Building a moss garden is more like home decorating than any gardening I’ve done. At least building this moss garden is.
The idea of the moss garden is to have a beautiful view from my window, where there’s now a bunch of chewed up bits of board and debris amongst the leaves and needles. It has to be a shade garden, since the whole area is loomed over by a ponderosa pine. For those unfamiliar, 100 feet (30 or so meters) is a pretty normal height for a mature ponderosa. So, shade. And did I mention steep? It’s a very steep slope.
The other part of the idea was to have something green to look out on in summer, when everything is sere and dry. I appreciate my dry California dormant season; it has beauty of its own. But there are times when the eye craves green.
Part of the plan is to create a carpet of moss, as I discussed in the last post. But as I slowly piece it together, I find myself running in and out of the house: I want to see how the picture looks, framed in the window. It’s hard for me to tell what’s visible from the window when I’m in the garden, and since it’s such a steep slope, I can’t even tell what it looks like from the window even if I stand in the French drain that borders the house. It’s a little like hanging a picture; I have to keep stepping back to check.
What I thought was the right place to lay the (so far tiny) moss carpet is actually mostly invisible from the window. So I will have to start tweaking it around. But in order to do that, I also have to start pondering where the other design elements go.
Some of those elements involve more moss. As Schenck, my moss gardening guru, points out, one of the easiest ways to get moss from the woods to my garden is to carry away an entire moss-covered rock or log. So when I found this in the woods, I hauled its unwieldy wet heaviness back to my garden.
But while I’ve now got a log to cover up one of the dug-in buried rotting boards which is unofficially terracing this area, I’ve also got a problem. Well, three problems. One is that it’s hard to place this mossy log so that the thickest moss is on display, because most of its moss is on the narrow top section, and I can’t face it toward the window, because the log falls over. The second problem is that, theoretically, the moss is supposed to be oriented the same way it was in the woods. But if I did that, I’d have to dig it into the ground – and the reason I have it on that spot is so I don’t have to dig out the rotting board beneath it. The third problem is, the placement of this log looks real awkward with the mushroom-plugged oak round I’d already placed on the slope as part of the garden.
To me, this looks posed, artificial. So, more running to the window to ponder and look and wonder what I can do. Not to mention wondering how the native shade plants I have for this area – thimbleberry, salal, native honeysuckle – will look with it. And then I had been hoping to plant some mushrooms in the ground, too. Where do they go? What would make a natural-looking flow?
Moments like this remind me that I am no garden designer. I have no principles or rules to rely on, because I’ve always gardened the way I cook: improv. I think, “Well, that might be good next to that,” and I move things around, and often, with a little tweaking, it works. Or sometimes it doesn’t, but I usually manage to work it out.
This garden is a whole new undertaking. I’m not sure if it’s the nature of the plants, the slope of the ground, or what, that has me so puzzled and at loose ends, so fuzzy-headed, like a rank beginner. But I know I’m learning something. This is how learning feels: slow, sometimes frustrating, with a frightening sense of a Grand Canyon’s depth of ignorance. My own ignorance. And here’s the weird thing: this feeling is a big part of why I garden.