Why We Love Moss (III)

Our Fascination with Nature’s Green Carpet

By Debra Knapke

Many of our plant preferences are shaped by early experiences in the landscape or in the gardens of our parents or grandparents. Moss holds a place in my memories of the small woods by my childhood home. Bright green cushions appeared after rains and then disappeared during dry summers.

I seriously doubt that I thought about where moss belonged, but I knew that it was a part of the moist woods of my youth and that I liked it.

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Nature’s design: moss covering the ground under Jack-in-the-pulpit and other woodland native plants, Cedar Bog in Urbana, OH, April 17, 2004

A moss garden works best when it follows nature’s example. In the above picture, this community of plants is situated in a part-shade, moist location. Some mosses will grow in full sun but only in wet sites.

The picture below is a sphagnum peat bog that was designed for the Heritage Garden at the Ohio Governor’s Residence. It represents the kettle lake bogs that were created approximately 11,000 years ago by retreating glaciers. The sandy, acidic soil – which is kept wet – supports the plant community of cranberry, sphagnum moss, pitcher plant and grass pinks (native orchid).

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Sphagnum bog in the Heritage Garden at the Ohio Governor’s Residence, Columbus, OH.

This garden was the inspiration for my own small bog which is in a 30” wide by 12” tall, double-walled plastic bowl. The cranberries have become the dominant plant in my bog, but the live sphagnum moss and pitcher plants are visible in winter when the cranberry leaves turn their deep mahogany color. The “soil” is a combination of rehydrated dried sphagnum and silica sand which has a neutral pH. If you wish to build your own bog, avoid using gray builder’s sand which is fractured from limestone and has a high pH. Golden to orange sand is made from acidic sandstone and would be appropriate for a constructed bog. Last note – live sphagnum moss is difficult to find as suppliers need to have permits to harvest it.

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The cranberries are usually consumed by my resident squirrels. The few I have harvested are delicious.

From the realistic to the sublime… during a trip to Japan my appreciation of moss became a passion. The beauty of the Japanese garden style is a testament to attention to detail; the placement of plants, rocks and all elements are thought out and expressed in a harmonious creation. My words fall short of the physical, emotional and intellectual effect of what I experienced while viewing these built places. My pictorial vignettes may help.

Below is a moss garden which is kept pristine by many workers. This type of garden is not for the beginning designer or gardener and can only be successful in moist climates. Watering large expanses of moss from a hose is not a noble activity.

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Moss forest landscape at Shugakuin Rikyu Imperial Villa, Kyoto, Japan.

Time slowed, thoughts expanded as we strolled up these stairs from the Silver Pavilion to the Philosopher’s Walk.

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Moss gardens at Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Pavillion), Kyoto, Japan

The evocative Zen Gardens are minimalistic in nature. Ishidan is an interpretation of a sacred place. The center rock and moss mound represents Mt. Horai. The other two rock/moss elements represent Crane Island and Tortoise Island. The arrangement invites contemplation. Two viewing decks allow visitors to sit, rest, meditate or whatever one does when seeing a garden that asks you to think differently. Moss in this garden gave me a green place to sink into.

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Zen Garden, Ishidan, at Daitoku-ji, Kyoto, Japan

I thought about trying to recreate similar gardens, on a much smaller scale, on the long plane ride home. But I realized that those gardens are not my context, not my culture. Instead I have nurtured areas in my garden where moss appears; low areas where water settles and dew collects.

Another Japanese garden style is the centuries-old tradition of bonsai which started in China and was copied by Japanese artisans. This tableau represents and is called “Roan Mountain.” Two Chinese junipers and an azalea (middle) tower over a moss-covered ground. These miniature landscapes are a more reasonable goal for most gardeners for using moss and for capturing a small part of the Japanese garden spirit.

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Bonsai at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, NC.

