Moss Dish Garden Experiment – Day 1

UPDATE:  Please see this post for more and more correct information regarding moss dishes!

Today’s post is not at all about food, but about spring, and green growing things.  I love greenery, I’ve mentioned that before, but when the days turn sunny and the chill in the air is no longer a biting cold but a refreshing breeze, my fascination with the green stuff goes into overdrive.

I literally cannot have enough green things around the apartment, and preferably new and interesting ones at that.  Yes, I did say apartment – had I had a house, and a garden, there’d be a lot more green things around.  As it is, I have to fit my desire to see things grow into a city apartment.  Which means, windowsills and tabletops and maybe balcony… actually definitely balcony, as my lavender bushes not only survived the winter outside unprotected except by what snow fell on them, but are alive and sprouting happily.  I’ve trimmed them down and fertilized them and can now look forward to an abundance of purple and white flowers and a heavenly fragrance… but I digress.

Yesterday, a friend of mine informed me that if I do not yet have a moss dish garden, I need one.  Need.  And she showed me some photos, and I realized that yes, she is right and I do indeed need one, right now.  Right then it was too late in the day to go gravel-gathering, or moss-hunting, but that is precisely what I did this morning.

Why?  Because it’s green, it’s alive and because it is incredibly beautiful, at least to those like me who think just about anything in the forest short of animal poop is beautiful.  And a moss dish garden is very far from that end of the spectrum indeed – it is as small as you want to make it, elegant and stylish, and has the certain quiet beauty much admired by Japanese gardeners (who have encouraged moss to grow in their gardens for centuries before we have gotten the idea to do this – probably from them).  And it’s supposed (supposed does not = works out that way) to be pretty low-maintenance.  This latter part, we’ll see about.  Once it establishes, that is.

Important: before you rush out and strip the moss off the nearest boulder, first make sure that it is not protected or endangered wherever it is you live.  If it is, then you may be better off buying some from a nursery or get some (legally sourced) spores online.  Of course, collecting it in your own garden or in a garden of people you know works too.  Just – make sure you aren’t breaking the law and ruining the environment by gathering an endangered species – after all, the point of this (at least to me) is to grow something beautiful because you love green things, not to destroy what is possibly irreplaceable!  For reference, in Sweden, some lichens and mosses are protected, but it is legal to gather a little bit of other varieties for personal (non-commercial) use in public forests.  The variety pictured above is a species of Hypnum genus of mosses, a very common forest and bog moss.

After the ethical and legal concerns are out of the way, putting together a moss garden is apparently very easy – you just need a ceramic or glass dish, some gravel and pebbles, a bit of non-alkaline potting soil, and the moss.  However, and that’s a big however, I imagine it will take more than just putting it together to get it to establish and thrive.  So, this is my moss dish garden experiment – day 1.  I will update over the next several weeks on how the mosses are doing before I pronounce this a success *knocks on wood*.

So, what does one need to make a moss garden?

Apparently, not that much.  Mosses don’t like alkaline environment (at least most of the common ones don’t), and they dislike direct sunlight but like a bit of light all the same.  They also do not develop true roots the way higher plants do, and so must be kept moist but not waterlogged (except bog mosses that sometimes just float in bogs).  Most websites recommend watering with filtered or rainwater.  I agree in theory, but in practice, the tap water in Stockholm is clean and soft enough that it should not be a problem.  I did put a bucket outside to collect a bit of rainwater should it fall, but in the meantime, the moss will get the same water as my orchids do.

The basic idea is a layer of pebbles in the bottom of a shallow dish, then a bit of gravel (this is to provide a place for excess water to drain into, and also a reservoir for keeping the soil moist), then a little bit of soil on top of it, and then the moss itself.

After I have put everything together around lunchtime today, it looked like this:

It hasn’t rained for over a week before I went out today to collect it, so the moss was looking a little dry but not dead – we have a beautiful patch of untouched forest behind our apartment building, a landscape feature I love about Stockholm.  It’s very common here to build around old boulders and between them, leaving the actual forest biome intact between the houses.  It makes for a beautiful view out the windows as well.

So, as per instructions, I constructed the base, watered it thoroughly, and then gently pushed the moss patches onto the soft and wet soil.  For a while, nothing visible happened.  I took the above photo, then sprayed the moss thoroughly with a spray bottle and wandered off to do other stuff.

Then, after a few hours, I came back and looked at my dish garden – and the somewhat-unexpected (but not unwelcome!) has happened:

On left, photo taken at half past noon. On right, photo at half past four in the afternoon.

The moss has soaked up water, plumping up visibly – and turned a beautiful lush green!  And while I know it’s too early to be happily assuming that the moss will survive, it certainly does look happier already, which means I am happier too – how can you not be, looking at something turn beautifully alive nearly before your eyes?

All that remains now is an exercise in patience.  Check moss daily for drying out, mist and admire.  Water weekly (or as soon as the glass container looks dry on the side) by pouring water in.  Wait to see what happens.  I’m sitting on the edge of my seat here with impatience – I have never been the patient sort, ever.  I’ve always been told that patience is a virtue.  I suppose at least where growing moss is concerned, that has got to be true.

Wish me – and the moss! – luck.

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12 thoughts on “Moss Dish Garden Experiment – Day 1

  1. Hi Lilith, I love the sound of this and I am going to try it. I am in Australia, and even here we have mosses. I do like the sound of you and I like your blog. I have made your no knead bread but needed more flour, as I am sure our flour is quite different to yours. I found you via the Sourdough Companion. I can’t wait to try that ice cream. Sounds absolutely fab. And the crab bake thing. Keep up the good work. Only thing I don’t like is the black background. Hard to read.

