Growing Mosseries

I’m part wood nymph. I require mountains and warm, dense patches of
moss to thrive.
–Vera Farmiga

Dense moss colonies in a cool coastal forest

Dense moss colonies in a cool coastal forest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, has just published a novel, The Signature of All Things, in which the main character studies, of all things, moss–she’s a “bryologist.”

A number of years ago I became alarmed at the cushioned layer of moss that was taking over areas around my fruit trees. The grass was not thriving. I listened to the moss killer companies’ urgent pleas to save the grass, and sprinkled something toxic on the worst of the moss, and then lost interest, especially as the moss returned as healthy as ever.

Ann Lovejoy, the master of all master gardeners in my part of the world, has convinced me that moss is not the problem. The grass is invading my moss! In her newspaper column last January she pointed out that grasses are not native in most of the Pacific Northwest. We Midwest and East Coast people, when we migrated here, brought our love of green, grassy lawns. We fight the moss with chemicals–the moss that persistently grows because it is native. And then we try to keep the grass going with chemical fertilizers and more water.

However, as Lovejoy pointed out, those green, grassy lawns require lots of water through the summer. That extra water can cause root rot in native trees and shrubs. And then if you rake the leaves (to save the grass), you take away the nutrients for those trees and shrubs.

My favorite area of the Bloedel Gardens on Bainbridge Island has always been the moss garden. All sound seems to be muffled by the moss, so it’s quiet and serene. I feel like I’m walking through an ancient woodland.

English: The Moss Garden, Bloedel Reserve, Was...

English: The Moss Garden, Bloedel Reserve, Washington State, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to one site I checked, in the late 1800’s many British and American gardens boasted “mossaries,” a small slatted wooden structure with a flat roof, open on the northern side in order to maintain shade. Moss was “planted” between the slats. Perhaps they were miniature gardens, something like today’s moss terrariums in a jar? It was a passing fad, but the dictionary still defines a “mossery” as a place where moss is grown.

I like that idea. I think I’d like a lot of mosseries in my yard. No, I don’t want moss on my roof, but I’m going to encourage it in the rest of my yard. I may continue to rake some of the leaves (I use them as mulch in the garden area), but I’ll try to leave a few more each year around the trees. I won’t dig up the grass I have, but I won’t encourage it, either.

In researching moss, I found a really fun commercial site you might enjoy exploring to learn more about mosses: