Book Review: Magical World of Moss Gardening by Annie Martin

Moss, the other ground-hugging green plant, is the ultimate no-mow lawn.

Moss
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I wish I had a dollar for every time some asked me, “How can I get rid of moss in my lawn?” I often want to reply (though usually don't): “Why don’t you just get rid of the grass in the moss?”

Consider this: Moss is green in winter, requires no mowing, invites no digging, requires no chemicals, is unappealing to deer, and will grow on a variety of surfaces. It grows on soil, of course—but it also covers old asphalt, concrete, rocks, and more.

Moss can deter erosion; it absorbs up to 33 percent of its weight in water. Moss is watered with brief periods of misting. There's no need for deep soaks. As a no-mow surface, moss helps reduce carbon emissions, and, as a living ground cover helps sequester carbon.

If you’re ready to embrace moss—or just learn a little more about it—check out Annie Martin’s book, “The Magical World of Moss Gardening” (Timber Press, 2015).

Martin is a “mosser” by trade, the term for moss growers. She runs a mossery called Mountain Moss in Pisgah Forest, NC. As a moss landscape designer, she goes by the name ‘Mossin’ Annie.' In her new book, Martin offers a realistic path to success with this plant, the “other” green ground cover.  

Martin starts with the benefits of moss as an ornamental ground cover, then tours successful moss gardens in Japan, the U.S., and Canada. She describes and illustrates her gardens and growing operations throughout the book.

Martin also introduces us to the world of bryophytes, nonvascular plants that are very different from our standard garden plants.

For one thing, mosses are slower to grow than most vascular plants. It may be their worst drawback in the world where HGTV landscapes are radically transformed in a day.

Martin's book offers several ways to speed moss as a ground cover.

 

One of the most important points of the book is that mosses are incredibly versatile. While most of us are familiar with the shade-loving, moisture-loving variety, there are moss species that thrive in nearly every climate and environment on earth. Some mosses thrive in full sun, and though moss is famous for living on low pH soil (4.0 to 5.5), some are perfectly happy on soil with high pH (7.0 and higher). Martin details and illustrates 25 moss plants that work in a wide variety of situations.

Moss cultivation is not totally carefree, says Martin, much as it might appear so from lush rockeries in parks and forests. Ornamental moss is subject to drought, footsteps, birds, animals, too much leaf litter, and, yes, grass and weeds that sprout from this spongey seed bed. Martin explains each challenge and, in most cases, multiple ways to address it.

I have read several wonderful books on mosses. Robin W. Kimmerer’s “Gathering Moss” is poetic and profound. George Schenk’s “Moss Gardening: Including Lichens, Liverworts, and Other Miniatures” is a comprehensive introduction to the world of bryophytes, with lots of insight into moss culture. Neither of these helps with moss garden design, however.

As a designer, Martin references the design process in multiple contexts. There is one chapter devoted to this topic as well. 

The book does not address USDA climatic zones and their impact on moss growing. Since most garden books list growing zones with plant recommendations, I missed this piece of information. I did not miss, however, the overall view that most mosses are widely adapted to different climates as long as the gardener meets their light and moisture requirements.

Annie Martin’s “Magical World of Moss Gardening” joins my list of recommended moss books. Whether you are a newcomer or a (somewhat) experienced grower who, like myself, wants a successful moss landscape, the book offers insights and options to help you reach your goal.