Moss Magic

january-12-2009-moss-023-2Mosses are found chiefly in areas of dampness and low light. Mosses are common in wooded areas and at the edges of streams.

Little Green
by Joni Mitchell

Born with the moon in Cancer
Choose her a name she will answer to
Call her green and the winters cannot fade her
Call her green for the children who’ve made her
Little green, be a gypsy dancer



Just a little green
Like the color when the spring is born
There’ll be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow
Just a little green
Like the nights when the Northern lights perform
There’ll be icicles and birthday clothes
And sometimes there’ll be sorrow

january-12-2009-moss-022-2For the entire lyrics to this song and all things Joni go to Joni To hear her songbird voice sing “Little Green” click here. january-12-2009-moss-025-2Moss is thought to add a sense of calm, age, and stillness to a garden scene. Rules of cultivation are not widely established. Moss collections are quite often begun using samples transplanted from existing patches.january-12-2009-moss-031-2 Materials which are porous and moisture retentive, such as brick, wood, and certain coarse concrete mixtures are hospitable to moss. Surfaces can also be prepared with acidic substances, including buttermilk, yogurt, urine, and gently purΓ©ed mixtures of moss samples and water.january-12-2009-moss-033-2Moss people (also known as wood people, the females known as moss maidens) come from Southern Germanic folklore and are a type of tree elf, tree spirit or fairy. By classification, they were a race of elves, similar to dwarves, the same size as children, “grey and old-looking, hairy, and clad in moss.”[1]

They were often but not always the object of the Wild Hunt. According to folklore, in order to escape the hunt they enter the trees that woodsmen have marked with a cross that will be chopped down.[2]

The moss people are similar to a Hamadryad. Their lives are “attached to the trees; if any one causes by friction the inner bark to loosen a Wood-woman dies.”[3]

They are thought to be small, with hair and clothes made of moss. In some sources they are said to look old, in other descriptions they are pretty and have butterfly wings.

[1] Classification as race of elves and description, Thistelton-Dyer, 1889.
[2] Wild Hunt information, Thistelton-Dyer, 1889.
[3] Thistelton-Dyer, 1889, quoting Thomas Keightley’s “Fairy Mythology” 1850:231.january-12-2009-moss-029-2There is magic in the garden in winter. The magic can be identified by its velvet vivacity. It is green and rich with the wealth of nature. Just ask Sedum ‘Matrona’ as she emerges from her nap amidst the moss verdure.
All references to moss except the final passage are from Wikipedia.
We are awash in moss here in the Fairegarden with the protection from the drying sun our north facing slope offers. Of course if we lived in the southern hemisphere it would not be so. We also do not know the names of the moss, or care to, nor would we buy moss although there are nurseries that specialize in the sale of moss that can be found online.

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45 Responses to Moss Magic

  1. Phillip (UK) says:

    What a great post, really enjoyed it and wonderful pictures.

    Hi Phillip, thanks. I really enjoyed looking at your inspiring photos also, especially the grass and santolina. That is a look that is close but not quite there in the area called the flat bed here, now I know what the vision should be!

  2. Lythrum says:

    I love the moss pictures. I have always had a soft spot for moss since I was a little girl and we lived in a heavily wooded area. There is something almost magical about a moss covered forest. πŸ™‚ Very nice pictures!

    Hi Lythrum, thanks, me too. Moss is such a surprise treat to come upon after clearing late falling leaves from the garden. Our conditions in winter must be perfect, even in sunny spots the north facing slope sports huge sections of it, all welcome too. Loved your ropey spider web! πŸ™‚

  3. patientgardener says:

    I really enjoyed this post and I like your new header. I have loads of moss for the same reasons as you. So much so that I have wondered whether I should just go with it and have one of those Japanese style gardens with artistically arranged moss on stones!

    Hi Helen, thanks so much. I think the Japanese style garden sounds delightful. Our moss is more of a winter time star, going dormant in the hot dry summers here with the sun at more of a direct hit higher in the sky. That could be used to advantage though, with dormant perennials giving a more serene look to the beds with a few stones and a nice Japanese maple, something we already have, thanks for the idea! And good luck with the tomato selection!

  4. linda says:

    Wonderful photos Frances! I love moss, and we have lots of it in our shady garden.

    Joni Mitchell is an all-time favorite of mine, and I love Little Green.

    Hi Linda, thanks and applaud your being a fellow Joni fan!

  5. tina says:

    Very nice. I listened to the song and loved it. So soothing she is for sure. I will surely be very careful to never rub the bark of a tree loose:) The moss folks sound like my kind of folks.

    Hi Tina, thanks. So glad you liked Joni, she speaks directly to my heart on the old album of hers ‘Blue’. It is something I never tire of. I was happy to learn of the moss folks too, and will think twice before rubbing bark!

  6. Frances — so you are awash in moss on the north facing slopes? I’ve lived in the woods before and I can envision the emerald green scene. Lovely photos!

    Moss is rare here in the sunny meadow. There are a few little patches starting to grow in the shaded spaces beneath plants on our main pathway. If I could, I would grow a sea of Irish moss.

    PS Love the music, too

    Hi Cameron, yes, in the winter it is like a green carpet in every bed with the perennials dormant and the leaves tidied up. I do get down and prick out the weeds in it to keep the look smooth, a perfect job for a detail oriented person like me. In the summer it turns brown and I worry that it is dead, but it always returns with the lower angle of the sun, the rainy coolness of winter. There are so many types too, some very different. Irish, or the easier for me to grow golden scotch moss are a good alternative too. So glad you enjoyed Joni too.

  7. Barbara says:

    Joni and mosses – what a mellow way to start the morning. I can feel the green with my fingers – soft and cool.

    Hi Barbara, thanks. Joni and the moss do go together, her velvet voice and the velvet green. So glad you enjoyed it.

  8. Gail says:

    Frances, Good morning…Love the moss. Really I do, it is one of the pleasures of walking in the Nashville Warner Parks on a winter day. Your photos are wonderful and I want to gentle pat the first little green baby moss. There are so many lovely shades of green to admire. We have a wet weather spot in the wayback that is mossy even in our dry summers. I keep meaning to move some to a small trough to put in a shady spot in the front garden. Thanks for Joni this morning, she’s amazing. Keep warm tonight! Gail

    Good morning to you Gail. So glad you like the moss too, your shady garden seems a perfect spot for some, you will just need to clear the leaves away. I have found that a light whoosh from the blower takes care of twigs and leaves easily in the spots where I am trying to have a real moss garden, the corner of the property back by ferngully. Occasional weeding has to be done, but I enjoy that form of microgardening immensely on warm spring days. Joni never gets boring, does she? You too stay warm, there is so much frost outside right now it looks like snow!

  9. Marnie says:

    It’s lovely, very delicate. It’s easy to see why fay creatures are associated with it.

    Patches magically appear under my maples when we get brief spells of rain. Just as quickly it disappears.

    Hi Marnie, it really is a treat in winter to see anything so green and lush. It is magic!

  10. Randy says:

    Exquisite pictures, Frances! You must have very steady hands to get macros like those!

    HA Randy, thanks, but my hands are the opposite of steady. That is why I take a hundred photos to get just one good one. Moss is good subject matter though, it doesn’t blow in the wind. πŸ™‚ Loved your parting sky shot!

  11. Monica says:

    Moss really is magical and it does indeed belong in Fairegarden! I heard or read somewhere that it doesn’t like leaves on top of it–how do you catch those?

    Hi Monica, thanks so much. I keep the leaves off with the help of my trusty electic blower. After the big leaf clean up in fall, I will do another pass with the blower for extra leaves that blow in. I need to do that today, if the frost will melt!

  12. Dave says:

    Moss is very neat. It invites you to touch it with it’s soft green foliage. We have it all over the back of the yard. It goes dormant in the heat of the summer but comes back with the wet weather each year.

    Hi Dave, that’s cool that you already have a nice patch of moss garden. Maybe you would want to make it into a zen type garden in the future, with an Asian twist. You have so much nice land to work with too and moss already there. A place for quiet contemplation. πŸ™‚

  13. Hi Frances, great post, I agree with Monica moss is magical and consequently it is perfect in your Fairegarden.

    Hi Tyra, thanks so much for that. The moss loves it here, the conditions must be perfect with no effort from me. I do think not mulching certain beds helps keep it going too, along with magic. πŸ™‚

  14. Rose says:

    Frances, I loved all this information about the mythic moss people. When I see moss I think of Ireland; I wonder if there are Celtic moss people, too?
    Joni Mitchell brings up lots of fond memories of my college days. I’ll have to check out her website.

    Hi Rose, thanks. I was surprised about the moss folk too. Surely Ireland has much lore about moss too, that would be a fun search on a lazy day. Joni was a part of a very happy time in my life, and I have learned to love the songs from ‘Blue’ even more in my more advanced age. πŸ™‚

  15. Katarina says:

    Frances, your photos of moss are stunning! When you look closely at the moss, you discover the beauty of them – thanks for a very enjoyable post!

