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Moss Garden: Small Beginnings



I’ve started my moss garden.


And the beginnings aren’t quite as small as this picture implies. This little window moss-garden was inspired by having some very tiny pieces left, little shreds that happened as I was gathering moss, plus the small curl of oak bark you can see rearing up its mossy head. It’s very fun having a moss garden by my sink, though (and that’ll make it easy to remember to water it).


Meanwhile, on the other side of the house, I’ve started assembling some ingredients.


Here’s a photo of the kind of “soil” I’m dealing with (mostly shreds of old boards on top):




I’d originally thought that I’d just grind up moss and spray it all over the whole thing, voila, moss garden. Like all garden fantasies, this one was torn from me forcibly. George Schenk’s Moss Gardening (Timber Press), advised me that some mosses like wood, some like rocks, and some like to grow in soil. One moss does not fit all.  OK, so one little piece of knowledge rattling in the empty cauldron which is my knowledge of bryophytes (mosses and lichens).


What I’d have to do, if I wanted mosses on the ground, was to go and find local moss growing in a similar situation (there are shade mosses and sun mosses, another tiny bit of knowledge I’ve gained. I thought they all grew in shade). Then, at least if I wanted the easiest quickest method (I do), I was supposed to cut up divots, about the size of my hand, leaving plenty of moss to grow over the blank spots.


I went to the woods near my house and proceeded to moss-hunt. I’ve permanently misplaced my trowel (yes, I know, I could have replaced it in the ensuing years), so I took a pruning knife with me. Actually, for the moss that was growing on the face of banks, no knife was necessary; I could work off the pieces with my hands (that’s where some of those tiny ones came in; they just broke off). They didn’t come with the 2-3 inches (5-8cm) of soil that Shenck recommends; they weren’t (as some gurus say) that deeply attached. The ones I cut from flat ground didn’t come up with much soil, either, maybe because I was cutting them with a knife, maybe because I was cutting them out of pretty-much solid clay.


The clay aspect worries me. Because, when you clear the debris away from my moss-garden-site soil, you get this:




Sandy loam. Really rare in our area, and one of the best possible soils for growing most things – but it is very different from the clay soil my mosses were wrested from, and they were under oaks, not conifers.


Will this make a difference? I don’t know. Next post, I’ll show how I started creating my moss garden (with a little potential fungus involved, too.)


This post, I’ll leave you with a quote from George Shenck, on why more people in the U.S. think moss is something to be thoroughly cleaned out or scrubbed off. It’s a rather grandiose justification for my little moss garden, but, like moss, the concept creeps up on you, filling in spaces you didn’t even know were blank and unfurnished.


“At a certain level of mind, mosses and lichens are allied with owls, toads, bats, and things that go bump in the night, are in league with Nature at the downturn, at one with decadence and demise…Admiration of mosses and lichens, and interest in cultivating them, represents the attainment of a certain wholeness of the civilized mind, a roundness in understanding our environment.”

{ 10 comments… add one }

  • MNGarden January 12, 2010, 4:31 pm

    I enjoyed your post, for moss has been on my mind lately. We have a lot and I have been waiting for a milder temperature window to gather some. I like to top some of my container gardens with it.

  • catmint January 12, 2010, 6:18 pm

    Hi Pomona, what a great project. Reminds me of when I went bushwalking in Tasmania, through damp ancient forests with gnarled trees and moss and lichen everywhere. Just like in a fairy tale. It was worth the continuous attacks of aggressive leeches! Anyway, I never thought of having an indoor moss garden. If I do it, it will also be next to the kitchen sink. I look forward to hearing how it develops.

  • Town Mouse January 12, 2010, 6:44 pm

    I tried to cover my buddha-face statue with some moss using ground up moss with buttermilk, but the results were decidedly mixed. I’ll be curious how your project develops…Have fun!

  • Frances January 13, 2010, 7:03 am

    Wholeness of the civilized mind….well yes, that is one way of looking at it. We have the moss here, naturally occcuring. Making a garden of just the moss, weeding is a bear! has become less of a goal than merely enjoying it wherever it decides to grow. My favorite spot for it is on the north facing block wall, no mortar between the blocks lets it seep through at the seams. Best of luck with yours, lucky you with that sandy loam even if the moss doesn’t care for it. Maybe you could make a clay based spot? :-)

  • Meredith January 13, 2010, 5:16 pm

    Lovely quote, and I do love the mosses. I’ve never tried spreading or cultivating them, but they’ve amazed me ever since I learned what an integral part of our food chain they are. They are allied with the destructive side, I suppose, breaking down the soil and rock and deadwood… and yet there’s such soft, green life there, too, and the promise of what’s to come decades from now from the soil they create.

    I hope your experiment turns out to be a rich tapestry of mosses. It sounds exciting to me. :)

  • Pomona Belvedere January 14, 2010, 9:33 pm

    MNGarden, love the container-topping idea. Shenck talks about using moss for bonsai containers; some varieties are shorter than others and these are the ones he recommends. But it seems to me that in larger containers, you could use any moss that works for the sun/shade exposure and water needs.

    catmint, your Tasmanian expedition sounds divine. The only place I know of that’s anything like it sounds are the moss-draped rainforests in our NW. Leeches! reminds me of that scene in the African Queen.

    Town Mouse, some mosses apparently respond to that buttermilk-and-blender treatment, and some don’t. I’m still working that out, because I’d like to try spraying some of my large immovable chunks of wood. It’s also possible that the mosses you chose don’t like clay, although I suppose the passage of time might tell, one way or another.

    Frances, the clay-based spot is a good idea, though it does feel like gardening backwards: we work so hard to break up and amend our clay, here. I think Schenk (having a spelling problem) would appreciate your attitude toward moss; he writes long impassioned essays on the wisdom of letting the moss be the lawn where it wants to. And you’re right about the weeding part; I’ll see how I do with that.

    Meredith, I loved your description of mosses. One of the thing that amazes me about them is how ancient they are, and how they can persist with so little to grow on. I’m looking forward to learning more about them.

  • lostlandscape(James) January 18, 2010, 7:05 pm

    I’d never thought to make a garden entirely of mosses–what a fun idea. I have, however, tried to establish mosses on the surface of some pots, particularly for bonsais, many years in the past. The success rate was minuscule, and I wonder if I might have been using the wrong moss species…

  • Steve January 21, 2010, 6:19 am

    There are mosses available at some nurseries, you know. I would assume they sell adapted ones for everyone’s zones. I discovered moss in the rain forests of British Columbia. It was – of course – love at first sight. Moss is replete with life and bursting with potential – as I mentioned in the comment above, I moved an entire moss garden indoors, something I had never done before and never done since with local plants. Each day it seemed something different was going on, from Maple seedlings to native Bleeding Hearts. I created my own seasons there. Moss is totally worth the trouble!

  • Jennifer January 30, 2010, 8:45 am

    What a relaxing and informative website you have. Thank you. My love of moss rambled into the gardening realm when we tore down a shed which had a wood shake roof. Last fall I ‘mulched’ with the shakes in a damp portion of our fern garden. Am hopeful the moss will eventually cover every inch of every shake.

  • Pomona Belvedere January 30, 2010, 7:59 pm

    Steve, I had no idea moss was sold at nurseries (well, except for selaginellas). You are a font of knowledge.

    Jennifer, many thanks – relaxing and informative is what I strive for. I love your moss garden, that sounds like an excellent and low-work way to get a great effect. Not to mention great recycling…

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