Bzzzz July 16th, 2019

It always baffles me when I see numerous products for killing moss lined up on the nursery shelves. Maybe there are places where moss is so unwelcomed that killing chemicals are needed. But none of those places are around our garden.

There is something peaceful and relaxing about moss-covered spaces. Mossy gardens seem to invite the visitor to linger and ruminate. I expect moss gardens to be quiet.

Green lawns–a different swath of green–are attractive. But they are clearly artificial. Moss, on the other hand, always seems wild, even when it is cultivated. That’s because you can’t just toss down some moss seed and have a moss garden a few weeks later.

Moss takes time.

Moss garden entrance after 8.5 years

Moss garden entrance after 8.5 years

We started work on the moss garden in January 2011. For many years the name “moss garden” was aspirational. Our son said that for the longest time it looked more like a beach than a moss garden.

Now, eight and a half years into the experience, we truly have a moss garden. And, in fact, we seem to have reached some sort of critical mass of moss because it is now growing in areas we hadn’t originally planned as a moss garden.

We now have a mossy pathway to the moss garden in the woods. Moss is growing under the two big zelkovas in the back yard where no grass will grow. Moss has taken up residence in the side yard, near the outdoor shower.

The process of establishing the moss garden started with clearing undergrowth in a part of the woods next to our house. Once that was accomplished, our son, on summer break from college at the time, hauled in and spread several tons of stone dust.

To introduce moss, I experimented with the buttermilk/moss solution loads of internet “experts” say will quickly grow moss. All I accomplished was ruining a perfectly good blender and giving the woods a sour milk smell for several days.

What seemed to work best for me was transplanting moss from other areas of our property. I lifted some bits in sheets by gently lifting it with a spade and pinning the transplant to the stone dust with a landscape pin. Other moss I just crumpled up, spread around, and stomped into the stone dust.

One time, a dear friend from Rhode Island came to visit and brought a whole suitcase of the clumping moss I had seen and envied near her home. Parts of it even survived!

Now that the moss is well-established, we have begun the process of refining the design. We have added hostas, pachysandras, and ferns. Many of the ferns are wild ferns we have moved from other parts of the woods and grouped together to make a more impressive stand of ferns. I have added pond stone cobbles to help define the edges. The stones have the added benefit of discouraging critters from unearthing newly planted hostas. I think the critters are searching for worms and bugs in the freshly-dug earth.

We have planted hostas, ferns, and pachysandra along the moss garden edges. Maintaining the hostas requires regular application of spray to deter the grazing deer.

We have planted hostas, ferns, and pachysandra along the moss garden edges. Maintaining the hostas requires regular application of spray to deter the grazing deer.

If you are interested in establishing your own moss garden, here are suggestions based on my trial-and-error experiences.

  1. Expect the process of growing a large area of moss to take several years. Moss doesn’t grow quickly, so patience is your greatest asset.
  2. Completely clear the ground where you want to grow moss. You will want to start with a blank slate to invite the moss in.
  3. If you decide to put down a base layer of some sort to deter weeds, do some research to make sure the material will be moss-friendly. We were fortunate that the stone dust we bought from a local excavation company proved to be hospitable. Even so, I think that we put down a much thicker layer than was actually necessary. It took some time for the stone dust to settle in and get packed down enough to be moss-friendly.
  4. Regularly sweep or blow off leaves, sticks, and other debris so the moss doesn’t get covered and smothered. Gently prick out grass, weeds, or seedlings that pop up. Try not to disturb the soil any more than necessary if you are weeding what appears to be bare soil, as there may be some microscopic moss spores struggling to take hold. Once you have moss, pricking out weeds is easiest when the ground is moist. Water if it you need to. Very gently extract the weed and then press down the moss around where the weed was dislodged to put the moss back into contact with the soil.
  5. Consider introducing moss from other parts of your garden. Chances are good that if the moss grows near where you are establishing your moss garden then it will like the soil conditions for the place you want to encourage growth. You can purchase moss from moss nurseries. We decided to use patience and our own moss since there was so much already growing here and there.
  6. Walk on your moss. This seems counter-intuitive to me, but walking on the area where you are growing moss or want to grow moss will help to force moss spores into contact with the soil. In addition, little spores will get onto your shoes as you walk and you will be spreading them around.
  7. Water regularly. Moss doesn’t need lots of water at once. Provide a cool mist a couple of times a day, particularly in hot or dry weather. Most of our mossy progress seems to take place in the fall and winter months. But keeping the moss hydrated in the long, hot summer months keeps it healthy and looking good.

