Sanzen-in moss garden

I always think that we don’t love moss enough in this country. Some people do appreciate it’s magical emerald touch scattered across a green space, but in Japan, they’re crazy about it and cultivating it is an admired art form. They recognize it’s ability to add an established feeling, as well as a sense of calm and tranquility to a garden.

There’s a moss garden in Ohara near Kyoto, in the Sanzenin temple and it is undoubtedly one of the most charming and ethereal places, once seen never forgotten. The monks there have cultivated 100’s of different types of moss. It’s an otherworldly spot, tucked away on a mountain, the garden dotted with strange little stone statues poking their heads through the rich, velvet moss carpet, the place hushed under the canopy of trees, the only sound the rhythmic drop of a raindrop sliding down a leaf and into the still ponds. It awoke in me an absolute devotion to moss, and all the mysterious, shadowy and green places it inhabits.


Patchwork of Moss and Lichen on a tree trunk

On a recent visit to the Cotswold, on a glum November weekend, I was happy to encounter plenty of moss, looking particularly enticing and vibrant in the rain.

Moss is a Bryophyte, which means it is the most basic form of plant life. It does not have a vascular system,  which means it lacks xylem (for water transport) and phloem (for sugar and mineral transport) tissues. They mainly absorb water and nutrients from their tiny leaves, which are only one cell thick. They do not have proper roots, but tiny hair-like rhizoids which help them anchor themselves to their growing surface. moss-1Moss also has no seeds or flowers, and reproduces by spores, which means they can spread quickly and with ease. This is part of what makes them a pioneer species, the first plants to start colonising an area after the eco-system has been damaged.

That’s why I love moss; it seems to encompass a lot of what it is that I love about plants. Their tenacity, their determination to return; even after we have absolutely ravaged an area and left it ugly and broken, they’ll come creeping back in without our help, bringing back the life and the greenery. Moss provides more carbon offset than trees, yet we insist on trying to scrape it out of our gardens.

When you put your face close to moss, it’s like looking into a tiny world. You could imagine people a few centimeters high sitting on the furry hummocks. When you take the longer view, and see an ancient building or devastated ruin with a velveteen covering, you can see nature reclaiming her land with silent, creeping fingers.


Mossy monkey in the Ubud Sacred Monkey Forest


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