There is one area of our property that is thriving. With the moisture and cool temperatures we’ve been experiencing, plants in this habitat are at their peak of health under the canopy of large tulip poplar trees on the banks of our frog pond. Here we find our healthy carpet of mosses that spread over the ground, clinging to exposed tree roots, fallen limbs, rocks and stones in a mass of textures. It is a soft and soothing garden to visit, one that entices you to stretch out on a warm summer day to watch the frogs in the pond or simply take a cool break out of the summer sun. Just studying the mosses, it’s easy to envision a tiny fairy village in a parallel universe around mounds of moss and lichen, beneath small ferns, where salamanders provide public transportation.
With Garden Club of Virginia members last fall, I visited the Richmond home of Norie Burnet, the ‘Moss Lady,’ whose lovely 4-acre moss lawn is a moss masterpiece and quite well-known to gardeners. Norie struggled to eradicate the moss in her yard for years but the yard absolutely defied any grass. She gave up and the end result is a totally awesome clean sweep of velvet. Norie keeps it free of leaves and she makes sure it is watered during dry periods or it languishes, she says. Unlike Norie, we don’t do a thing to maintain our moss. We don’t mow there. We don’t rake there. We don’t fertilize there and we don’t weed there. Mother Nature is in charge. But I do protect it from digging dogs, from a son using pin cushion moss as tees for chipping golf balls, from mister gardener whose brush pile creeps closer and closer each year.
Mosses have no true roots to conduct water and their ‘leaves’ are one cell thick. Water and nutrients are absorbed externally so our moss garden is basking in the cool, wet weather of early spring. We have several varieties sharing this space beneath the tulip poplars. Some of them, I am familiar with as they are common in this area but others I have never bothered to identify. I believe we have feather moss (Thuidium delicatulum), pin cushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum) and juniper hair cap moss (Polytrichum commune). Someday, perhaps, I’ll buy a book to put names to the rest of them but right now it doesn’t seem that important.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester