Shhh. My moss is sleeping. Or dormant. Or semi-dormant. I don’t know. Who could rest
with all the racket made by that bracken fern growing? And the truth is, I really don’t know what my moss is doing.
It has been a little over a year since I decided to go whole hog into bryophytic mosses, and their companions liverworts and selaginellas. Having taken my early cue from the Bloedel Reserve’s Moss Garden, I planted a few hundred ditty little cubes of moss-like groundcovers–Scotch and Irish ‘moss,’ some other mosslike vascular plants, and spikemosses and clubmosses which seemed very “selaginalagous” to those native to the Northwest forest. Many of these have taken and spread a little bit; a few have died out. It has been interesting to watch these dead little tangles of vegetation become the growth medium/host for the native spore-borne mosses, which I can only assume is how the Bloedel Reserve’s Moss Garden got its start.
Early on, I deployed that graybearded bit of gardening lore, blenderized moss slurry painted onto rocks and logs and such. My report: total B.S. I have found no moss growing in the spots where I slapped the evil-looking goo around. Maybe it’s the climate here; when you think about it, a paste of moss, buttermilk, and water is pretty much going to wash off of a log or boulder within a couple days. But the spores I ‘activated’ should have lit somewhere and struggled to survive, right? I say, save your $5 and don’t buy a blender at Goodwill…and DEFINITELY take it easy on the thing you make your Margaritas in. The Moss Milkshake is gardening apocrypha at best.
After these early efforts, I received a wonderful and unexpected (and surprisingly long and detailed) e-mail from David Spain, who is a moss expert and not just because he has been on Martha Stewart (who herself has a rather impressive moss garden, though I have no trouble imagining an army of interns and PA’s hand harvesting microscopic spores to spread around).
Using the excellent and generous information supplied by David, I limited my efforts with
true mosses to transplanting only, and to keeping my bare soil as bare and as smooth as possible, an approach advocated by both Mr. Spain and George Schenck. The transplants came in the form of smallish plugs taken from the large fields and outcroppings of moss in the deeper woods behind my home. Keeping the soil bare and smooth is a bit more difficult, as my clearing wants to constantly fill up with branches and leaves and other debris, and rocks and pebbles that seem to magically appear out of nowhere. I can competely understand why some Buddhist temples in Japan cultivate vast fields of moss. The picking of weeds, competing grasses, and other detritus is a very Zen-like pursuit, or would be if I were a young Japanese monk instead of a gigantic middle-aged gaijin.
The mosses themselves are fascinating, and I wish that I could educate myself about them to a greater degree. That I can identify, I have Plume-, Hanging-, Rough-, Yellow-, Cat-tail-, Curly Hypnum-, Oregon Beaked-, Goose Necked-, Lanky-, Step-, Red Roof-, and Broom Mosses, Twisted Ulota, plus Douglas’ and Menzies’ Neckera, as well as Scissor-leaf Liverwort, Tree Ruffle Liverwort, Wallace’s Selaginella, and Ring Pellia. Whew. My daughter calls them ‘moss.’
A year ago, their chartreuse- to brown hues concerned me that they might not make it through summer. Then, around the first week of October, they got all green and puffy, as if on a sudden cue. This spring, about the second week of April, the mosses sort of deflated, and the colors faded out. I can only wonder, and maybe there is a moss whisperer out there who can tell me: is it the seasonal spectrum of light the mosses sense? The length of the day? It is not exposure to sun, for in fall and winter the leafless trees above allow ‘full daylight,’ whereas in spring and summer the trees are in full leaf–sunlight occurs only in some areas of the clearing and for periods of only 30 -90 minutes at a stretch.
As spring wound down and gave evidence of actually becoming “nice,” I maintained only some narrow ribbons of exposed soil where the mosses have yet to grow together. Some of the earliest mossy logs I placed around the clearing seemed to have ‘melted’ into the soil; the moss (or neckera, or liverwort) jacket grown away from the contour of the wood and fused directly to the earth. I did not want to transplant any more plugs as (I thought) the clearing would shortly dry out; I hit upon the notion of the ‘nurse stick.’ My property is littered with
hundreds thousands of small, moss covered branches well smaller than a log. I began to collect these and cut them into six- to twelve-inch lengths. These skinny, short nurse sticks fit perfectly into these ribbons of soil, growth medium intact. This is my innovation to the moss gardening world.
The sticks and mosses now take a brownish snooze, save for a few that seem to favor summer over winter. Whoever coined the phrase ‘like watching grass grow’ was living a Mountain Dew-fueled X-treme lifestyle compared to moss watching. But with a couple dozen (at least) different types of moss and companion plants covering the floor of my
clearing, there is an appealing patchwork effect of different colors and textures; and while I really appreciate the appearance of a smooth carpet of moss as at the Reserve or at Saiho-ji temple, my soil is taking on a seductive, undulate quality not unlike the curvaceous sweep of a woman’s hip as she lies upon her side…sigh…sorry. Don’t worry, I don’t have a thing for moss.
Someday the nurse sticks and logs will rot away entirely, and those mosses which thrive the best will in time dominate the clearing. I won’t, this fall, be adding any fresh compost or soil to the clearing, and I’ll have a much better idea of how the mosses are spreading and if any of their spores have begun to take–without the difficulty of my having buried them. In the meantime, I have a smelly and moss-stained thirdhand blender, and no idea what to do with it.