Friday, 1 April 2011


As spring’s warmth gets the grass growing again, our thoughts turn to tidying up our lawns. We seek to transform them from winter’s moss and mud, changing those weedy, threadbare patches to perfect summer green carpets. It is usually the moss that is top of peoples’ hit list for eradication. But I’d like to put in an enthusiastic admirer’s word or two, for this most humble of plants.

Mosses are real survivors, and as a group have been around for a long time, many millions of years before any flowering plants had even been thought of. They thrive in damp conditions and have the simplest of needs. Not dependent on roots to take their sustenance from soil, instead they pluck their food from the air or the raindrops that fall upon them.
The Japanese have long admired their varying shades and textures, and also the peace they bring to a space. Their simplified, symbolic garden landscapes can often just consist of this small plant, strategically placed rocks and areas of gravel. A whole world distilled into miniature through moss and stone. 

Here, woodland floors are often coated with mosses, encouraged by damper shadier conditions beneath the canopy of leaves. In gardens we often have similar ‘problem’ areas where little else will grow, and it is in just such spaces that mosses thrive if left alone. In time they can produce a wonderful weed smothering, green ground cover.

Perhaps the best living landscape I see every day is the mossy carpet spreading naturally across the slate roof of our potting shed. The low hummocky forms of the many differing species gradually merging into one another. Yet this is one of the most inhospitable habitats imaginable. The windswept smooth stone surface is in full sun throughout the summer, getting too hot to touch and suffering long months of desiccating drought. In winter, its exposure is complete and on cold nights surface temperatures may plummet to minus 20 degrees Celsius. Yet the moss somehow survives and even thrives. Greening the roof and making, with no help from ourselves, one of the most beautiful and natural scenes in the whole garden.

So before going out to eradicate it, look again at the lowly mosses. Even in lawns they can be appreciated with the right mindset... After all, they take much less mowing than grass, always remain green and give a wonderfully soft feeling underfoot. 

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