The ‘Fern Table,’ My Way

There is an inspiring feature about fern tables in the current Horticulture Magazine, written by Richie Steffen. Steffen is the Executive Director of the Elizabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle, Washington and President of the Hardy Fern Foundation. I’ve read the article through a few times now and studied the illustrations for ideas. It is an excellent overview of fern tables and I highly recommend reading it if you love ferns and enjoy container gardening.

A fern table is a representation of the forest floor, built up from a flat surface. The arrangement typically includes small to medium sized ferns, mosses, shade loving woodland perennials, small shrubs, vines, bits of old wood and rocks. Fern tables may be built directly on a tabletop, on a concrete paver, or on a tray.

These fern tables are designed as permanent outdoor installations, built on concrete bases and measuring several feet square. They are very natural and rustic. They may be used indoors or on a porch or patio, as a centerpiece or runner on a table, or may be placed in the garden as a focal point.

This form takes elements from bonsai, from kokedama balls, and from container gardening to create something new and different. Built up from a solid but flat surface, these displays look a bit illogical and perhaps a bit dangerous. One must break a few gardening ‘rules’ to create them. But they are also whimsical and fun. I wanted to try to create arrangements in this style.

Before investing in concrete blocks and pavers and building something permanent in the garden as a gift for my squirrel friends, I decided to experiment on a smaller scale. So I found some simple Bonsai trays to use as a base. These are entirely portable and may be used indoors or out on our deck. My rectangular trays are 8″ x 10″ and have a shallow side, perhaps a half inch deep. Perhaps I should call my arrangements ‘Fern Trays’ rather than ‘Fern Tables.’

Read more about how to construct a Fern Table on Our Forest Garden

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WG

Six on Saturday: Making Whole

Moss Garden

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We had our first frost of the season this week, and I’ve been occupied with bringing in those pots of tender plants that we will keep through the winter, and settling those that can remain outdoors into protected spots.  My partner was helping me (encouraging me, prodding me, motivating me to keep going, quite honestly) when he went to move our little potted Japanese Maple.  We heard the cracking and crunch as the pot fell apart in his hands. Oh well, terra-cotta pots don’t last forever, do they?  And this one has spent a few winters outdoors on our deck, holding this little tree as it grows.

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I love Japanese maples, and love the aesthetic of potted ones on the deck mixed among our ferns and flowering summer plants.  They can remain outdoors year round, and allow one to appreciate the seasons from budding to leaf drop up close. The tree is fine.

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The pot is a bit mangled, but I had been looking for a pot to create a winter moss garden, anyway.  I left the whole thing alone in a plastic disk for a few days, until I remembered an identical pot that I’d just emptied days ago.  The Colocasia came indoors in a plastic dish for the winter, and so there was a pot open and available to receive the maple tree.

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It was a sorry looking mess after the pot broke, but the tree was fine for a few days while I decided what to do.

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If you’ve been shopping for pots recently, you know that pickings are very slim in November.  I’ve been looking for a pot for my moss garden for a while.  I couldn’t find what I wanted at a reasonable price.  I even ordered a blue Fiestaware bowl to plant up, and then decided to keep the bowl in the kitchen once it arrived.  It was too pretty, if that is possible…. it was a new shade of blue that we didn’t yet have. So this little broken terra-cotta bowl was clearly a gift from the universe showing me how to proceed.

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The garden at Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.

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As you probably know, moss doesn’t have any roots.  It has little structures that anchor it to the ground, but they don’t absorb water from the soil as roots do for vascular plants.  Each cell of the moss plant is on its own for hydration.  But moisture can travel from cell to cell.  That is why moss loves humidity, standing water and lots of rain.

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We’ve had such a wet year that moss is growing in places in the garden it hasn’t in the past.  Which is fine, because I really love moss.

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To establish a moss garden, you don’t need very good soil.  As you may have noticed, moss can grow on rocks, bricks, gravel, bark, ceramics, concrete and so many other surfaces that aren’t soil.  So you don’t need good soil or deep soil to establish a moss garden.  But because I have other plants in this one, I am recycling some pretty good soil left over as I broke down some of last summer’s plantings.

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It is important to pack the soil down fairly firmly, though, and then to press the moss firmly onto the soil.  If laying moss outdoors into an area of the garden, some gardeners walk over the moss a few times to help it adhere to its new spot.  So press down firmly so the moss is in good contact with the soil. But I’m ahead of myself, here.

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I had a few little bulbs left over from other projects, and a clump of dwarf Mondo grass to add to this planting.  The bulbs go in first, to a depth equal to three times their height.  If you can’t tell which end is which, plant them on their side.  The bulb’s roots will grow downwards and right the bulb as the stem begins to grow upward in the spring.  Firm the soil over the bulbs before covering it with freshly lifted moss.

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I was able to divide my plug of Mondo grass into several divisions.  I replanted half of the plug into a nursery pot to grow on, and used these tiny divisions for the moss garden.  Have a blade nearby when dividing Mondo grass, as there comes a point where you often have to cut the sections.  As long as each section has roots, they will continue to grow on.

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I planted the Mondo grass along the lower, broken edge of the pot, to help stabilize the soil in the planting.  After planting the grass, mulch around it with moss.  Then I built terraces into the sloping potting soil with pieces of the broken pot, and used different varieties of moss in the different sections to give some interesting texture.

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Kept shaded and moist, moss can grow indefinitely in a planting like this.  Best of all is when the moss produces spores and those spores colonize the planting themselves, even growing on the pot.  That happens if the moss is very happy in the spot you select for it.

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The main enemies of a potted moss garden are those creatures who’d like to have some of the moss for themselves.  Sometimes birds pinch a bit for their nests, or squirrels toss it aside in their attempts to bury or retrieve nuts, or worse, dig your tasty bulbs.  I used those little early Crocus known as ‘Tommies,’ which aren’t tasty to squirrels.  With most bulbs, it is smart to spray them with a bit of animal repellent before you plant them.  A squirt to the whole pot once finished is good insurance, too.

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Here is our little Japanese Maple snugly tucked into a new pot. I had some scraps of moss left over, and so added them as mulch under the tree.  I’ll find some fine gravel to finish dressing the soil.

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This little planting really costs nothing out of hand.  I recycled a broken pot, re-purposed used potting soil, used up the last few bulbs left from a pack, and lifted the moss from my own garden.  It should remain a lovely spot of green out in the garden, all winter long, with minimal care.  It probably won’t even need watering.  Only if we have a stretch of warm, dry weather will I need to do anything for it, at all.

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If I had been fortunate enough to find a little evergreen fern in the yard, like an Ebony Spleenwort, it would have gone in the pot, too, growing up through the moss.  Moss makes a lovely background for spring bulbs, too. A rock or two, or a quartz crystal, finishes off the arrangement. It is always satisfying to take broken bits and leftover bits and find interesting ways to use them.  Now, as we change the seasons, is a good time for clearing away the old and making room for something fresh and new.  Like a breath of fresh air, it keeps us going.

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Woodland Gnome 2020

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This moss garden will live and grow in the rock garden at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. Many thanks to the wonderful ‘Six on Saturday’ meme sponsored by The Propagator

Please visit my other site, Illuminations, for a daily quotation and a photo of something beautiful.

 

Moss: Let It Grow

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I love plush, moist green moss.  And I am always interested in reading about how other gardeners grow their moss.  Imagine my delight to come across a beautifully photographed feature on Dale Sievert’s gorgeous Wisconsin moss garden in the Fall 2018 Country Gardens magazine.  If you love moss, please treat yourself to this issue.

“The color green engenders a great sense of tranquility,

peace and serenity.” 

Dale Sievert

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I am always looking for simple and effective ways to get moss to grow both in shady spots in the garden and also in pots.  The keys to good moss growth remain steady moisture and reliable shade.   Wonderfully, moss spores are often carried on the wind, ready to grow when they land in a place that offers the moisture and shade that allow them to grow.

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A moss garden I constructed in February of 2012 using stones picked up on the beach in Oregon.

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The first stage of moss growth looks more like algae than like typical moss.  It is low, smooth and moist looking.  From this, the buds and rhizoids will form, soon growing into recognizable moss plants.

If you live in a wet area, you likely see this early growth of moss on brick and stone and clay pots quite often.  If you love mosses as I do, you might also be looking for ways to assist this process to get moss established exactly where you want it to grow.

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And I think I just discovered a new way to encourage moss growth that doesn’t involve organic milkshakes made with beer, buttermilk or yogurt.  Some writers swear by the efficacy of whirring up moss with one of these in a blender and painting it onto stones and walls.  Others say they’ve only ended up with a smelly mess.  I’ve put that experiment off to another day!

But I noticed recently, that the perlite topping off the soil mix of some newly potted up little trees, has turned green.

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I potted up these rooted Acer cuttings within the last month, and moved them out to a shady spot on the deck to grow on.  You can imagine my delight at seeing a fresh green sheen on the perlite!  Is this an early growth of moss from airborne spores?

Think of perlite as ‘popcorn rock.’  It is volcanic rock that has been super heated to more than 1500F, where it puffs up and expands, now riddled with airways.   Perlite is light, soft and fine grained, making a valuable addition to improve texture and drainage in potting soil.

It is also very good for rooting cuttings because it holds moisture so well, while also allowing air to permeate the soil.  This helps to prevent rot in the stem and new roots of the cutting.

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So it makes sense that moist perlite is a great medium for growing moss.  It isn’t a smooth base, like so many gardeners recommend for getting transplanted mosses established.  But it is a wonderful material for the moss rhizoids (not roots) to anchor onto as the plant develops.

Remember that mosses don’t have any roots.  They absorb moisture directly through their cell walls into the structure of the plant.

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That is why rain, fog and mist encourage moss to grow.  If you are trying to encourage moss to grow, remember to keep the plants and their growing medium misted and moist.

I’ve been wanting to grow a sheet of moss for a while now, and picked up a terra cotta tray recently for that purpose.  Once I saw Dale’s gorgeous moss covered stones in the CG article, I’ve been thinking about how I can replicate the effect for my own pots.  Once I saw the moss growing on perlite last week, an idea began to form to make it happen.

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A layer of perlite covers a thin layer of peat based potting soil in this terracotta tray. Terracotta also helps to hold moisture.

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I’ve poured a thin layer of regular potting soil into the terra cotta tray, and topped off the soil with a layer of perlite.  I moistened the medium well, and then went out into the garden hunting for a few clumps of moss.  Some moss gardeners recommend breaking found moss up into tiny bits to sow into a new medium.

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You don’t have to worry about having roots as you would with a vascular perennial.  Moss just wants to grow!  So I broke my hunks up into very small bits, and pushed them firmly down into the perlite before watering it all in.  I’ve set some stones among the bits of moss, hoping that by keeping it all damp I can encourage moss to grow on these small rocks.  I’d count that as a major victory in my moss growing efforts!

It is still damp and rainy today as the remnants of Hurricane Florence bring us a bit more rain even as they blow northwards and out to sea.  It is a good day for moss, and our garden is still very damp from days and days of rain.

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I have this terra cotta tray set in the shade on the deck this afternoon.  When the weather turns dry again, I may tuck it into a plastic bag or cover it with a clear plastic box while the moss establishes.  But the moss in the Acer pots didn’t get any special treatment; this may not need covering, either, as our weather cools.

I want moss to grow on these stones so I can use them as decorative accents in our winter pots.  I haven’t decided whether to simply keep the tray of moss growing for its own sake, or whether to use sheets of the moss in pots.  Either way, I’ll show you what this experiment does in the weeks ahead.

If you love moss as I do, then you may want to try this simple method for growing it, too.

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Woodland Gnome

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The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden, Lincoln City, Oregon

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“There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks
poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.
This is what has been called the “dialect of moss on stone –
an interface of immensity and minuteness, of past and present,
softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy, yin and yan.”
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Robin Wall Kimmerer

Sunday Dinner: Allowing Peace

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“You are a valuable instrument
in the orchestration of your own world,
and the overall harmony of the universe.
Always be in command of your music.
Only you can control and shape its tone.
If life throws you a few bad notes or vibrations,
don’t let them interrupt or alter your song.”
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Suzy Kassem
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“Cultivate blessing.
Bless yourself.
Bless the whole world.
Let it be full with love,
peace, joy and happiness.”
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Amit Ray
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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Evolution Of A Container Garden

April 2, 2017

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It is a rare gardener who doesn’t enjoy designing container gardens.  Whether filling a barrel or a basket, a simple clay pot or a beautiful glazed pot from Asia; we can try out ideas for plant combinations in a perfectly controlled environment.  Whether you are simply filling the pots by your front door, or creating an object of art for the season coming, container gardens give us months of enjoyment.

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November 27, 2016 soon after planting H. ‘Snow Fever’ along with some Viola starts and Creeping Jenny Vine.

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Container gardens made in autumn, for enjoyment during winter and early spring, present special challenges and special opportunities.  Finding plants which will grow and look good from December into March can be a challenge.  Ice, snow, and frigid, drying wind present challenges for most plants.

But the ability to spice up a potted arrangement with spring bulbs presents a challenging opportunity for the gardener to plan in four dimensions. We can look forward in time to how the bulbs will grow into their potential, interacting with the other plants in our arrangement, months into the future.

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November 30, 2016

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Autumn planted container gardens give me particular pleasure.  Planted in late October or November, once summer’s annuals have grown shabby, these arrangements will grow and enliven our comings and goings for the next six months.

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Our beautiful geranium in June, which lasted well into fall and past the first few frosts.

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It was already well into November of 2016 when I finally emptied this large white pot of its geranium.  We enjoyed this particular geranium all summer for its vivid, generous flowers.  After it survived the first frost or two, I moved it to a nursery pot in the garage to hold it over for spring, and re-did this pot which stands permanently on our driveway near the back door.

And I refilled the pot with a beautiful Helleborus cultivar that I spotted for the first time this fall, at a local garden center.  I was intrigued by its variegated leaves, and wanted to watch it grow and bloom close up, in this pot we pass daily.

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Helleborus argutifolius ‘Snow Fever’ shows intriguing new growth by January 4, 2017.  The Muscari have grown leaves through the moss mulch.

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It was quite small when we purchased it, but its few leaves promised a beautiful display coming.  This cultivar is a Corsican Hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, which is a bit more tender than the Helleborus orientalis we more commonly grow.  Corsican Hellebores generally have white, or green tinged flowers.  These were advertised as creamy white, outlined in rosy pink.

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By late January, we could  see the beginnings of flowers and tender new leaves.

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When I re-worked this pot in November, I removed most of the Creeping Jenny vine, leaving only a little to grow on through the winter.  Creeping Jenny can take a pot with its extensive root system.  I planted some of the little Viola starts I had on hand to provide a little additional interest while waiting for the Hellebore to bloom.

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February 15, 2017

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I had not yet purchased any Grape Hyacinth bulbs, but knew I wanted them in this arrangement, too.  It took me several weeks to finally buy the white Muscari, plant them, and finish the soil surface with moss.

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February 23, 2017, on a rainy day, the flowers have begun to bloom.  Holly berries fall into the pot and need picking out from time to time.

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It was already mid-December by the time the potted arrangement was completed.  The Hellebore, ‘Snow Fever,’ was beginning to show some growth.  In a partially sunny spot, warmed by the drive and the nearby garage, this potted arrangement has shelter from the wind on three sides.  Even so, it has weathered inches of snow, night time temperatures into single digits, ice, and wind.

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By late March, a month later, the Creeping Jenny has grown in and the Muscari have emerged. Grass, embedded in the moss, has grown in, too.

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I am very happy with how the whole arrangement has come together.  I’ve not only come to love this cultivar of Hellebore, but I’ve also learned that this combination of plants looks great together. ( In retrospect, I almost wish I had planted a white Viola rather than the red.  But the red certainly ‘pops!’ against the other colors!)

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April 2, 2017

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I will plan to plant more white  Muscari this fall  around Hellebores out  in the garden.  Moss makes a beautiful ground cover around Hellebores.  And for all of its vigor, Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia, works well in winter container gardens.

It began growing quite early and has filled out nicely this spring, in time to compliment the flowers.  Its chartreuse leaves work well with the pale Helleborus’s colors and with the Muscari.  Creeping Jenny remains evergreen when planted out in the garden, and forms an attractive ground cover around perennials and shrubs.

When planning your own container gardens, especially ones to enjoy through the winter, remember that foliage is as important, or maybe even more important, than flowers.

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This H. ‘Snow Fever’ grows elsewhere in the garden, sheltered under tall shrubs. Its new leaves begin almost white, and green up as they grow.

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The foliage in your arrangement will fill your pot for many weeks longer than the more transient flowers.  So try to include a  plant or two with showy, interesting leaves.  Besides Hellebores; Arum italicum, Ajuga, Lysimachia, Heuchera and evergreen ferns do well in our climate.

It is only early April.  This container garden will continue to grow and change until I reclaim the pot for another geranium.  When I do, everything growing here now will be planted out into the garden.  All are perennials, save the Viola, and will grow for years to come.

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When constructing your own container gardens, follow a few simple tips to get the most from the plants you choose:

  1.  Choose a large enough container for all of the roots to grow.  Bulbs produce large root systems.  If you plant a lot of bulbs, the pot will get very congested unless you begin with a large pot.
  2. Choose plants with similar needs for light, moisture and soil PH. Plan for your plants to grow to different heights for an efficient use of space.  Soften the pot’s edges with a vine or other plant which will spill over the side.  Plan for a succession of interest falling on different plants as the season progresses.
  3. Don’t overstuff the pot.  Magazines and books on container gardens often feature mature plants packed in tightly.  If the pot looks ‘finished’ from day one, your plants aren’t left with much room to grow.  The strong will crowd out the weak, and none will grow to their full potential.  Leave room for growth in your designs.
  4. Begin with a good quality potting mix, and stir in additional fertilizer at planting time.  I often re-use at least some of the potting mix from the previous season.  But I stir in Espoma Plant Tone before adding new plants, finish with fresh potting soil, and generally top dress the finished container with a slow release product like Osmocote.
  5. Mulch the top of your finished planting with gravel, moss, or some other mulch.  It keeps the foliage cleaner in heavy rains and helps conserve moisture.
  6. Boost the plants from time to time with an organic liquid feed from a product like Neptune’s Harvest.  Fish and seaweed based products add important trace minerals and help the soil remain biologically active.
  7. Groom plants regularly to remove spent flowers, brown leaves, and any trash which has blown or fallen into the pot from other nearby plants.  Pull small weeds or grass as they sprout from a moss mulch.  If a plant is struggling or dying, don’t hesitate to pull it out.
  8. Place your pots where you will see them daily.  Enjoy their ever changing beauty as they brighten your days.

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    Woodland Gnome 2017

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Woodland Tableau

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Cathy, at  Rambling in the Garden, urges us to bring cut flowers indoors for a vase each Monday.  But instead of filling a vase, I’ve made my foliage arrangement today in small pots.

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My inspiration came from an intriguing photo in the fall 2016 Country Gardens magazine.  In the article, ‘The Splendor of Seedpods;” there is a log centerpiece, covered in moss, small ferns, Rex Begonias and various seedpods.  It is simply stunning. 

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But, copying this arrangement meant finding a partially hollowed out log of the right size for one’s table.  The more I thought about putting a real decaying log in my dining room, and the little bugs which might come with it, the more I searched for another way to accomplish a similar effect.

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Center pot from Mossy Creek pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

Begonia Rex in a hand thrown pot  from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, OR.

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My version uses a handmade pottery tray as the base.  The  ferns, ivy, and Rex Begonias are all potted, then their pots arranged with small animals, bits of glass and stones.  Moss pulled from the garden finishes each little pot.

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The three main pots are cast clay, shaped to look like stones.  I’ve grown succulents in them most years, but they’ve been empty for the past several months.  They recycled nicely into this arrangement.

The two glazed pots came from Mossy Creek Pottery in Lincoln City, Oregon.   The tray was found at a tag sale a few years ago.  But it is a signed original, and I enjoy it very much.

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The classic terra cotta pot has languished in my potting area for several years, awaiting inspiration to find it a new use.  It, and the other pots with drainage holes were lined with a sheet of burlap before I filled them with good potting soil.  Lay a layer of aggregate, like pebbles, in any pots without drainage holes, before adding the plant and its soil.

I’ve chosen two tender ‘Tabletop’ ferns (Pteris species) and a division of a tender Lady fern from one of my hanging baskets.  These little ‘tropicals’ are easy to find at big box stores which sell little houseplants, and the needlepoint ivy and Begonia came from our local Lowes.

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This is a nice, relaxed, woodsy arrangement to carry us through the autumn months.  I can add a few little pumpkins or gourds in the weeks ahead.  All of these plants should grow fine in the low light of our dining room.

If you want to copy this design, be creative with re-purposing things you already have lying around.  I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week,  collecting the materials and plants before assembling it all this afternoon.  It can be great fun to find new ways to use containers already in ‘the collection.’

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I hope that Cathy will accept this humble aberration from her floral meme.  Eventually, those Begonias will sport blossoms, after all.

But I find great beauty in foliage, too, and appreciate its longevity.  This little arrangement should be alive and growing for many weeks on our dining table.

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Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a 'houseplant..'  These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

Tabletop or brake fern is tender in our climate, but often sold as a ‘houseplant.’ These from The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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The Road Home

The Connie Hansen Garden, Lincoln City, OR

The Connie Hansen Garden, Lincoln City, OR

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I found the way home, a few days ago, after spending a week in one of my favorite places on Earth, enjoying the company of my daughter and her family.

My heart always sings when the jet drops through the clouds low enough to catch my first glimpse of emerald green Oregon.  It is a place like no other; and I treasure every hour spent wrapped in its beauty.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

The Connie Hansen Garden

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Evergreen trees, grassy fields, budding moss cloaked hardwoods, ferns and countless Rhododendrons create a tapestry of every shade and hue of green.  The air is moist and cool. 

We dropped low over the green Columbia River on a final approach to Portland’s airport, finding the safe pavement of the runway just before our wheels touched the water.

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The garden at the Mossy Creek Pottery

The garden at the Mossy Creek Pottery

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My family was waiting, little one doubled in size since last I saw her.  Our drive home to the coast wound through towns and countryside, through the Willamette Valley, across mountains and beside rocky creeks.

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It was raining before we made it back, and cold.  Instant return to wintery weather.   The ocean below the condo roared and crashed, white caps breaking all along the beach at high tide.

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How much can one pack in to a few short days?  How many trips up and down Route 101?  How many walks on the beach?  How many wanderings through the gardens? How many cups of Starbucks?   How much shopping, and how much listening? 

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A wild cucumber vine growing at Cape Foulweather.

A wild cucumber vine growing at Cape Foulweather.

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There is never enough time for me to soak in my fill of Oregon.  There is always more I want to see and want to do.   And I was at a disadvantage this time, with allergies and a cold.

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The view from Cape Foulweather, 500 feet above the Pacific.

The view from Cape Foulweather, 500 feet above the Pacific.

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But the days passed, and all too soon we made the drive back north to Portland; back to the airport.  Roses were blooming around the parking lot of the shopping mall where we stopped, by the time we returned.  We had gone from 40’s to 90’s and back down again while I was there.  We all were suffering from the pollen laden air, even at the coast.

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The path down to Beverly Beach.

The path down to Beverly Beach.

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I enjoyed a small slice of Oregon’s spring; a few beautiful days while the landscape was still waking from it’s winter slumber.  Clumps of Zantedeschia bloomed in nearly every yard.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

The Connie Hansen Garden

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Rhododendrons as tall as trees were bursting with huge bright flowers.   Primroses carpeted the ground, and  ferns stretched their fronds from tiny fiddle heads to tall scapes.

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Azaleas bloomed in Crayola colors; Skunk Cabbages glowed golden yellow; and blue Lobelia grew lush and large, many times bigger than they possibly could at home.

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The Connie Hansen Garden

The Connie Hansen Garden

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One day I’ll return deeper into summer to enjoy a different view of the landscape.  But for now, I’ve tried to memorize every detail of April in Oregon.

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And still my own garden called across the miles.  An order of trees arrived earlier than expected.  The rhizomes and tubers planted weeks ago broke ground in the garage, reaching for the light.  Weeds took hold amongst the moss.  Our first Iris bloomed, Dogwoods lost their petals, and our ferns, too, are unfolding.

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The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden

The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden

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I got daily updates from my partner, who stayed behind at home to feed the cat and tend the garden in my absence.

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One of the earliest Irises in bloom at the Connie Hansen garden, perfectly matched to the Azalea behind it.

One of the earliest Irises in bloom at the Connie Hansen garden, perfectly matched to the Azalea behind it.

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And the day finally came for the long journey home to Virginia.  Begun before dawn, we finally pulled back into our own driveway in the wee early hours of the following morning.

Weather along the way delayed my final flight, making us last plane to land well after midnight, and just before Richmond’s airport shut down for the night.

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Beverly Beach, my last full day in Oregon.

Beverly Beach, my last full day in Oregon.

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The night air was sweet and moist.  Deer and raccoons congregated along the highway.  We sped through the early morning hours sharing stories and enjoying the empty road.

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Travelers always return with fresh eyes, and new appreciation for the comforts of home.   I have made this journey enough times now to have a sense of  ‘home’ on both ends of the trip, which is a tremendous blessing.  Loved ones wait for me on both coasts these days.  Both places hold their own special beauty.

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I’ve gathered a few fresh ideas to try in the garden,  and perhaps a few fresh perspectives from time spent with my daughter, too.  She is always teaching me, in her own wise and loving way.

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The Maidenhair fern native to Oregon isn't so very different from the Maidenhair fern we can grow in our garden. I will experiment with growing this beautiful fern.

The Maidenhair fern native to Oregon isn’t so very different from the Maidenhair fern we can grow in our garden.   I will experiment with growing this tough and beautiful fern, which looks so fragile.  This one grows in the Connie Hansen Garden.

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And Virginia ‘s greens are lovely, too.  I’ve spent a lot of time, since returning, lingering at the windows, reacquainting myself with our own familiar landscape.

There is much waiting for me to do, now that I’m home again.  After all, it is still only April…..

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Oregon Trip 2016 168

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Green Velvet Serenity: Moss Garden

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What can  grow on poor compacted soil, in sun or shade, with no fertilizer, has no problems with pest or disease; and still will look beautiful year round?

Why mosses and other bryophytes, of course….

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Bryophytes are hardy, ancient non-vascular plants.  They remain with us in abundance despite their long history covering the soil of planet Earth.  And their appearance often appears magical when they begin growing in the most impossible and most inhospitable spots.

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Soft expanses of moss exude serenity and calm.  They offer respite from an often chaotic world.  They allow us to simplify our gardening effort; providing sanctuary for the weary gardener while helping to heal our planet.

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Mosses utterly fascinate me.  These miniature plants simply appear, unplanned and unplanted; sown by nature’s hand.  Like a thick plush rug, they carpet the soil year round, remaining green even under a blanket of snow or glaze of ice.

And every moment they clean carbon  dioxide and pollutants from the air we breathe, returning these elements to Earth.

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But a moss carpet takes time to grow; many years in most cases.  Allowing nature to create the moss garden, unaided by the gardener’s hand, can be an uncertain proposition because those tiny bits of moss must compete with other larger, stronger, more weedy vascular plants.

My experiments with moss gardening in containers have been mixed.  While some have survived and colonized the pot, others have not.

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The moss turns brown. Birds raid the loose pieces for their nests.  Squirrels push the moss aside to dig for nutty treasures, leaving it to desiccate in the sun.

The longer we live in this garden, the more I value moss as a ground cover for paths, slopes and areas which remain in deep shade.  It is an affordable, practical option to ‘finish’ areas which otherwise would remain muddy for much of the year.

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When I saw Annie Martin’s The Magical World of Moss Gardening, published in early September of 2015 by Timber Press, I knew this lush ‘how to’ manual  could teach me the techniques I needed to cultivate mosses on a larger scale in our garden.  And it has proven to offer as much inspiration as it has instruction. moss gardening bookThe photos alone opened my eyes to possibilities for using mosses in the garden which I wouldn’t have imagined on my own.

‘Mossin Annie’ takes us on garden tours around the United States; from her own and others she has created near Asheville, NC on to Oregon and California;  as well as to the centuries old moss gardens of Japan.  In fact, one of the gardens Annie photographs grows in Chesterfield County, Virginia.  In showing us these gardens, Annie demonstrates the three main ways to establish gardens and design with mosses.

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The first, simplest way also takes the longest time.  Norie Burnet, a Chesterfield County teacher with a wooded suburban property and little budget for gardening, allowed nature to plant her moss garden for her.  She waited for airborne spores to take hold and colonize those areas she prepared for moss, then meticulously watered, weeded and groomed to give the moss every chance to thrive.

She has invested 25 years of careful tending and designing to help those mosses grow exactly where she wants them.  Now she enjoys an exquisite shaded garden, beautifully carpeted in many species of moss, which she can easily maintain herself.

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A second method for establishing mosses gives the gardener a more active hand in selecting and placing mosses to create beautiful designs with their textures and colors.  It also speeds the process considerably.  This is the method I’m experimenting with this year.

Rather than waiting for moss spores to colonize the garden, we speed things up a bit by transplanting moss where we want it to grow.  This works best in areas where moss can and will grow naturally, using native species of moss.  But moss from other parts of the world sometimes may be transplanted if their needs are met.

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Ordinary unamended, compacted garden soil works best here.  First clearing away every weedy vascular plant, we rough up the surface a little, then firmly press small bits of moss onto the prepared soil.  Annie recommends pieces the size of one’s hand, but smaller bits will work.  These are laid into a patchwork with spaces left between.  The transplanted moss will take hold and grow.  Eventually it will send its spore into the surrounding areas.

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The mosses need moisture and time to grow.  Daily watering is key to keeping them alive and growing during the crucial time when they are taking hold.  Firm pressure to give them a good bond with the soil is needed, too.  First, pressing them very firmly into place when planting. and later walking over them regularly to maintain that contact.

Here is where I had problems.  No matter how firmly I might push my little transplants down, some bird or squirrel will come behind me and flip it!  Some tasty morsel surely is under that moss!  And the birds appreciate my help in tearing the mosses for them to line their nests!

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hunks of flipped moss to the right got securely replanted and held with metal pins.

Hunks of flipped moss to the right got securely replanted and held with metal pins.

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The remedy is to pin each piece of moss into place with toothpicks, small broken sticks, or metal pins.  I used the same U shaped metal pins we keep for making evergreen wreathes.  These hold the mosses securely and allow them a chance to grab into the soil below.

This has been a major problem in my outdoor containers, too.   Agitation of the moss transplants from animals interferes with its growth. But also, the potting soil itself isn’t a good subsoil for moss.

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Potting soil is too light, and the perlite in most mixes makes it nearly impossible for moss rhizoids to grow into it.  While moss spores easily colonize moist potting soil, transplanting mature pieces remains a challenge.

The size of the hunks of moss, and the size of the spaces between are determined by how much moss you have to plant and how quickly you need the ground covered.  Which do you have in more abundance, time, moss or money?

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Volunteer moss in our garden ready for harvesting and replanting elsewhere

Volunteer moss in our garden ready for harvesting and replanting elsewhere

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The third method for establishing a moss garden is the fastest and gives the most immediate satisfaction.  After cleaning and preparing the site, one simply rolls out the already growing moss.  Annie owns a moss garden landscaping company and raises large sheets of moss already growing on landscaping fabric, which her crews will roll out on your bare soil, for a price, and anchor into place.  Voila!  Instant moss garden! 

She, and others around the world, also grow moss in nursery flats.  It is possible to buy many varieties of moss, mail ordered from a nursery, by the square foot.  These smaller mats are then torn into designs or laid whole to carpet the area.

All methods require careful attention for the first several months as they attach to the soil below.  They must be kept clean, with fallen leaves, sticks and other garden waste swept away so light can reach the moss.  Vascular weeds which take root in the moss must be plucked.  They compete by shading out the moss and absorbing the moisture it needs.  Tears in the moss must be mended; stray bits pushed back into place.

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Porous material, like this hypertufa pot, support moss very well. Glazed and plastic pots do not. In general, moss will grow on brick, some stone, concrete, bark and asphalt very well.

Porous material, like this hypertufa pot, support moss very well. Glazed and plastic pots do not. In general, moss will grow on brick, some stone, concrete, bark and asphalt very well.

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Perhaps you’ve heard stories of ‘Moss Milkshakes’ as a method for getting mosses to grow on rocks or clay pots.  I’ve not yet tried this method.  Annie discourages it and explains she has had little success.  One breaks up hunks of living moss into an old blender, and adds some combination of buttermilk, yogurt, or beer….. This whole mess is whirred into a thick slurry and painted on to a porous surface, kept moist and shaded, and at some time in the future moss begins to grow.  It should work.

Most mosses can regrow from any part of the plant.  Like the arm of the starfish, even the tiniest bit of leaf or rhizoid is enough for the whole moss to grow back in the right conditions.  And the gardener’s challenge becomes to provide those right conditions consistently enough and long enough for the moss to colonize and establish themselves on the new surface.

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This may be something I experiment with in the coming weeks.  Mossin Annie shares very detailed and useful information about moss gardening in her beautiful book.  But search as I may, nowhere can I find instructions for growing a flat of moss, or for growing one of her large sheets of landscape fabric based moss.  Those must be trade secrets!

And that is what I would like to learn.  I’d like a few beautiful homegrown flats of the mosses already native in our area, ready to lay on the ground,  to embellish our now growing moss gardens.  Because part of the art of designing moss gardens is the interplay of various textures and colors of mosses growing next to one another.  Flats of ready moss are the artist’s palette for a moss gardener; and like everything else in the garden, must be bought if not ‘home grown.’

