Posted: Friday 30 December 2011
by Kate Bradbury

A few mounds of moss have started to grow on my garden walls. I never thought I’d see the day – the walls seemed too clean, too sterile, when I moved in...

Moss growing in a garden

A few mounds of moss have started to grow on my garden walls. I never thought I’d see the day – the walls seemed too clean, too sterile, when I moved in two years ago. But I'm delighted - I always hoped moss would find my shady, damp garden, and the walls already look so much better.

I love the way moss colonises new spaces, greening roofs and walls that would otherwise remain bare. Along with other 'pioneer species' such as algae, liverworts, lichens and some ‘weeds’, moss takes advantage of the lack of competition from taller plants, creating new habitats for invertebrates and ultimately a growing medium for tree seedlings. It's a good reminder of the transience of everything – that whatever we do to the land, no matter how tall or magnificent the buildings, nature will reign eventually.

There are more than 600 species of moss in the UK. Some are suited to growing in lawns, while others form on hard surfaces, like paths, greenhouse glazing, walls and garden ornaments. They take different forms, from large tufts to compact cushions. Such cushions are developing nicely on my walls; viewed under a magnifying glass they look like miniature trees.

Lawn mosses in particular are not usually tolerated in gardens. Because they thrive in shady, damp conditions, they can compete with grass in poorly drained lawns. But viewed differently, lawn moss can be incredibly useful. Use it to line hanging baskets, rather than buying sphagnum moss (which may have been harvested from peat bogs). It makes fine nesting material for bumblebees (you’ll need to gather it yourself and pop in a dry corner of the garden), while birds will readily take it to line their nests. 

The moss of hard surfaces is usually more welcome in gardens (though it can make paths slippery and stop light reaching plants if growing on greenhouse panes). Its ability to colonise new spaces has been exploited by gardeners for years, helping to give an aged appearance to walls and ornaments. To encourage moss to form, some gardeners make solutions using organic matter, beer or natural yoghurt blended up with bits of moss, and paint them on the desired area. I've not tried this before, so come spring, I'll harvest some of my moss cushions and blend them with compost and natural yoghurt. Then I'll paste the solution on my garden walls. Fingers crossed it won't be long before my miniature moss trees become a grand forest.

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oldchippy 30/12/2011 at 19:35

Moss what Moss I have more moss than lawn,You try telling Mrs Oldchippy not to cut the grass 3/4" all year round,I have had to stop her cutting it the beginning of the month, As for feeding it (why)you don't feed any plant do you,Happy New Year.

happymarion 31/12/2011 at 14:03

Ah, moss! I have a strange story about moss. Not in my own garden where it grows beautifully and is allowed to but in the Bristol Botanic garden where we want it at the beginning of the evolutionary dell it being related to the first landplants that evolved, 500mya. We have collected it from nearby woods; we have planted it; we have watered it; we have concluded that a combination of circumstances are against us - large trees roots keeping it too dry: being on a hill the water drains away too quickly; drought at the wrong time of year for moss. Whatever it is, the moss will not grow for us. But we keep on trying. I get lots of moss in my garden by just leaving rotting logs in a damp place, The north facing side then grows lovely moss. with primulas seeding themselves happily in front of the log what prettier sight could you have? See photo on Forum "Plants"

Kate Bradbury 31/12/2011 at 17:21

Sounds like you need to rethink the location of your evolutionary dell, happymarion!

Happy New Year to you both


oldchippy 31/12/2011 at 18:08

Hi Kate My daughter has just moved into a maisonette with a large Cedrus Glauca Atlantica in the garden ,under it and all round the under canopy has been bark chipped so not much will grow there,The garden is about 12 metres square she has two raised bed and three compost bins,It look's like I will also be known as Old gardener. Happy days.

happymarion 31/12/2011 at 19:13

Happy New Year to you , Kate and all the magazine staff.

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