    Hi Katarina, thanks. I loved the mossy edges of the pond in your area, so natural and refreshing!

  16. The moss adds a lovely addition of texture and color in the winter garden. I don’t see much of it here in Fl.

    Hi Karrita, thanks. We consider ourselves lucky it is so prevlalent in this area, I do love it so.

  17. Siria says:

    Hi Frances! This was a great post! I love moss and you seem to have so many different kinds in your garden. I have tried moving some before with no luck. It just seems to find its own spot that it likes and there it thrives. I can just picture it all over your winter garden ~ just lovely! Keep warm these next few days.

    Hi Siria, thanks, it is supposed to get bone chilling cold in a couple of days, it is worrisome. I have dug some of the mosses to put in my trough planters and have found it has to be done in winter or when it can be watered daily until it takes a good hold. You are right though, it grows where it wants, not where we want it to! πŸ™‚

  18. Shirl says:

    Hi again Frances πŸ™‚

    Spookily, I have just posted on mosses too – although not all in a good light. My whole garden could be covered in moss if I let it. I have very few earthworms after having the New Zealand Flatworm appear in my garden over 12 years ago.

    From my photos you will have seen that my plants do survive – probably through me doing β€˜worm’s work’ with my hand fork or hoe. If gardening was easy, would we still do it?

    Lovely posting, Frances – I do still love mosses especially on rocks and stone πŸ˜€

    BTW if you do pop by my blog be prepared for probably my longest posting ever πŸ˜‰

    Hi Shirl, thanks, you were right, it was a long post, but still very enjoyable as are all your lovely postings. πŸ™‚ I do not fear our moss, it dies back in the summer with the heat and drought and the higher angle of the sun, so the smaller groundcovers are not covered up by it. Most of my photos were taken of moss on old bricks and concrete, I love the variety of it.

  19. Darla says:

    I love moss, we don’t have that much in our yard. The lady down the street has an entire sitting garden that mosses over and is the softest most beautiful shade of green.

    Hi Darla, that sounds delightful. I love the greens that the moss gives us to brighten the browns and grays of winter here.

  20. Racquel says:

    You do have some magical moss growing in your garden Frances. I love the texture and color it brings forth at this time of the year. I noticed in the first photo some bulb foliage has emerged. Lovely photos today. πŸ™‚

    Hi Racquel, thanks. Good eyes spotting that bulb foliage. Those photos were taken in the knot garden which is lined with old hand made bricks that are just covered in different types of moss. The Iris reticulatas are well up out of the ground at the edges there, so exciting!

  21. joey says:

    There is indeed a mystical quality about moss, Frances, as your lovely photos show … so perfect for your ‘Fairegarden’.

    Hi sweet Joey, thnaks so much for that. I feel the magic in my garden, I hope others can see it through the photos too. πŸ™‚

  22. Philip says:

    Hi Frances!
    I loved your Musings on moss!
    We listen to Joni Mitchell all the time! Perfect for weekend morning with coffee and the sounds of breakfast cooking, or in the car for a drive down the coast.
    I loved the story of the moss maidens. One can certainly believe that moss has an enchanted atmosphere( I have to laugh, though. I love moss, but only where I want it. I just scraped bricks of moss this weekend and soured the stepping stones with horticultural sand to make the path less mucky and slippery)
    There are two moss gardens I would love to see: Skylands in Maine, and Saiho-ji in Japan.
    I loved seeing your spectacular moss photos this morning, with a bit of Joni!

    Hi Philip, so glad to hear you are a fellow Joni fan. That Blue album was a masterpiece. I understand about too much moss, especially on walkways, for it can be super slippery. Most of our paths here are gravel, so there is not the problem of moss and the stepping stones we made are still too new to be growing it either, we are lucky for that. The wooden deck seems to be attracting the moss spores, though, they are probably everywhere here. I would love to see those two gardens also.

  23. skeeter says:

    Playing a bit of Blog Catch-up today! So much to read so little time. Arggg. I loved the Yule Log! so much nicer then my fake stuff I had in the house. πŸ˜‰ Real is the way to go but them darn cats. Gotta love em. Wonderful looking family you have there! And the Muhly
    Grass, well what can I say, I must get some in my garden. Moss, I have tons of it and some pics taken but story not written. Stay tuned…

    Hi Skeeter, thanks, I know what you mean, I will never get caught up with the blog visiting. It seems that I am doing well just to answer comments and post myself. I will await eagerly your story with moss featured, as I adore it!