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And it all takes time.  Annie makes clear that the moss gardener must think in months or years to see a vision grow into place.  Even buying her moss mats to carpet a shady corner of the garden, one must still wait for mosses to grow up over rocks or stumps, trees trunks and walls.

Like with all gardening, it unfolds in its own time.  We can perhaps speed the process a little with our efforts.  We can aid and encourage nature in her natural course.  But ultimately, we wait for the miracle; with enough patience to finally witness its unfolding.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Wednesday Vignettes: Wild

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“Plants are also integral to reweaving

the connection between land and people.

A place becomes a home when it sustains you,

when it feeds you in body as well as spirit.

To recreate a home, the plants must also return.”

.

Robin Wall Kimmerer

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July 4, 2015 Jamestown 007

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“In the rain forest, no niche lies unused.

No emptiness goes unfilled.

No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped.

In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick.

No other place on earth feels so lush.

Sometimes we picture it as an echo

of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient,

serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope.

But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees.

Truant plants will not survive.

The meek inherit nothing.

Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for,

and they do. One of the first truths one learns

in the rain forest is that there is nothing

fainthearted or wimpy about plants.”

.

Diane Ackerman

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“As dreams are the healing songs

from the wilderness of our unconscious –

So wild animals, wild plants, wild landscapes

are the healing dreams

from the deep singing mind of the earth.”

.

Dale Pendell

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Appreciation, always, to  Anna at Flutter and Hum for hosting the Wednesday Vignette each week. Please visit her for links to other beautiful garden photos from around the planet.

Photos by Woodland Gnome

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There are still a very limited number of A Forest Garden 2016 garden calendars left, if you wanted one and didn’t order it in December.  Please contact me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com to order.

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January 10, 2015 leaves 009

Amaryllis Centerpiece

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You know the weather has shifted when I’m inspired to make a living centerpiece for our dining room.

We enjoyed watching our Amaryllis grow so much last winter, that I decided to start one early enough to enjoy over the holidays this year.

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The Great Big Greenhouse, near Richmond, carried some of the largest Amaryllis bulbs that I’ve ever seen .  They also have the largest selection of varieties I’ve found, anywhere.  Some of the ‘specialty’ varieties normally only found in catalogs, with exorbitant price tags, were right there in their bulb display at grocery store prices.

And so I selected a huge Amaryllis bulb last weekend, and four tiny ferns, for this arrangement.  A bulb this large would be expected to give several stalks of flowers.

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The ceramic bowl has no drainage.  It is much deeper and wider than the Amaryllis needs, which leaves room for a couple of  inches of aggregate in the bottom to afford drainage for the roots.  I’ve used a fairly coarse pea gravel to leave pockets for air or water.  Use only new, good quality potting soil for a project like this.  I’m using a lightweight mix of mostly peat and perlite.

Amaryllis need only their roots in soil.  The ‘collar’ of the bulb, where its leaves emerge, should be visible above the soil line.  In addition to the four tropical ferns, I’ve planted a tiny Strawberry Begonia and a tiny tender fern division, both rescued from an outside pot.  The soil is covered with sheets of moss lifted from an oak’s roots in the upper garden.

Maybe it is an odd idiosyncrasy, but I don’t like looking at potting soil in a living arrangement.  Who wants to look at a dish filled with dirt in the middle of their dining table, anyway? 

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Rarely do I leave a potted plant ‘unfinished,’ without at least a mulch of fine gravel over the soil anymore.  It is easier to water neatly, the plant needs less water, the plant stays cleaner outside in the rain, and it just looks better to me.

Since moss has no roots, it won’t grow down into the potting soil.  It will continue to grow only in the thin film of soil where it is already anchored. Press it firmly into the surface of the potting soil as you place patch beside patch.  I drop fine stones around the edges to help meld these pieces together, and to help retain moisture around the patches of moss.

Moss will live indoors so long as it remains hydrated.  You can mist it, or pour a little water over it every few days.  Keeping the mix evenly moist keeps the moss and ferns happy.   Watering occasionally with diluted tea (no cream or sugar, please) makes the moss happy, too, as it appreciates soil on the acidic side.

When I eventually break this arrangement up, in a few months, the moss should be transplanted back outside.  It can also be ground up and used to start new colonies of moss, even if it appears dead at that point.

This is a simple project which gives weeks of pleasure.  It would make a nice hostess gift over the holidays.

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If you’re ever tempted to order the glitzy Amaryllis gifts from your favorite catalog, consider making your own instead for a fraction of the cost.  Even a non-gardener can enjoy an Amaryllis bowl such as this one.

Simply add a little water, and enjoy!

Woodland Gnome 2015

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“If nature has made you for a giver,

your hands are born open,

and so is your heart;

and though there may be times when your hands are empty,

your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that-

-warm things, kind things, sweet things-

-help and comfort and laughter-

-and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

 .

 

Frances Hodgson Burnet

 

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