Trading in Zonal Denial for a Love of Moss

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Perspectives_Header_LeAnnBy LeAnn Locher, PQ Monthly
It’s funny how people swoon over gardens and plants that don’t grow well here. Some call it zonal denial. I get it. I used to be like that. But then in a return to normal winter lows, (much like this past winter) I lost a whole hedge of not hardy Hebes. This meant I faced an expensive and frustrating replacement, and oh, how I had grown to love those Hebes. They were so perfect: evergreen, mounding in shape, a lovely purple flower attractive to pollinators and a gorgeous blue-green foliage. I’m a little sad writing about them even now, years later. I had fretted that winter about losing them and had been known to run out on particularly frigid nights to throw a blanket over them or to wrap them in holiday lights left perpetually on. After all that, and still losing the Hebes, I began to rethink my position. Why was I so intent on growing things that are marginally hardy here, when I live in a place and a zone that is able to grow a huge array of plants? People from other parts of the world covet what we can grow here, so why was I chasing something so difficult? I began to look at the garden differently from that point on. And it was then that I stopped hating moss. Look around. Moss is everywhere. On curbs, stairs, tree limbs, in the grass. It thrives in our moist environment, and supplies the most beautiful shade of green. The trees along NW Germantown Road, bare of their leaves in winter and early spring, are completely coated with green moss. Instead of brown bark arms reaching over the road, lime green outlines stand together to greet you as you climb up and over the hill. It’s easy to grow used to our vivid green beauty and become blind to our mossy environment, but take a trip to Southern California and return to Portland, and you’ll be shocked at the difference. This is when you really see it. The green allure of where we live. Moss is easy here, thriving in soil that’s nutrient-poor. It grows on just about any surface, absorbing nutrients from the air and even cleaning the air simply by its existence. I laugh that huge patches of our back lawn aren’t actually lawn, but moss instead. Even when the lawn goes dormant in our dry summers, the moss keeps it green, soft and cool. Explain to me again why chemicals touting, “kills moss in your lawn†line the shelves at home and garden supply chains? Silly. I say, let’s cultivate moss. Projects in the garden with moss have me rubbing my hands together excitedly. Now that I’ve come to love moss in my garden, what if I cultivate it in unique ways? mossCultivate moss in a hanging picture frame—Moss has no roots, so it’s not like you need deep soil for cultivation. A flat surface, such as a cut-to-fit piece of plywood mounted to the back of a shadowbox or deep picture frame, creates the perfect environment to grow and frame moss. Misting once a week is all it will take to keep it green and alive, along with filtered sunlight and cool conditions. Tuck in a wee fern or two and it’s art with a capital A. Paint with moss on a wall—Create patterns, such as chevron or herringbone, or even words, like moss graffiti on building sides or walls. (Google “moss graffiti†for examples and how-to’s). Create a moss chair—To grow moss on an outdoor chair, transplant small pieces of moss to various areas of an aging, interestingly-shaped upholstered chair (but with a good firm seat). In our environment, this is easy. Mist it, keep it in the shade, and the moss will grow like wildfire. Maybe not like wildfire, but like moss. In the Northwest. Plant it mounded in pots—This is a twee pet meant to be pat in in passing. I’ve done this before and every time I’ve given it a pat, I coo to it and call it my sweet. What? You don’t do that too? LeAnn Locher cultivates moss along with a kajillion perennials, shrubs and trees (and sometimes weeds) in her North Portland garden. Connect with her and other like-minded gardeners at