May 15, 2015

Building a Moss and Fern Garden

The weather has been great. Not too cold, not too dry and not yet too hot. A recent lessening of the symptoms of a chronic illness meant that I could take advantage of the mild climate to tackle the neglected gardens around our home. Temporarily putting aside the creation of art work, I substituted works of greenery, rocks and earth.

There was nothing quite like obtaining free plants in the pursuit of gardening. This has been a great benefit of living in a small rural community of avid gardeners - availing myself of the garden spill over from a friend’s or neighbor’s yard. That is how I collected hydrangeas, a confederate rose, a swamp hibiscus, rose of sharon bushes and most recently ginger lilies, spider lilies, century plants and Japanese ferns. The lilies, spider lilies, century plants and ferns come from Lee Malerich, an artist friend who blogs about art, the art of creative salvaging and gardening:

The ferns inspired some renovations. I selected an area around a tree that had overgrown its cement and rock boundary for the placement of the ferns. The overgrown ivy around the tree and azaleas competed with the ferns so I tore that out. The torn out ivy and tilled up soil revealed buried rocks. I used these to re-establish a border for my new fern garden. But what to use for a green replacement for the ivy that would not compete with the delicate ferns? Going on line I saw some very nice gardens using ferns and moss for shady areas. I was smitten by the tropical rainforest look. There was already gratuitous moss growing in the area so I knew that more of it could probably be accommodated.

The more I looked at mosses and lichens the more I liked them. Low maintenance and good for shaded areas with ferns. And what beautiful colors and textures. I learned about sheet moss, cushion moss, haircap moss, rock cap moss and reindeer moss (which is actually a lichen).

I readied myself to order moss carpets in a pleasant variety of greens. But then I looked at price on line. Reindeer moss was about $20 for two square feet. About $10.00 a square foot for the other varieties of moss seemed about standard. So I resolved to find my own moss from around my yard and discreet areas in the neighborhood.

Looking in my own back yard I found about three varieties of moss. The neighbor had a fourth tall and bushy growing variety which I begged a sample of. Not being moss savy at first, I pulled the long stem like structures out of the clumps of moss I was transferring thinking that these were invasive weeds. Turns out these were spores from the moss that were best preserved.

As I slowly pieced together a quilt of mosses for around the ferns and down the bank of earth around the garden I thought of money saved. Ten dollars for every painstakingly pieced together square foot of moss. (I later heard that Lowes sells the moss more cheaply than that so will check out shortly).

Funny how setting a monetary value on something changed everything. I began to see not moss but fifty cents growing on a rock. Five dollars growing on my sidewalk. Waking up in the morning I did not wish for a sunny day but rather an overcast cool day of rain so that ten dollars might grow on the dark side of my back porch. I recalled a few years ago coming across reindeer moss growing on its own on a forest edge. At the time I considered taking a sample because it was so beautiful but I did not know what I would do with it. Too bad. There was probably about a hundred dollars on that bank!

As luck would have it, my search for money-conserving soil conserving moss also turned up some small volunteer ferns growing around the periphery of our house. These I put in to my moss and fern garden to complete the circle. I added a potted fern in the center where I will eventually place a large autumn fern that a neighbor just offered!

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