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:
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.