Having shown you some bits of our garden, I feel obligated to comment on how much mulch we use - since sometimes I feel like I've done nothing but spread mulch and weed for the last two months! I see lots of posts about gardens, and hear lots of complaints about weeds - my answer is: 'Mulch as much as you can!'
We've also used straw (not hay!) in the past, and the best of all, dry mulched leaves. The neighbours have a lot of shade trees and use a landscaping service to do their lawn. That service comes by in late October and mulches and scoops up the leaves for their final fall clean-up, and they need to get rid of them somewhere - so we just got them to bring it across the street and dump it for us. We has a pile 18 feet long and 3 feet deep two years ago, and all FREE! It lasts right through the winter quite effectively.
But last fall we had that early snow in the 3rd week of October, and the fall clean-up never got done, so we got no leaves - thus the mulches I had to purchase this year. But if you don't mulch your gardens and you do a lot of weeding, try it; it makes a BIG difference.