One last expression of moss covered ground comes from Vancouver where moss forms the floor of the garden. It coats the rocks and any structure that will support its growth. Moss also changes the quality of sound in a garden; it absorbs sound and seems to signal that you are in a gentler environment. We soften our voices accordingly.

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Moss path at a private garden in Vancouver.

In my early gardens, I loved when moss showed up, not understanding that this often indicated an area that did not drain well either because of compaction or being at a lower elevation where water collects. I protected those areas and watered them when they became dry. I was shocked to discover that some gardeners feel that moss is a problem and needs to be eradicated.

For those of you who do not want moss in your garden, here is one strategy for banishing moss from your garden if you are dealing with compacted soil in a moist, shady site. Dig up the area to loosen the soil; add compost. Plant a tree or shrub that is appropriate for the light quality and soil moisture conditions. Woody plant roots are thirsty and will compete with moss for the moisture in the soil. The addition of herbaceous plants will also help with a high moisture situation. If moss returns, consider it to be a groundcover and learn to like, if not love, it.

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Moss taking advantage of our wet winter.

Michael showed moss lovingly tucked in between the bricks on his pathway. Here, moss is growing in the cracks of our asphalt driveway; a testament to the tenacity of this beautiful plant that seeks moist moments in the garden… and elsewhere.

Wishing you tenacity and joy!

Why We Love Moss (II)

Bring Moss Indoors to Enjoy Close-up

By Teresa Woodard

On my morning dog walks, I often return home with carpets of moss tucked in my pockets. I can’t help gathering the green tufts from rotting logs, boulders or the edges of a shady path. No mater the season, I’m inspired to use the treasures indoors to create — a spring nest centerpiece, a groundcover for potted bulbs, a nativity scene or an enchanting dish garden.img_0405

About Moss

While mosses are the oldest terrestrial plants on earth, they have survived for millions of years without roots.  Found on trees, rocks, river banks and even sidewalk cracks, these fascinating plants rely on leaves to transport moisture and nutrients.  Mosses reproduce by casting spores. The thousands of moss varieties are divided in two basic groups — cushion mosses (“acrocarps”) which grow with the stem upright and form mounded colonies, and carpet mosses (“pleurocarps”) which grow with the stem flat and form more fernlike, creeping colonies.  Lately, mosses are gaining renewed landscape interest as a no-mow lawn alternative especially for shady spots.  While they’re most prolific in misty climates of the Pacific Northwest and Maine, many have adapted well to Midwestern growing conditions, even rebounding from dormancy after droughts.img_6196

Harvesting Mosses

Find moss on your own property or check with local garden centers, floral shops or online sources (www.mossandstonegardens.com, www.mossacres.com or www.mountainmoss.com ).  If gathering moss from private property, remember to ask permission first, and avoid taking moss from public parks where it’s illegal. 

Use a spatula or perennial knife to scoop under the moss, collecting a thin layer of soil along with the plants. Always collect responsibly, taking only small amounts from any single colony, so the slow-growing plants can regenerate.20170117_085517_001-2

Creating a moss container display

Choose a wide, shallow dish with drain holes.  Consider a ceramic dish, a bird bath, a hollowed tree branch, a hypertufa trough, a faux bois (French for “fake wood”) container to mimic a tree trunk, or a simple plastic saucer from a larger pot. Avoid metal containers, since many mosses are sensitive to metals and chemicals.

Assemble moss and accessories. While gathering moss, search the woodland floor for potential accessories.  Possibilities include stones, lichen-covered bark and shelf fungi from the sides of trees. Miniature hostas and ferns and even dwarf trees also make good accent plants.

To assemble the container,  start with a layer of gravel for drainage.  Add a layer of well-draining potting mix and insert accent plant(s) and larger accessories.  Cover remaining exposed potting mix with pieces of moss.  Use a single variety or various combinations of mosses.  Water thoroughly with rain water and gently press mosses in place.

