Maybe Moss?

Our garden table in Broadstairs has always been graced by central pot or trough of flowers. We opt for hardy cyclamen or violas in winter, followed by narcissi and tulips in spring. These make way for begonias, coleus, felicia or petunias in summer and then the cycle begins again. There’s usually a fresh pot planted up and waiting in the wings so we don’t have an interval between shows. In a planting scheme that’s relatively fixed and predominantly green this has always been a nice way of introducing seasonal colour to the garden. It’s a feature I enjoy experimenting with and no two years are the same.

Last summer nemesias, Felicia amelloides and Begonia 'Glowing Embers' brightened up our garden table
Last summer nemesias, Felicia amelloides and Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’ brightened up our garden table

Being a firm believer in ‘more is more’, I had never considered moss a suitable subject for this focal point, that is until I visited Restoration Hardware’s flagship store on Broadway in New York. Here, soft hummocks of moss were landscaped in iron or stone troughs and displayed on teak garden tables very similar to our own. In contrast to my pots of plenty, these simple containers made a restrained, elegant statement.

This trough, fashioned from Tufa stone, would soon weather down to match the tones of the moss
A trough, fashioned from Tufa stone, creates the perfect frame for picturesque moss

With our garden becoming ever shadier, and a healthy covering of moss occupying the corrugated iron roof of the neighbouring garage, I think I should perhaps give moss cultivation a second thought. I am not sure I could sacrifice my beloved summer colour for a mattress of green, but through late autumn and winter moss might make a pleasant change. In spring I imagine the verdant landscape punctuated by snowdrops, Iris reticulata or miniature narcissi. I have had my eye on the wares of a British company called Bronzino for a little while, and can imagine these copper basins gently mounded with soft green moss. I had better start next year’s Christmas list now!

These copper basins have been allowed to develop their characteristic verdigris patina
These copper basins have been allowed to develop their characteristic verdigris patina

Whilst there are many types of moss, I believe the sort used by Japanese landscaping maestros such as Kasuyuki Ishihara is known as pincushion moss (Leucobryum glaucum), which prefers a sandy, acidic substrate and shade or dappled sunlight. Pincushion moss is extremely absorbent and varies in colour depending on how moist it is, but under drier conditions is an attractive pale green with a silvery-white cast to it.

Detail of moss in Kasuyuki Ishihara's 2014 Chelsea Garden
Detail of pincushion moss in Kasuyuki Ishihara’s 2014 Chelsea Garden

I have two reservations about creating a moss feature for my garden table. The first is that our resident blackbirds have an enormous appetite for picking the garage roof over looking for food, blocking guttering and littering the path with skid-inducing moss as they go. (Moss on slate is only slightly less dangerous than grapes on marble or banana skins on the pavement.) Second, despite being on the coast Broadstairs is particularly dry, meaning my display might look a little desiccated at times. Nevertheless I think next autumn I will take the plunge and create something marvellously mossy. In the meantime I will indulge myself in tracking down suitable containers.

If you have experience of creating a moss feature in a pot or container I’d love to hear from you. Equally, if you know any good commercial sources of pincushion moss in the UK it would be great if you could leave details in a comment.

A moss-covered wall in Bibury, February 2013, was probably the greenest, brightest thing in town
A moss-covered wall in Bibury was probably the greenest, brightest thing in town on a cold February day