Entries in moss path (5)


My Garden Mistakes

I have been working on the rocks in the arbor garden. Again. They are dry-stacked to form low walls enclosing the planting beds, and I have been tinkering with them ever since I began this particular garden in 2009. After seven years I should have gotten them right, and maybe now I will. I have changed the shape of the planting areas several times, not knowing exactly what was wrong. This year I realized that rather than giving definition to the planting beds, my wimpy outline was merely a suggestion. I needed bigger rocks and more of them. I have also been resetting the large flagstones that form the patio area under the wooden arbor, bringing in bags and bags of sand and leveling the stones. I am not finished yet, but already I am happier with the whole space. Here is what it looks like today, in progress:

It is obvious that I did not know what I was doing when I began. If I had hired a stone mason, it would have been money well spent.

I tend to dive into a project with the gusto and optimism of inexperience and come out the other end humbled and much wiser. You bet I have made plenty of gardening mistakes over the years.

I have planted plants too close together, only to remove half of them when they began to encroach upon one another. This has not always been my fault. These dwarf Yaupon Hollies planted in the front garden, shown in the foreground here, grew twice as large as the three feet claimed on the tag:Now I know labels give averages for mature plants; the actual ultimate size depends on many factors.

I once planted something called Viburnum augustifolium. It had lovely evergreen leaves, but I had no idea about its habits. It grew to about thirty feet tall. I came to call it Cancer Tree, because it produced abundant underground runners, which sent up new trees in all directions, rapidly metastasizing into nearby planting areas. Unchecked, this thing could have colonized the planet. We cut it down, and years later we are still spraying herbicide on new sprouts. 

I watched a parade of hydrangeas and azaleas choke to death on my clay soil before a wise woman told me to improve the soil by adding lots of soil conditioner to my planting holes. Wow! What a difference this has made. I also discovered that my soil is going to be acidic no matter what I do. I can sweeten it temporarily by adding lime, but it is easier to plant acid-loving plants, or else grow the plants in raised beds or pots. 

One mistake that did not happen: Originally, I almost painted my little woodland bridge brown! I debated over the color, thinking blue would be too bold for its wooded setting. But I wanted blue; and once I put it in place, I knew it was just right. Even in the depths of winter, it brightens the area, and it compliments the moss path perfectly:

So do I regret all the mistakes? Certainly I hate to waste money. Education and prior experience help to minimize blunders, but "mistakes" are going to happen in the garden. Gardens are as individual as their makers, and the books don't cover everything. I have learned not to moan too much over my mistakes, but to learn from them. It is all part of the process.


Growing a Moss Path

I have been growing a moss path in my woodland garden for about five years, and winter may be the best time to appreciate its golden green glow.

Moss makes a wonderful, low maintenance path, and, yes, it is perfectly OK to walk on it, though high heels are not recommended! Jogging is not great, either, as this is likely to tear chunks of moss out of its place. But the foot automatically slows when it steps on the velvety surface of moss. Walking on a moss path transports one to a hushed and older realm, far from the stress and pace of modern life. It is best to savor the experience.

The easiest way to find out if moss will grow in your own garden is to look for it. If you have some moss already, be assured moss can grow for you. There are about 1200 species of moss over the world, and moss will grow if the conditions are right. Generally, moss needs damp air and some degree of shade, though there are a few mosses that will grow even in the desert. Moss often does best on acid soil, with a ph of 5-6, but not because it needs acidic soil. Many plants won't grow in such soil; therefore, competition for the space is lessened. And this is important: For moss to thrive, the surface needs to be bare. If you want to grow a moss path, keep the earth free of weeds, leaves, and other debris. I rake my path several times during fall to keep leaves off the path. For a few years I had to be diligent to pull weeds on a regular basis, though as the moss filled in, this chore lessened considerably. My paths are not perfectly manicured. It is the woods, after all. I do allow some violets and other wildflowers to grow in the moss path, which adds to the romantic quality of it.

Moss has roots that anchor it to the surface, but these roots don't absorb water or minerals. Unlike more advanced plants, moss does not have a vascular system to transport water and nutrients. Instead, moss absorbs moisture directly from the air and uses sunlight to produce food through photosynthesis. If moss is covered up, it will not grow successfully. Because moss doesn't get its nutrients from the soil, it does well on poor, compacted soil and even solid surfaces such as stone or brick.

It will also grow on trees, but fortunately it is non-parasitic, since it does not steal nourishment from its host. Moss cannot store moisture and will dehydrate during prolonged dry periods. Nevertheless, many mosses spring back to life quickly once they are rehydrated. My moss path doesn't receive supplemental water but has easily survived several droughts.

Moss does not produce seeds or flowers. Spores are borne on long filaments in spring, but propagation by this method is difficult. The best way to get your moss path going is by adding plugs or sheets of moss wherever you want it to spread. Moss either grows in clumps or spreads horizontally, and the spreading type is best for paths. Local moss will be most suitable to your site. Just rough up the surface of the bare ground, put the moss on it, then firmly press or step on it to help it attach. Water it in, and your moss is ready to spread. Moss was already growing in a few places within my paths when I first got started, which is what gave me the idea to let it spread throughout. I found moss growing in other spots on my property and added plugs of it to the paths. I was thrilled when I found moss growing over the surface of a large flat rock. With the help of a trowel, pieces peeled off easily and made perfect transplants.


If you have the right conditions, allow some moss to grow in your garden. A path or even a moss lawn may be just what you need to lower your blood pressure or to restore your frazzled spirit. Don't have so much space? Then try a moss garden on a smaller scale. No room at all? Moss, along with a petite fern, miniature hosta, or a wildflower or two can make a delightful dish garden to sit in a window or on a patio. 

Peace to you.   Deborah