Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making Of A Moss Garden

Today was another snowy one and while my trip in to work wasn't too bad, the return trip should be interesting to say the least.  I'm still in favor of more snow and any precipitation this month to help augment the deficiencies from 2012 is welcome.  As I type this blog, I don't have any one else here to report on but I've been busy getting seeds ready for our growers and I'll be hauling most of those out tomorrow and on Thursday if the roads are passable.  We still have a couple seeds trickling in from late orders or back orders but the bulk of our seed grown material for the Spring Plant Sale and the gardens is ready to be dispersed and delivered.

Our Fern & Moss Garden is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.  Built just north of the Japanese garden this space (4,000 sq. ft?) has been fun to develop with a vast collection of ferns and a "moss island" surrounded by streams and a small pond.  The original intent with the fern collection continues to be to acquire, grow, display and evaluate every fern that we can find that has a hardiness rating to zone 6.  We are not zone 6 but we're finding quite a few ferns that have established and were not thought to be hardy.  We are involved with the Hardy Fern Foundation (www.hardyferns.org) and are one of eleven satellite display gardens for that organization in the United States.  In our fern garden, the six garden beds in this space have ferns loosely grouped by "region of origin" including Asiatic, North American and European.  This garden, positioned under the shade of many large cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) was developed to mimic the Japanese garden style and includes lanterns, bridges and in the photo above and below, you can see the Ma Chii' (spelling?) structure which is an authentic Japanese resting structure for contemplation.  This garden has had some trials and tribulations in the past including flooding in 2008 which covered over 2/3 of the garden with standing water (13 weeks) when our surrounding ponds (and the adjacent streams and Rock River) peaked at 5' over normal levels.  A good portion of the Japanese garden was also flooded and we've been replacing plants for a couple years now in all if these gardens.  Many ferns were replaced and while we've dabbled with slight improvements to our moss island, we took a serious step this past spring.  We continue to augment the collection, tweak the misting system, amend soils as needed and hope to re-establish one of the largest fern collections in the Midwest.

The top photo shows the original moss island in late winter.  Why grow moss?  Why not?  Wisconsin has 400 native species of moss and while I can't identify very many, our hope was to include and promote moss as a groundcover option in the shade.  Originally quite flat, this mossy expanse was established by Jenny E. and Janice.  Janice has been the moss caretaker since the beginning and has been in charge of adding moss, additional watering, debris collection, etc.  In recent years, Marv B. had helped by adding mosses and re-configuring that garden with additional rocks, clubmosses, etc.  The flooding mentioned above created some problems including an influx of weeds and while the moss island was nice, we knew it could be improved after visiting the garden of Dale S. in Waukesha, WI on two occasions (2005 and 2011).  We decided to enlist the help of Dale S. ("Mr. Moss") this spring to create a new moss garden (same location) with more topography and a wider selection of mosses.  I essentially asked Dale to approach our moss island like he has his moss plantings at home.  The end result can be seen below.

Dale S., a retired economics instructor from MATC (Milwaukee), contacted me years ago regarding moss.  He mentioned his garden and sent some pictures along.  I was mesmerized by the healthy moss beds and his entire 1 acre garden is unbelievable.  His knowledge (and appreciation) of mosses is quite extraordinary and after our first trip to his garden, I realized that Dale's passion for mosses could be replicated at RBG.  

Mosses have a 400 million year history and are quite adaptable in a wide range of conditions.  Mosses have no true roots or flowers.  They reproduce by spores and the reason you see mosses growing on rocks, tree trunks, bricks, etc. is that they attach with rhizoids (anchoring structures) and take in water and nutrients on an intercellular level (rainwater).  Mosses are also evergreen and will photosynthesize year-round.  In fact, they are green right now under the snow.  There is a great, award-winning book on mosses by George Schenk that is worthy of consideration (Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures).  The biology of mosses is quite interesting and there are various thoughts on how to establish mosses.  Of course, mosses in warmer, more humid climates can be problematic (i.e. the Pacific Northwest) and may not be promoted as a garden asset.  However, in the Midwest, mosses can add a wonderful touch in a woodland or shade garden as a durable groundcover.  The quick summary of the process that Dale employed includes site preparation with soil mounds, rock placement and ultimately the re-positioning of moss transplants.  Dale had help from Marv, Terry, Big John and Janice although most of the moss acquisition and placement was done by Dale.  The "quiltwork" approach of positioning patches in close proximity works well if mosses are immediately and consistently watered.  These collected moss patches were skimmed below the rhizoids and tamped securely in place.  Keep in mind that it is illegal to collect mosses from State or Federal lands and when collecting, only take a portion of a moss patch from the wild so it can regenerate the open space.  We are also encouraging mosses on all the rocks in that garden.  We did secure some light netting over newly planted moss sections to deter birds and squirrels from collecting prime nesting material.  The process can be seen below and the results have been spectacular.  We'll continue to add mosses as needed but this new, mounded look with additional rocks and a wider variety of mosses has become immediately popular and a great garden asset for RBG.  Included further below are some inspirational shots of Dale's moss garden.

Dale's moss island preparation (Marv & Terry in background)
moss transplants ready to go
Mr. Moss, poised and ready
the "patchwork" approach
Janice and Mr. Moss consulting
moss island (east bed)
moss island (west bed)
moss clumps in fall: filling in nicely
one of many moss troughs at Dale's garden
Dale's garden
woodland path in Dale's garden
mossy patch at Dale's garden
moss at Dale's garden
moss at Dale's garden
consider mosses!


Brier Rose Garden said...

This is a beautiful blog. Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge and expertise. Karine

Brier Rose Garden said...

This is a beautiful blog. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise. Karine