In my last garden I had plants that I used as ‘filler’–the thing in between the things that were going to grow together. In general, my filler go-to was Viburnum davidii. Most notable for its nearly clichéd use in mass-and institutional plantings, I initially found that its other positive quality was its inexpensiveness. Over time, I began to appreciate how the matte leaves with their ridged texture set off the plants around them. They are tough and make a handsomely tidy mound, occasionally with a metallc-y blue berry that persisted well into the colorless Northwest uniseason that runs November through June. Sigh. There are no $4.95 gallon shrubs from the Big Box store in my
I do have a filler in my clearing, though. When I began to contrive of a moss-themed woodland clearing (moss “garden” would imply I am creating a residential landscape. Can’t do that.), I recalled that the Bloedel Reserve began its moss garden by clearing the soil and planting 3,000 mud flats of Irish Moss. The Irish Moss, which is actually a low-growing vascular plant, filled in the space and was eventually ‘crowded out’ by the true (Bryophytic) moss.
At $9.99 per mud flat at the Fred Meyer Spring Sale, I didn’t quite have the thirty grand necessary to pull this off. I did purchase 25 flats of four-packs at the Big Box Store, $7.95 per, though. $200 and four hundred 2 inch plugs later, I had 400 ditty little spots ‘o’ the green. Ha-ch-ch cha! Yes, I know it is not ‘native.’ The plan is to have it overtaken and crowded out, although I was not at all sure how this would transpire.
When I view the clearing in the early morning I get to see a few dozen, maybe a hundred-ish monster slugs lolling about on the Irish Moss, which has grown to rounds of six to ten inches in diameter. The slugs are the size of hamsters and are almost cute: looking for all the world like sunbathers on green rafts, they are not eating the moss (or sunbathing either). The slugs are attracted to the dew that collects on the groundcover. The Irish Moss is moist…even when the rest of the clearing is not. This is the key, and if the landscape architects and garden designers who conceived of this idea knew this, then they possessed a genius beyond their talent in garden design.
Moss loves moisture too.
I bent down the other afternoon and peered at some of these groundcovers. A few had browned out, but were now greening up again. I took off my glasses and got nose-to-stalk with the plants. Within the boundaries of the Irish Moss are growing small colonies of new, true bryophytic mosses. The true, native mosses won’t ‘crowd out’ the Irish Moss. They will grow ON IT. They will smother it…and they will spread.
Years ago I read a history authored by Bertrand Russell. In it, he advanced a theory to the effect that ‘all inventions are the technological follow of their immediate predecessors…with the exception of the zipper,’ which he called the mankind’s greatest invention because it was based not upon the hooks, buttons, and snaps which came before it, but upon the feather of a bird. I don’t know if that is true or not (and it is not a direct quote, either, because I read the book Long Ago), but he was a smart guy.* What he was describing is what we now call ‘thinking outside the box.’ For instance, planting Irish Moss to act as a moisture attractant and to serve as a growth substrate for true moss. Brilliant.
*The book was also published in 1945, so he may have missed out on a couple of important later developments. LIKE VELCRO!