The "moss garden" in 2011, the moss moved in.

The “moss garden” in 2011, before the moss moved in.

I would also recommend two books. My favorite resource is The Magical World of Moss Gardening, by Annie Martin. Martin provides a wonderful overview of the botany and history of mosses, an overview of different moss types, a guide to designing with mosses, and practical advice. She doesn’t pull any punches either, telling the reader that moss gardening isn’t maintenance-free gardening.

Keeping your mosses healthy and happy is essential in achieving lasting splendor. I wish I could say that mosses require zero maintenance, but the reality is that magnificent moss gardens necessitate ongoing attention. – Annie Martin

Moss Gardening, by George Schenk, is another good resource. Schenk that groups chapters by ways to incorporate moss into your garden. Chapters include moss carpets, alpine gardens, containers, and bonsai mosses.

If you would like to see more moss, take a look at some of the fabulous mossy spaces I have collected on my moss garden Pinterest page.

What do you think about your garden? Moss or no moss?

 

 

 

Posted In: Books, Garden Design, Gardening

Tags:

One Comment

Bzzzz October 29th, 2017

Summer has passed and we are well into the fall season and I’m just saying hello. I have been on sabbatical. I might go back on sabbatical after I write this. There are no promises implied by this post!

As I write, the chickadees are having a bird war outside my window. Something has them in a tizzy and they sound as if they plan to fight to the death.

This was a summer of bird wars. Bluebird wars, with three or four male birds in a shouting match and hopping from tree to tree for emphasis. Cardinal wars, the vivid red birds sweeping low across the lawn chasing after each other. Wrens duking it out with little clawed feet.

It’s the males that seem to go at each other with such purpose, although the females are not above throwing a punch in a good scrap.

Chickadee

It’s probably not a fight over food, because there are bugs in abundance. In August the cricket and grasshopper populations seemed on the brink of some sort of coup. They lifted up in great swarms ahead of me as I rode my mower over the lawn.

Even now, in October, the crickets huddle outside the doors and decide to send a forward scout into my house to check out the possibilities inside the walls. I am about to drift off to sleep and the chosen emissary will begin his crickety screech. My eyes shoot open. My arm and leg muscles bunch up in fight response. I silently slide out of my warm bed in search of the offender. He quietly slinks into hiding. I stand like a statue in the dark, trying to fool an insect. He falls for my trick. I pounce. But he is faster and practiced at these games. He eludes me. We continue the game of pounce and hide in the dark until I surrender, return to bed and turn up the fan to drown out his noise. I drift off to sleep, vowing to murder him in the morning. But when morning comes he is nowhere to be found. He has gone to sleep after a long, hard night of our game.

Walking with Sarah in the garden I spy two golden orbs in the crotch of a zelkova tree. An industrious squirrel has tucked two hickory nuts away for a later snack. I keep an eye on them over the next few days. One disappears. The remaining nut must be part of the squirrel’s long-term plan because it is still there.

Sarah

The turkeys are growing up. It is a grand turkey year, perhaps because we have a bounteous cricket supply for them to feast on. Four or five mom turkeys are raising their families together, so we often see forty or fifty turkeys at a time making their way across our cricket-infested lawn. I try not to frighten them away as I strain to get a better look. These turkeys are very skittish. You must be very still or they will scamper away into the woods surrounding the house. Sometimes I don’t see them but can hear them gobbling in the woods.