  24. Kathleen says:

    Another wonderful post Frances. I associate moss with the south ~ Remember reading about how slaves would know which way to travel (on the underground railroad) by noting where the moss grew?? I have no moss in my garden but I can certainly appreciate its beauty. Your photos make me want to run my hands over the patches and feel the textures.

    Hi Kathleen, thanks so much. That is quite interesting about the underground railroad using moss to tell the direction, some of the research claimed that in shady wet areas, moss would grow equally well on any side of a tree or rock. The feel of the moss is as soft as it looks too, some pieces are very cushiony!

  25. jodi says:

    Absolutely fabulous as always, Frances. I could feel and smell the cool greenness of the mosses just by looking at the photos. What fascinates me is that I get questions from readers asking me how to get RID of moss in their lawns and gardens. I always ask why they would want to do that! I especially happen to like it in lawn, as it doesn’t need mowing; I’d happily have a moss lawn if it was possible. My 93 year old gardening friend and travelling companion, Capt. Steele, tried to grow a moss lawn one time but it didn’t work for him, which surprised me as I thought he could grow anything!

    Hi Jodi, thanks for that, you are too sweet. I would love a lawn of moss, but the Financier would have other ideas, he does love his lawn grass and rakes it with a dethatching rake each fall. The rakings make the most fabulous compost, lots of moss in them. The colors of the moss in winter against gray stone and brown leaves is like flowers in summer, a color that grabs your attention and makes you smile.

  26. TC says:

    Moss here is blanketed with a thick layer of snow; it won’t be exposed any time soon either. And winters definitely can and do “fade her.” We’re snowed in!

    Hi TC, so sorry for your faded conditions! That outhouse seat did not look welcoming, BTW. πŸ™‚

  27. Genevieve says:

    Lovely photos, Frances, as always! I love how you bring our attention to the small details in the garden that we can miss if we are moving too fast. Thank you.

    Hi Genevieve, thanks so much. It is easy to go slow and look closely at things in winter here, no distractions of bright colors of butterflies to grab our attention. The mosses are prized for the green they offer us now amidst the browns and grays.

  28. Monica says:

    Just so I’m not a liar, I’m commenting under this entry now! Thanks for asking what I winter sowed–I do keep a record, which I modified into a simple plant list, and linked to from my post. Hooray!

    Hi Monica, you are a tricky one! πŸ™‚ Thanks for that list, was that there before and I just didn’t notice it? How careless of me, sorry. I am amazed that tomatoes can survive all that cold too, I need to try that system out too. It seems your seedlings would be very late to emerge and bear fruit, but cannot argue with your success!

  29. Brenda Kula says:

    I’m doing pretty well with sedums. But every time I purchase something in the moss family, I lose it. Except for the natural moss that grows between stones! Now that one I’ve got!

    Hi Brenda, thanks for dropping by, all the mosses shown are naturally occuring here. I have had some success with scotch moss, sagina aurea. Our very dry summers have not been kind to it the last two years however. Try transplanting some of your natural moss to containers, it does better here than the saginas.

  30. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This post really struck me Frances. I just love moss. THis post made my heart sing.

    Hi Lisa, why thank you! There is nothing I like better than singing hearts! πŸ™‚ And your bird shots make my own heart sing as well.

  31. deb says:

    great post. Love moss, but sadly cannot grow it because of our hot dry summers.

    Hi Deb, thanks so much. The moss goes to sleep during our hot dry summers too and I worry if it will return, especially with the drought the last two years, but it just waits until we get cooler temps and much needed rain to spriing back to life. We have had a whole lotta rain this winter and the moss is loving it.

  32. How spectacular they look up close. We pass right over the small and unassuming all the time, don’t we? And it’s our loss…Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Hi Susan, thanks. Most of the moss featured is growing on the old hand made bricks that outline the knot garden, a place where I spend a lot of time mid winter, searching for emerging bulbs and finding ways to keep the squirrels from digging them up. As well as the rabbits from eating the violas, so I am looking at this garden at eye level with the earth, the moss always grabs my attention, I grab the camera and off we go snapping happily. I am so glad you enjoyed it.

  33. Jean says:

    Ooh, very nice closeups! I now get to enjoy mosses since I no longer live in drought-land. Aren’t they spectacular in the low light of fall and winter?

    Hi Jean, thanks so much. Mosses would look great in your new woodland bed by the fence. They are indeed spectacular right now, with all the rain we have been having too. Hooray!

  34. I want to take my shoes off too and feel the softness but better not. It is not to be disturbed. The pictures are vivid and give that little plant the honor it deserves. I like the pore stalks that rise up and look like hairs.

