I developed my city garden for several years before I realized how far I had put my cart in front of my horse. With my neighbor’s help, I had removed the dead and diseased trees that covered the yard and hid the soil from rain and sun. I wanted it planted up right away. A couple seasons later, I found myself moving plants to make way for boulders and other hardscape. We used the garden for frequent entertaining and just relaxing outdoors, listening to baseball late on summer evenings; some landscape lighting would have been nice, but the hardscape and plants were in the way of installing wiring and fixtures. As the plants began to grow together, it became more difficult to water with sprinklers or by hand, and I longed for a drip system hidden among the leaves. Plainly: I landscaped my yard backwards.
I went into my clearing last winter to tidy up a bit and to tone down the spooky and
bedraggled ugliness. I moved some plants here and there, added a few things I thought might be prettier to look at or perform better. As the seasons progressed I noticed the young deciduous shrubs planted at the Mitigation Planner’s direction did not seem to be breaking leaf; more and more plants needed to be replaced or moved. My outrage over the stupid plan grew.
Trying to both adhere to the requirements and restrictions made of me by the property, AND make something beautiful and natural-looking, I realized in mid-Summer that while I had learned from my own history, I was repeating it also. I need to have at least 289 surviving native plants…and I want it pretty, too, and useful. So I have been serving those ends and creating plantable soil, planting and transplanting, installing boulders and nurse logs, and attempting to grow and propagate moss. John Wooden used to say, ‘be quick, but never in a hurry,’ but feeling the press of time (the year anniversary of the Mitigation Plan and the accompanying monitoring visit are coming soon), I did not do what I promised myself I would: I didn’t make a plan, draw sketches, graph it out, install hardscape (lights and irrigation are verboten), and then plant. That is what I did in the front yard, and what would do if I came to your house to make a garden. But since I started in the clearing I have just been in a hurry–not quite ‘willy nilly,’ as all the above processes are in my head. Honestly, though, I have already moved more than a few plants and rocks I put in just a couple of months ago. And I should have SAVED THE MOSS FOR LAST.
Three weeks ago, I could not help but note that while my moss transplants live, the transplants themselves are not growing overmuch. My new friend David Spain of Moss and Stone Gardens, whom I have never met but is my friend because he has kindly commented here and offered excellent advice, noted that the bark and compost underneath and around the mosses is likely impeding their growth. In my zeal to improve the terrible tilth of the soil in my clearing I have been cruelly kind to the mosses. By contrast, those areas where I have only pulled weeds and planted nothing are growing bright and lovely veridian patches of new moss. In the battle to put a beard on the earth, bare soil is winning the Whisker Wars.
Much like the solutions to my stormwater runoff issues created entirely new projects, this issue will also require remedial action to make sure that the mosses can do more than survive and struggle. I cannot remove the planting mix, compost, and other organic matter I have added to the clearing, because I need the plants to survive, but as David explained to me, the success of moss is largely a matter of scale: a vascular plant can grow and thrive and spread due the advanced nature of its roots and other systems, while mosses are simpler and require fewer obstacles and competition. Like watching a Labrador and a chihuahua walking together: the smaller dog must take many, many more steps just to keep up.
This morning was cloudy and gray, and the chilly breeze knocked the branches of the bigleaf maples together eerily. Autumn is poised to land with a wet thud, and my exposed compost and planting mix–the entire clearing, really– needs to be smoothed of stones, twigs and debris and maybe tidied up with a dressing of sphagnum peat. Hopefully, the finer, smoother texture will make the life of my existing mosses easier and create an appealing landing place for new moss spores. What I am learning about moss cultivation is that trying to grow it is the only key: find out what works, and do THAT. Although I wish I had made a plan first, and did it all in the right order.