Situate your potted container in a location that best replicates its natural conditions – most likely with bright indirect light and access to rain water. Try placing the containers on shady porch steps, in the garden beneath trees or along the northern shaded side of the house.  Moss containers can also make “visits” indoors to be enjoyed temporarily as a table centerpiece.

Keep the moss container watered exclusively with rain water, since tap water may contain minerals harmful to these sensitive plants.  Thoroughly water weekly, and adjust frequency depending on the weather.  Mist moss between waterings. moss container

Learn More

To learn more, visit Ohio Moss and Lichen Association’s website at www.ohiomosslichen.org or check out these books:   Moss Gardening by George Schenk, New Methods in Moss Gardening by Richard Smith, Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer or Mosses of the Great Lakes Forest by Howard Alvin Crum.

 

 

 

 

Why We Love Moss (I)

Low-Profile, High-Impact Moss Enlivens the Backyard in Winter

By Michael Leach

The other evergreens get all the attention. It’s not surprising. From spruces to firs to boxwood most evergreens are big, in-your-face plants. Only in their youngest years might they be overlooked in the winter scene.

Little wonder that moss (and lichens to an extent) are the unsung evergreens. Besides spring green, they add various shades, including rust, ochre and blue-gray, to my landscape.  Seemingly as inconsequential as a pinch of nutmeg, theirs is a welcome dash of piquancy bringing vibrancy to this dreary season.

I’ve always been partial to moss. For one thing, this plant is pet-able. While not quite as inviting as lamb’s ear, the velvety  surface is hard to resist. Moss appeals, too, because it instantly adds a sense of permanence and venerable elegance to whatever it chooses to grow on. This is especially useful in the landscape surrounding the family home place, a small Victorian farmhouse.

Moss grows on many surfaces in my rather shady garden. Besides the damp and dim places in the lawn, where even weeds are reluctant to take hold, moss appears on stones, brick pavements, tree trunks, driveway gravel, old concrete walls and  a section of garage roof.

(Perhaps something should be done about the roof, as the growth no doubt holds dampness against the shingles)

However, it wasn’t until a stroll through my garden on a mild winter day that I began to appreciate moss for its winter interest. Here and there were welcome signs of life. Tufts and miniature “lawns”  of sprightly moss glowed in the sun.

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The low stone wall wears a light coat of a gray-blue lichen, nature’s version of the verdigris found on old copper roofs. Such an elegant way to soften the stones and add subtle color.

 

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Moss is a “mortar” that gives the brick walk a vintage look. (Caution is a must when walking on wet bricks and moss).

 

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If there’s sufficient moisture, moss and lichens grow on the south side of trees, too.

 

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A hitching ring on the old concrete horse watering trough rests atop a soft carpet of moss.

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A moss “lawn” adds a touch of antiquity to the crumbling concrete walls of a late 19th century watering trough. The greenery took up residence a few years ago.

 

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Why moss grows where it does is a mystery to me. Like most other volunteers in the garden, I allow it to live where it likes. (Maybe the stone on the left rolls.)

 

Learn more about mosses:

 

Moss sources:

 

 

Happy New Year and 2016 Favs

bloggers-01As we tip toe into a chilly 2017, we wish you a very happy new year and share our gratitude for your generous support in 2016.  Just five years ago, our trio met at a garden writers’ conference and decided to begin blogging about gardening in the Midwest.  We’ve covered new plant introductions, new books, gardening tips, destination gardens, landscape trends and issues of the heart. Thanks to all who have explored our blog, offered comments and contributed to our collaboration in so many ways.  We wish you all the best in 2017 and share these 2016 favorites to inspire your gardening in the coming year.

Kiss of the Sun for Pardon  by Michael Leach

Garden Downsizing by Michael Leach

Asters Sages and Milkweeds Oh My Part I by Debra Knapke

Asters Sages and Milkweeds Oh My Part II by Debra Knapke

Beautiful Brassicas by Teresa Woodard

Garden Tour Round-Up by Teresa Woodard

Garden Topics

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