Moss in a hypertufa dish garden

A dish garden of mostly mosses evokes a spirit of peacefulness and serenity. Mosses grow both inside and on the outside of the hypertufa container.

Courtesy of Ken Gergle
This lovely dish garden featuring mosses was created by David Spain of Moss and Stone Gardens in Raleigh, N.C.

Ancient, primal, desirable: Moss evokes many emotions. When finding a moss garden, the desire to touch the moss is uncontrollable -- wanting to walk on it, feel it, stroke it.

This is how I felt the first time I saw a really well done moss garden. It was the home and garden of the late Richard and Barbara Urquhart, in Raleigh, N.C.

An amazing garden

I had heard of a moss garden in the area; the garden’s reputation preceded itself. I needed to see this garden, to experience it, to know it. When I first laid eyes on the emerald-green blanket of moss, my normal frantic pace slowed, and within seconds, I felt peace.

This was to be a journey, not an ordinary garden visit.

Looking back on that day, I remember fondly how Mr. Urquhart spoke so highly and kindly of David Spain, the man who helped him create the moss garden the way it was at that time..

The Urquharts' moss garden was later shared with Steve Bender, senior writer with Southern Living magazine, who said, “The moss garden David created in Raleigh is simply one of the most amazing and beautiful places I've been.”

As I got to know David Spain and his business partner, Ken Gergle, co-owners of Moss and Stone Gardens, I learned more about the kind of work they did. Yes, they create beautiful moss and stone landscapes, but they also create art in the form of moss dishes.

It’s these dishes that are the focus of this blog post.

In it, we hope to expose you to mosses, to entice you to use mosses, to teach you about them -- their uses, sustainability, and the feelings of peace they create. We hope you enjoy your time with us.

Without further ado, meet this dish

The Moss and Stone Gardens’ debut dish [see photo above] is set in a humble hypertufa trough planter. This commissioned piece, for a private client, was designed to accommodate medium to low light levels, in a dry environment.

Several moss species were used from the tickly Acrocarpus genus of mosses, including Atrichum undulatum, Campylopus introflexus, Ceratadon purpureus, Dicranum scoparium, and Luecobryum glaucum.

Acrocarps are generally identifiable as mosses growing upright, bearing capsules on the tips of the moss stems. The presence of these capsules adds another level of intrigue, through color and texture, to the design.

Soft flirty, mounds of pluerocarp moss, Entodon seductrix, is also used, adding value to the landscape.

In addition to mosses, this dish includes a fungus, Parmelia lichen, and a fern, Asplenium platyneuron (ebony spleenwort fern), which adds levity to the design.

When interviewing David Spain about this dish, I asked about his vision for the design.

How the design came about

“The design concept here was to combine different hues of green for contrast and interest and to take advantage of the hypertufa containers broad rim," he said..

“The shape and material in hypertufa containers lends itself to encouraging the mosses to grow outside of the interior, and it encourages the mosses to colonize the exterior of the container.

“In addition, I applied small moss colonies directly to the hypertufa for a jump-start in this colonization process, which can take many years on its own,” said David.

I particularly liked the way David used a piece of moss-covered wood as an accent in the dish. It’s subtle, earthy, and I like how it softens the hard line of the hypertufa dish.

Making hypertufa troughs has become increasingly popular. Making one for your own moss dish garden is a good project, especially this time of year, when most of us are itching to get outside.

David cautions though, “When using newly made hypertufa, they should be washed with vinegar to neutralize the alkalinity before planting them with bryophytes.”

My empty, discarded hypertufa trough is looking like a blank canvas to me right now. My next e-mail will be to David Spain to inquire about getting moss for my own feelings of serenity.

[Editor's note: To learn more about growing moss, see the article Grow Moss -- On Purpose?]

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Helen Yoest lives in North Carolina and writes about Gardening With Confidence. She's a garden writer, speaker, and garden coach. She's also a field editor for Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens magazines and serves on the board of advisors for the JC Raulston Arboretum. You can follow Helen on Twitter and Facebook. To read more by Helen here at Diggin' It, click here.

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