Miraculous Mosses

Moss, Bruges, Feb 2014

Along with ducks, umbrella salesmen and water companies, mosses are among the few things enjoying this frightful spell of wet weather. The rain brings them out in all their spongy, hummocky, emerald-green glory. Above, I photographed a cluster clinging to the banks of a canal in Bruges, sparkling against the chill water.

Mosses and ferns, The Garden House, August 2012

Mosses are wonderful things, requiring no cultivation as such and occupying places where little else will grow. They abhor nutrient-rich soils, making them ideal for impoverished situations. Mosses are at their best clinging to walls and branches, or covering woodland floors with undulating carpets of glistening green. The Japanese fathomed this out many centuries ago, allowing moss to take centre stage in their gardens, covering lanterns, rocks and trees, and lending an instant air of antiquity. The UK and Japan enjoy similar maritime climates, so it’s perhaps surprising that we don’t utilise them in British gardens more. As a foil for spring bulbs mosses are second-to-none, providing insulation, decoration and protection from foraging animals.

Snowdrops, Goodnestone Park, March 2013

Mosses can, of course, make a nuisance of themselves. In lawns they crowd-out grasses and quickly turn a fine sward into a trampoline. On roofs they look pretty but will block gutters when dislodged by birds, which love to pick them over in search of food. Nevertheless, mosses are incredible at surviving periods of drought, retreating into themselves but reviving immediately there’s any sign of moisture in the air. Even a prolonged sea mist can be enough to revitalise them. Mosses are proven to remove pollutants such as ammonia and nitrates from the atmosphere, synthesising these nasties for their own means. On balance, I view mosses as truly miraculous plants, deserving of a place in gardens traditional and modern.

Moss on a branch, Bibury, Jan 2013