethink the use of stone, and rethink the role of mulch at the same time.

It’s kind of like someone has taken the idea of a rocky canyon and stylized it somehow, working on the idea of plants slowly invading after a landslide, or taken the idea of a scree and magnified it.

While the huge slabs of stone were the show-stealer, there were other admirable things going on.  There was the plant selection, which was neither unnecessarily limited nor crazily diverse.  There was a good mix of woody and herbaceous plants, providing that winning combination of the permanent and ephemeral in a setting of virtually ageless elements.  But most importantly there was the near-perfect plant spacing, so that the slabs dominated, but only just.  Most of the plants chosen have a known tolerance of being cut back hard (like the Ailanthus, Rhus, Catalpa and Vitex), which would mean they could be hacked back if they looked like taking over, but also means that you can retain that lovely young foliage (the first of the three above have much larger leaves when regularly stooled) in perpetuity.  It may also have allowed the use of plants that are otherwise frost tender, as their lower trunks would be protected by the thermal mass provided by the stone, and could reshoot if the upper parts of the plant were damaged.  But now I’m just speculating.  There was no one around to ask about the thinking behind the plant selection.


It fills my head with questions.  Did they plant after the slabs of stone were placed, and if so, how did they get between them to plant later?  Did they plant while the blocks were being placed, and if so, where did they find a machinery operator who would pay any attention to their precious plants during the construction?  Given that the crevices between the blocks would be a virtually perfect growing spot (like the botanical wonderland of the cracks and fissures in the rocks of The Burren, County Clare, Ireland – open a link here, here and here, if you’re interested in images), possibly protecting plants from extremes of cold, dry etc, then how do they weed out the stuff they don’t want in there?  Given that this is a public park, wouldn’t those cracks all end up filled with chip-packets and other trash?

It’s probably a practical nightmare.  I’m sure glad I don’t have to maintain it.  But it was amazing, intriguing and it felt great to be right in the bowl that these huge slabs of ‘mulch’ created.


  1. There’re usually features in a garden that you can find appealing even if it’s not your style… but haven’t found them here yet.

    I just keep thinking of ‘stuff’ falling between the cracks – or reptiles ready to surprise… although I suppose that’s not such an issue in Canada.

    Maybe it was a bad interpretation of the designer’s dream…

    1. Or my failure in selling them to you, Kim. I loved them, despite the obvious challenges of looking after them

  2. Wow, like a huge tessellated pavement. Are you supposed to walk, or not walk, on these rocks? They look like they’d be fun to jump about on. It’s also fascinating how their massiveness changes the apparent texture of the plants. When I first looked, I thought they were all little fluffy things but on closer inspection I see solid shrubs and small trees that are made to look different by the contrast.

    1. There’s nothing stopping you walking, or leaping, on them. And now that you mention it, I can’t believe I didn’t do exactly that (except, perhaps, an awareness of the dignity required in my role as tour leader). There’s another benefit – no matter how much traffic those slabs carried, the plants would never get squashed!

  3. Oh yes! I was with you when we encountered that incredible creation – I will always remember your face when we saw those great rocks used as they were! The whole of Le Domaine de Maizerets was astonishing in its originality.

    1. And I distinctly remember – upon arrival – wondering why we were there..

  4. Maybe it was intended as a kind of amphitheatre (BYO cushion), and the plants just happened to grow in the crevices.

    1. Libby – If there’s a place in the world where I a stack of rocks left alone can burst into spontaneous growth looking like that, I want to live there!

  5. I loved these. And what’s more, I loved your careful examination and thinking about it all. That’s rare in garden writing and perhaps it takes truly great design to inspire it?

    1. Nah, just put that down to a brain that overthinks everything. Spare a thought for my Mum and my wife who’ve both spent roughly 25 years each cohabiting with that brain..

  6. Michael,
    You say you have an over-thinking brain? I reckon I could extend your list of concerns by at least a couple of points: what happens in winter, when those monoliths become ice covered slip-and-break-your-leg traps? And who is considered to be liable when a kid falls over and ends up with some sort of an exotic injury? It’s a brave and beautiful design, and in today’s world, where we are often forced to consider too many “what-ifs”, I feel we need more of the imagination and freedom of thinking which is evident in this garden. I’m sure you will be compelled to do more research on it, and will share with us what you find. Looking forward to your “return” post on Le Domaine de Maizerets

    1. While I invariably over-think, Adele, I try not to over-write. When it comes to blogging, I think it’s got to go down quickly and easily, and the ‘publish’ button pressed before you can re-consider too deeply. There’s always more I want to say, but don’t. I can tell you, it’s a mercy I didn’t write everything that crossed my mind re: this little corner of Le D de M!
      And I’m so with you on the need for greater emphasis on the freedom and imagination, and less on the negative ‘what ifs’.

  7. Michael, If I ever inherit an old quarry, something like this would do nicely. It brought to mind Gilles Clement’s island garden at Parc Henri Matisse in Lille with its concrete ‘cliff’.

  8. I just loved this idea and truly wanted to jump and clamber amongst the plants. Exploring the man made grykes for treasures.
    Hmm, yes, how did they plant the areas?
    Don’t the plant choices look fresh and comfortable among the protective solidity of this mulch choice?
    I live in granite country and that means one huge seed bed. This could be my answer!
    Your enquiring mind excites ours in return..the best of gardening writing,thankyou.

Leave a Comment

More Blog Posts

The Ways of Stone and Succulent

I planted as I built my stone wall, following good Gertrude Jekyll principles. Some things succeeded and other things failed.  Some, like the honeysuckle and the dianthus, grew really well initially, ...


I’m in search of the perfect companion for my colchicums.  They’ve been in flower since the last week of Feb and are looking distinctly lonely (image above). The trouble is, they flower without a ...