    • Christine, hi and welcome!

      Regarding the no-knead bread, if your flour has a lower protein content than mine, then it will, as a rule, take less water – let me know what % yours is and I could probably compare to mine and see what gives. Mine has 12% protein. Although, there is the other side of the coin where higher-protein flour creates a dough that is more elastic which may offset the excess water. Another factor could be the ambient humidity in your pantry – mine would have been pretty dry as we still have central heating on here. As I’ve myself discovered, what is written in a recipe in one part of the world, does not necessarily perform exactly the same in another – and my no-knead recipe already has lower hydration than what the American and popular one did (that was the one which failed for me). Let’s compare notes!

      I think moss is pretty universal wherever there is at least a bit of shade (or even none if you are far enough North), and while Ping may find herself going to war with it armed with a shovel, here it more or less keeps to forested areas and shaded Northern sides of buildings. I’ve always thought it pretty, and if these stay alive, going to try to make one of those fancy terrariums with neat little clumps of it. But ahhh, need to keep them alive first!

      As to black background – shame that it makes it hard to read! I wonder if there is a way to let people choose what they read it against, because it seems an even split regarding what backgrounds people prefer. I will do some checking around wordpress and see.

      • Sorry I got your name wrong Veronika. My flour is 13%. I am thinking of putting in some chia seeds next time to counteract the excess hydration. I love the flavour they give and they make bread last longer. Will report in.

      • If the flour is 13%, then it is probably the difference in ambient humidity, which one sadly can do nothing about – it changes widely between locales and seasons.

        I’ve never tried chia seeds, though I’ve seen them sold – what are they and what are they good for? What sort of flavor do they add? And yes, please do report in!

  2. I guess it’s the right time to go crazy for green … St Patty’s Day!
    Pretty salad … I mean, moss bowl. I’d love for you to come over and collect as much moss as you can from my garden. It’s all over! There is such a thing as too much. And I don’t think there’s an endangered law here for moss … at least not that I know of. I’m useless at gardening. I have a bunch of purple thumbs (definitely not green anyway). The only things I can grow is fat :)
    Anyway, back to moss. Our weather here is absolutely perfect for moss and I’ve seen some really lovely blue staghorn lichen at our highlands… among others that I can’t name. Oh yes, those are protected by law. And some wild orchids as well. Some folks have tried cultivating them (the orchids) but so far have been quite unsuccessful. I wonder how many they’ve yanked off the hills to do that. Tsk.
    Have you named your little salad yet?

    • Hehe, my birthday is actually the day after St. Paddy’s (and everyone was always hung over for it, too)! But I refuse to make either spinach-flavored or food-colored cake for it all the same – although I may well make chocolate-and-Baileys cheesecake. That combination always wins!

      And had it not been illegal-as-heck to bring unregistered plants from overseas into the EU, I may be nearly tempted to pick moss and/or orchids around there, but yes, the endangered species list is there for a purpose – Sweden has orchids too by the way, just somewhat less showy than the ones that grow up in your hills. Mosses, however, we have aplenty and they are mostly far more fancy than this Hypnum, but I did not want to try to grow something too complicated and fancy and kill it. So, practicing on the common salad, err, moss. Oh and my brother, who lives in Pacific Northwest (Washington state), said the same thing as you – that they have TOO much moss, it grows on everything and people are mostly concerned with killing it rather than growing more of it. I think the deep freezes and dry weather spells here keep it in check – lucky us!

      As to the tiny salads, so far they are doing great actually! I will take another photo at noon when the light is the same as first photo to show the difference, as the moss has plumped and greened up, both in the glass dish and in the tiny bowl (it’s not actually salad-sized, it’s maybe all of 8cm across!). And name… that’s important, but I think I will wait with naming it until I am fairly confident it’s going to survive. It’s sad to name something and then watch it die. So it can be “salad” until then. :)

      • Oh, did I change St Patrick’s gender by calling it Patty? :)
        Salad’s a good name. Like I called my pet fish “Sushi”… at least until you come up with a less morbid one :)

      • Aww, Sushi the fish! And yes, they are little salads for now, but they appear to be flourishing! Should take photos today as it’s day 3 and they are still looking very happy!

        And yep, yep you did. Patty the patron saint of all the hungover drunks of the day after St. Paddy’s day? ;)

  3. This is one of the many reasons I adore your blog Veronika – there is always something new and interesting to read and consider. I think this is a fabulous idea and one that, even I as a hapless and terrible gardener, should be able to present and maintain!

    • Juls, thank you! I’m incredibly flattered that you (with your own swanky blog) would say so!

      And well, it’s now to day 3, I will be taking photos in a couple of hours, and the “little salads” (blame Ping for the name!) are doing just fine! I’ll give it another few days before pronouncing it “easy” – just want to make sure they really are establishing and growing despite really minimal care.

      I do recommend a glass container to start with, because, to quote a friend of mine (while admiring the moss containers) “they’re slurpy little critters“, and I’ve already had to add water – if you have it in glass, you can see when the water level falls to zero or near that in the pebble layer, which is pretty nifty. With my other dish, I just filled it till the overflow holes (the ones the rattan handles are hooked onto) started draining, and then tipped a bit more water out, which ought to prevent over-wetting. I am not yet sure how I’d regulate it in an opaque dish without side holes. Perhaps I may have to measure how much water is X height in it and add that much when moss looks a bit dry – but that is for future experimentation!

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