For years my husband has proclaimed moss envy whenever we hike at the local American Chestnut Land Trust. Several years ago while my son was home from college he hauled 13 tons of stone dust into an area we cleared in the woods. It has taken these years for the moss to become established. Last summer I read that walking on the moss was an excellent way to spread the spores. I spent time every day last summer meandering in circles around the little clearing, imagining the little spores sticking to the soles of my shoes and finding a new home a little ways away. It seems to have worked because we have significant improvement in moss cover this year.

Work and more work has kept me in the house this summer, so my moss meandering has not been as extensive. I hope to meander more next summer.

Speaking of moss, it has established nicely between the pavers on the back patio and front walk. Whenever I have the men out to wash the outside of the house I have to race to make sure they understand I don’t consider the moss a nuisance. There is something about a man with a power washer that makes everything look like it needs to be cleaned. They seem to think I am eccentric in liking the moss and the stained look of the concrete front stoop rather than a gleaming white concrete.

After years of mowing the back field I decided to let it grow during the summer. I mow sweeping swaths to create a path up and down the small hill, creating a pleasing effect. I’m considering moving the bottle tree from the moss garden to the top of the hill on one side. I mow the whole field just once, just before winter when I feel confident the eastern box turtles have gone into hibernation. Not too many things would make me feel as terrible as hurting a pokey little box turtle unfortunate enough to be wandering in the weeds when I take it in my head to mow. I am hyper vigilant when mowing the lawn to make sure none are in my path, just as I often pause to wait for bumblebees to move along so I don’t catch them up in the blades.

My sweet chickens moved to the neighbor’s house last summer and my garden tools moved from the garage to the coop. I’m happy to have the extra room in the garage so I don’t have to shimmy out of the narrow crack of my car door, but I miss spying glimpses of chickens pecking their way across the yard. Maybe that’s why the crickets are so numerous this year. No chickens to keep them in check.

I still haven’t tackled planting the old outdoor chicken run area. Two beautyberry bushes are duking it out now that they don’t have the chicken wire to keep them in check. The sweet autumn clematis doesn’t have the top of the run to crawl across, but it seemed content enough to climb the roof of the coop. I still don’t know what to do with this area. I have given it little thought as I sit inside pecking away to send emails and write reports.

Soon we will begin tearing out the remaining 15 winter king hawthorns on either side of the driveway near the house. After years of beautiful spring blooms and fall red berries, the trees are now diseased and no longer bear the flowers or berries. I will miss the annual visits from the cedar waxwings, which had the astonishing ability to arrive at the same week in February for many years running.

cedar-waxwing-2016

A couple of years ago I purchased a fountain on impulse while in Portland on a gardeners fling visit. It took months and months for it to arrive because it was custom cast and, apparently, the first cast was flawed. When it finally arrived I was horrified to see it lifted off a motorized carrier on a pallet. The 300 pound fountain was crated and packed with excelsior. In the days it took me to find a crew of men to move the fountain into place some corn snakes had taken up residence in the excelsior. The Mexican workers weren’t amused when they moved the straw-like material and snakes slithered out. I tipped them nicely and they have a story to tell at the dinner table. I run the fountain about six months out of the year and enjoy cracking the windows in my office on most days to hear the sound of the water as I work.

And now I hear the crows outside. I don’t know where they have been all summer. Maybe they decided to find a place closer to the water. I have missed their caws and intelligent way of guarding the perimeter of our hay field. I will enjoy having them back this winter. That is, until they begin to gobble up the seed I put out for the little birds. I wouldn’t mind, but crows are as greedy as they are smart. I must look out for the little guys.

The last time I posted here on Bumblebee was to let you know My Precious had died. I still desperately miss my little Sophie. Just last night I dreamed that I was in prison with her and a horrid jailer kicked her with his big ugly boot. I tore into him, pounding with my fists, screaming and crying. It was like hitting a wall. He threw us back into our cell. Sophie was still alive and we cuddled together in our cell. I’m not sure what these dreams say about me. Someone please write and let me know.

I have missed blogging, but am not sure how it fits into my life these days. And so, I toss this post into the digital void.

Posted In: Chickens, Dogs and Cats, Nature and Wildlife

2 Comments

Next Page »