One of the first gardening books I read was by an English author who was both puzzled and annoyed by American gardeners' use of mulch. I took the idea to heart and ever since have seriously under-used mulch. I keep thinking I can get the effect I want by interplanting my roses with other plants. I'm not completely sure it's working. But I have had some measured success.
In one part of the garden is a ground-hugging veronica that expands about three inches in each direction each year. Although it only barely chokes out weeds, its blue flowers look good with pink Chatillon Rose and other pink roses in the area. In another part of the garden I have some peppermint growing between roses. It tends to romp across the garden, showing up where it is not welcome, but it certainly does a good job choking out weeds. I love the smell, so I don't mind pulling it up where it doesn't belong.
In yet another part of the garden where the soil is sandy and spare I have planted daffodils and lavender. There's also a stand of Jupiter's beard. In spaces between I have planted roses. It makes for a space where roses play an essential garden role, but are not the central characters. The area is edged with nepeta "Walker's Low" which grows marvelously well here with just a bit of supplemental water. The presence of daffodils in a bed has posed much difficulty for me because the dying stalks malinger for a long time. Tulip plants, by comparison, are long dead and blown away by mid May, but daffodil stalks are still turning brown. The lavender is only now beginning to reach a height where it can hide the daffodil stalks, so the bed is still a bit ugly in May.
In one bed I have a lot of daylilies between roses. Daylilies are slow growers for me, but there is a kind of inevitability to their progress. In its third year the weed level is fairly low and the daylilies are just beginning to cover nicely. There are places in the garden where I've planted clumps of cannas or dahlias between roses. So although my roses do not repeat in fall I still have lots of fall flowers in the perennial/rose beds.
Finally, there is the experiment with cerastium tomentosum - seen here as a background to Lili Marlene:
So I have been really trying hard to avoid the whole mulch thing. Last August I would have told you it was hopeless, the weeds were overrunning the garden. Right now, though, I have a bit more hope. I definitely see a place for mulch in the garden, yet I hope that it might never be seen.