    I have read all the comments and enjoyed them tremendously.

    Hi Anna, thanks, feel free to go barefoot, but you might freeze your tootsies off! We are having an arctic blast, like so many other areas right now, brrrr! I am so glad you enjoy the comments too, they are for all to read and appreciate, not just for me. πŸ™‚ I love those hair thingys too, come spring there will be more with little balls at the end, so sweet.

  35. cheryl says:

    What a wonderful post about moss. I have a kinship to them πŸ˜‰ as well as a likin’ for lichen and a fondness for fungi. There’s a type here called Reindeer moss, and in late Autumn tis the colour of the lightest blue mornin sky growing 3-4″ high, beautiful ! Enjoyed this thoroughly Frances πŸ™‚

    Hi Cheryl, thanks so much. I feel the same kinship. Your reindeer moss sounds wonderful, I think I may have some on a rock I picked up in North Carolina one time by the side of the road that is in one of the trough planters, or something similar. It is a tiny piece though, I bet you have it in quantity, enchanting!

  36. VP says:

    Hmm calm, age and stillness…

    That’s not what I felt yesterday when I went for a walk in the garden. There’s a serious moss problem in my gravel path 😦

    Or is it really a problem? Perhaps I should just let it be and get all zen like in my old age…

    Hi VP, uh oh, no zen like calmness, no delight with the little green? Moss can get slippery on pavement or decking here but we have not seen any on the gravel….yet. Our summers are hot and very dry, not wet like yours, that may be the difference. If you are slipping on the moss, it would have to go, I’d think. If not slippery, well….. zen is good sometimes, old or young. πŸ™‚

  37. Oh how I do love moss. It is one of the best things about the Pacific NW, it grows everywhere. If you stand still too long it will grow on you too, lol! Great pictures, especially love the next to last one, gorgeous!

    Hi Kim, thanks. Not even close to the quality of your photographs of moss, they are mind blowing, in a good way of course! πŸ™‚

  38. Kanak says:

    Always, always love your photos, your words, your presentation. What beautiful pictures of different kinds of moss and loved the info on the Moss people.

    Hi Kanak, welcome back and thanks so much. The moss people were a pleasant surprise for me, I think they might like the fairy gazebo in the ferngully garden here. I might have to rig something up for them there. πŸ™‚

  39. Titania says:

    Moss are a beautiful and interesting plant. I do, like you not cultivate it but when we have a wet season it grows everywhere and I enjoy it while it lasts. As soon as the sun hits it it dissappears to emerge again when the time is right. Thanks Frances for this interesting post.

    Hi Titania, thanks. It has been rather wet here lately and cold at the moment, but the moss still looks lush, even covered in frost. As the sun moves higher in the sky, the moss shrinks back into the shadows, but will return again come winter. I love all the different forms, from velvet to hairy!

  40. Zach says:

    That is wonderful idea for saving money when ordering. Do you mind if I add your idea to my blog post.

    Hi Zach, thanks. I would be delighted for you to add that idea to your post.

  41. I love the idea of having a moss garden in winter, then switching over to the heat-loving plants. I don’t know if I can accomplish it in my hot-summer area, but you’re inspiring me to try – I have long admired moss gardens, and using local mosses means I’ll get varieties that will do best in this climate. Like many of your other readers, I’ve always felt the magical qualities of moss, but didn’t know that they had been anthropomorphed into moss people!

    Hi Pomona, that is a great idea, using your local mosses to try for the mossy garden look. Our mosses do kind of disappear in the heat and drought of summer. Good interplantings here are ferns that go completely dormant in winter, like Japanese painted fern and maidenhair fern as well as lily of the valley or tall sedums. Isn’t the thought of moss folks a delight?

  42. Anne says:

    Hi Frances! Love this post, love moss. I’ve been slow on blogging lately and just now saw this post under “Picks” and smiled because I just finished my weekly garden design, this week on using moss in containers! Your photos are remarkable. Also love, love, love the photos in your newest post on buds.

    Hi Anne, thanks so much. I loved your post about using moss in cracked containers, the ones you have put together are scrumptious!

  43. layanee says:

    I love moss in the garden, in the woods, moss everywhere! Love it!

    Hi Layanee, another moss lover, hooray!

  44. Ashley says:

    I am working on a plant collection for school, do you know the name of the third one down? I have taken a picture in my yard of a very similar plant.

    Sorry, Ashley, I do not know the names of any of the mosses. Thanks for stopping by though.

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