Please welcome Katie Elzer-Peters, who, in addition to her love of Civil War battlefields, runs a business writing and marketing company for garden businesses called Garden of Words. She's also recently taken charge of Great Garden Speakers, our ever-growing horticultural speakers bureau. Here's Katie:
I used to be an across-the-board hater of rubber mulch. No way, no how, no where could there be an appropriate use of that "junk." I didn't care how many tires it kept out of the landfill. In my mind, there were absolutely no applications for it. Then I visited the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania Battlefields Memorial near Spotsylvania Court House in Virginia.
Part 1: As a young child, I read every historical fiction novel about The Civil War that I could get my hands on. I will watch the History Channel or, even, the Military Channel on television, so the names of the places where major Civil War battles occured are etched in my mind. After driving past Fredericksburg for 10+ years (first, while making every-other-week drives to see my boyfriend), then when driving to a reunion and conference this summer, I finally decided to stop and see what was there.
Part 2: My hate-hate relationship with all landscape things plastic began when I was a summer seasonal at The Indianapolis Zoo. Cleaning out garden beds that had become infested with weeds on top of landscape fabric, trying to plant inside the landscape fabric, and ripping out the landscape fabric cured me of any industry brainwashing about the benefits of plastic mulch-like materials.
The "AHA!" Moment
After days and days of walking around on concrete paths in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., my feet were feeling it. I'd also had enough of people and cars and yammering. Turns out that Spotsylvania is a good place to go if you're tired of people, because there are NO PEOPLE THERE. Signs in the battlefield park describe Spotsylvania Court House as a small, unknown community prior to the battles that took place there. There's about as much going on now as there was in April 1864 (before the May battles took place). There's no visitor center at the battlefield. No running water. No structures. No park police. Just a few signs and acres and acres of earthworks and fields.
How do you keep people off of earthworks, from running all over a national monument? Well, you have to rely on common courtesy (another rant, another day), but paths help, especially across fields that look the same as far as the eye can see for untrained eyes. At Spotsylvania, there are seven miles of foot paths and a road that takes visitors through most of the monument. I parked near the Bloody Angle and got out to walk for a while.
Three steps in, I looked down. "What IS this stuff?" I wondered. It looked like regular mulch. I bent over to look closer. IT WAS RUBBER MULCH. Now it is possible that rubber mulch is being used everywhere for these types of paths and I just didn't know about it, but to me it was a revelation. It's springy! It lasts! It doesn't wash away! It needs no maintenance! (or very little)
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I'm still no rubber mulch advocate for the home landscape. I think it is tacky. But for municipal parks, monuments, and battlefields, if rubber mulch means the difference between paths and no paths, preservation and no preservation, parks or no parks, I say "Go for it!" I'd rather see these remote monuments and historical sites remain open to the public than insist on chopped wood mulch. I'd hate to see these battlefields paved and turned into theme parks. It's hard to convey the remoteness of Spotsylvania along the highly-traveled I-95 corridor. It's in the sticks. There's no way that someone can get out there and rake 7 miles of pathways every time a thunderstorm washes through the rolling fields. Rubber mulch can also be easily picked up (these looked like pieces of mats)
This doesn't sound too fire and brimstone, but for me, admitting that rubber mulch has its positive attributes is tantamount to a vegetarian cultivating a taste for NY Strip steaks. I thought rubber mulch was vile. Turns out, it's not.
How about you?