Six on Saturday: Making Whole

Moss Garden


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Woodland Gnome 2020


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.


WPC: Container I

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Some people believe that agriculture allowed the Genesis of human civilization millennia ago.  I beg to differ…

Actually, it was containers.

Once we humans have a place to put something, and a way to move it from here to there, we begin to collect; and to accumulate.  And civilization as we know it is born…

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So containers are the basic building blocks of our modern, civilized lives.  Think about it-

What is a home, a car, a pantry, or even a shoe… but a specialized container?

I have a special affinity for containers. 

Maybe it’s because my mother spent several years as a Tupperware dealer when she needed a flexible schedule for a while.   She always loved Tupperware, and selling it gave her the opportunity to add to her collection and set aside a kitchen full of Tupperware for each of us kids to have one day.

I still keep my flour in an ancient Tupperware container inherited from my grandmother.

And the sugar keeps forever in the 70’s era avocado green Tupperware my mother set aside for me all those years ago.

Still, I drive my partner nuts by saving many of the “disposable” containers which pass through our lives.

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These frozen yogurt containers have a thousand alternative uses…

Like catching the tiny blue tailed lizard who somehow got into our home earlier today.  He was skittering across the living room floor when I spotted him this afternoon.

Fortunately for him, our cat was sunning himself out on the deck.

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After several tries, this little guy trusted me enough to cooperate in the delicate task of catching him, lifting him from the floor, and taking him back outside where he can catch his dinner.

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Once outside, he was kind enough to allow a photo-op before disappearing behind the pots of our container garden on the patio.

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Where would we be without our containers? 


Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Container

WPC: Container II

WPC: Container III

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

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A beginning is something of a mystery, for every beginning is born from something already there.  Beginnings can be counted back in an endless web of connections and interconnections to… what?  If we trace back far enough, what do we find?  What is the spark, the point of transition, of energy into matter at the beginning?   Which came first, the darkness, or the light?

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And what is the spark which energizes each new beginning, moment to moment, in our lives?

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“New Year,”  “New Garden,” “New relationship;” at what point does the remains of the old transition into the Genesis of the new? 

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The points we choose, so often, are arbitrary; allowing us to compartmentalize our experience into neat piles.  We close one calendar and open another.  We open a packet and plant a seed.  We shake a hand and say, ” Hello.”

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Taking a snapshot in time and labeling it, “The Beginning” asks us to disregard all that came before.  We are all deeply enmeshed in this recycled, recycling web of being.  

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We gardeners, whose hands are never far from the Earth, exploit the neatness of the system as we grow alongside our gardens. 

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We treasure the compost of our lives as the brilliant, energetic chaos which allows birth and sustenance of the new.

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We watch seeds ripen from the faded flower; pull tiny bulbils from the base of  last year’s bulb; cut a branch, root it, and watch it grow into its own maturity.

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We look into our children’s faces and see our own grandparents.

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We see all life and living as ripples and waves;  light shining on an endless sea of possibility.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Weekly Photo Challenge

Recycled Banana Leaves

Our friends' banana tree still happily outside in late September.

Our friends’ banana tree still happily outside in late September.

Some of our friends have grown a gorgeous ornamental banana tree for the last several years in a large pot in their front garden.   Bananas aren’t hardy here in Zone 7, but they have perfected a strategy for cutting it back and bringing it into sheltered storage for the winter.

Yesterday afternoon I was flabbergasted to show up a little early with some plates of food for a neighborhood party and find my friend assembling an arrangement for the buffet table with her just-trimmed banana leaves!  What an ingenious way to use these beautiful leaves late in the season when they must be cut back.  She had one of the most stunning centerpieces I’ve seen anywhere, any time, and did it with material from her garden which otherwise might have gone to the compost heap.  They were absolutely perfect under the cathedral ceiling of our community center.  Now I’m curious to find out how long the leaves will last in the vase.  Last I heard, they were back home enjoying the bright sunshine of her living room.

The trimmed banana leaves, dressed for our gathering in November

The trimmed banana leaves, dressed for our gathering in November

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”  I’m old enough to remember celebrating the first “Earth Day” back in 1970. It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Now, 40+  years later, we realize that better stewardship of our planet is critical for our own survival.

We’ve watched in horror as the strongest typhoon ever recorded at landfall flattened huge areas of the Philippines.  All of us living near a coastline realize we are also vulnerable.  Just as those further inland have also experienced flood, drought, fire, and wind as our weather patterns grow more strange each year.  We still have snow in our weather forecast tomorrow, with January-like temperatures for the next several days.

It is the daily decisions we make, large and small, which allow us to be “part of the solution.”  Finding ways to recycle and reuse resources we already have on hand is a beautiful way to begin, and these recycled banana leaves made the setting for our party last night something very, very special.  Instead of buying cut flowers flown in from who knows where, my friend and fellow gardener “shopped her garden” for stunning decorations.  And yes,  we all had a wonderful time together last evening.

My friends' sunflowers in September

My friends’ sunflowers in September

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Recycling A Broken Mug

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A moment of clumsiness this morning with the tea kettle, and one of my favorite mugs lay broken in the sink.  November 7 2013 001We purchased two matching mugs from the potter in Manteo, NC, quite a few years ago.  This deep burgundy glaze is a bit unusual and hard to find, and we always enjoyed using these lovely mugs.  Too beautiful to throw away, I salvaged all but one of the pieces of the broken mug and took them back to my work table.

If it is no longer good for drinking, at least it will serve as a lovely planter.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

The Echeveria I trimmed for cuttings.

Succulents are very forgiving plants, easy to grow, undemanding, and will survive in this little mug.  I took cuttings of a rangy blue chalk sticks plant, Kleinia mandraliscae,  and of some Echeveria growing in pots on the front porch.  I had a few sprigs of jade plant, Crassula ovata, already lying around, waiting for a new home.  Succulents appreciate bright, indirect light, but don’t need or want very much water.  They root easily from bits and pieces, and grow fairly slowly.  This makes them excellent candidates for tiny arrangements in unusual containers.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

The blue chalk stick plant, gift a few years ago from a friend, needs a trim.

After gluing the mug back together and allowing it to dry, I laid a foundation of several small stones in the bottom of the cup and covered them with a mixture of sand and gravel.  Since the mug has no drainage holes, the rocks and sand will provide a small reservoir, below the roots, where water can drain.  It will also allow the soil to soak in water as needed between waterings.

Next came potting soil. I could have mixed in a bit of sand, but I have better luck with using the same potting mix I use for pots and baskets.  I filled the mug to within 1/4 or so of the rim, and topped off the soil with more clean sand and gravel.  This will prevent the succulent leaves from resting directly on damp soil.

Once the mug was prepared, I simply stuck the stems of my cuttings into the soil in a pleasing arrangement, gave a light spritz of water from the sink sprayer to settle everything in, and set the mug where it will get bright light.

The cuttings will take a few weeks to root, but will grow happily in the mug all winter.  When they appear to be outgrowing the mug, in a year or so, they can be potted up to another container and more cuttings can take their place in the mug.  It has a new purpose in life, and will continue to be a treasured part of ours.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome

Thoughts on recycling:

We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly.November 7 2013 017

Clement of Alexandria

Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.

R. Buckminster Fuller

The paradox of life lies exactly in this: its resources are finite, but it itself is endless. Such a contradictory state of affairs is feasible only because the resources accessible to life can be used over and over again.” November 7 2013 018

I.I. Gitelson, Manmade Closed Ecological Systems

Our Forest Garden- The Journey Continues

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A new site allows me to continue posting new content since after more than 1700 posts there is no more room on this site.  -WG

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