The Beauties of a Moss Garden

The beautiful moss garden.

Last Wednesday evening (January 03, 2002), David Hurand welcomed Patrick Battle and myself to the monthly gardening talk show that he hosts on WCQS, Public Radio in Ashville, North Carolina. We answered a number of questions ranging from helping a stubborn gardenia to bloom (put a cut-off wire coat hanger in the soil) to planting cover crops for the winter (annual rye grass is great). But two callers had questions about starting a moss garden to replace a typical lawn and wanted to know about a good reference book devoted to mosses. I mentioned the beautiful moss garden that Doan Ogden created back in the 1960s on what was then his ten-acre garden in Kenilworth, a garden now under the stewardship of John Cram. And pointed out that John's responsibility to the mosses consists of informing visitors not to walk on these plants and to remove the fallen leaves of autumn within two to three weeks of their falling (if you don't, the moss goes into hybernation and looks brown as straggly until the coming of spring). The photo at left was taken during the first week of February in 1999.

Today in January, the moss garden is a thing of beauty but it reaches its zenith in mid-winter when the slanting rays of the sun turn these primitive plants into a sea of burnished bronze. As to a reference book, in 1977 Timber Press published one of the best books on mosses ever written, known simply as Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures, written by George Schenk. A delightful book, it tells the story of mosses in full-color photos and full-color prose, telling about mosses on rocks and wall, in containers, and as a lush groundcovers, far more exotic and beautiful than grass. And while thinking about mosses to replace some of your energy-dependent lawn, don't forget the beauty of ferns because they go together so well.