Diggin' In: Moss can brighten home in winter

January 19, 2015

When all is dormant and brown outdoors, moss can be very much alive and green.

Look around moist spots in your yard or nearby woods and you will likely find a patch of bright green moss.

Gently lift some of that pretty patch and transplant pieces into a shallow bowl filled with a layer of coarse grain sand and fine potting soil. Ideally, a drainage hole in your container is best, but you can go without one if you sparingly water the moss. Gently wash soil and debris away from the tops of your moss pieces before placing them in the bowl, and don’t be afraid to tease them apart with your fingers because they will soon attach and grow into one magnificent mound.

A plain pottery pot or even a cute coffee cup can be the container for this bonsai look. Moss is often used around the base of bonsai trees, but moss on its own brings its own beauty to a windowsill or tabletop with no direct sun.

At an upcoming Home Gardener Day, in Newport News, Va., there’s a workshop about bonsai, its history and how to select, arrange and care for wild grasses and flowers planted in unique pots.

Five speakers also can shed light on various aspects of home gardening:

— Peter Hatch, aka Mr. Monticello. A professional gardener, he was responsible for the maintenance, interpretation and restoration of the 2,400-acre landscape at Monticello from 1977 to 2012, and initiated the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, a nursery you can shop online or at the estate — .

His talk, "Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello" focuses on how the former president loved his vegetable garden and wrote that he ate meat only as a "condiment" to his meals, vegetables being the main staple of his diet.

"Thomas Jefferson wrote that ‘the greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture,’"says Hatch.

"Monticello’s 1,000-foot-long, terraced vegetable garden became an experimental laboratory, an Ellis Island of new and unusual vegetable novelties from the around the globe, growing over 330 vegetable and 170 fruit varieties. Jefferson was also a pioneer in supporting farmer’s markets and promoting vegetable cookery."

—Bryce Lane, power of plants. A gardener in the same spot for 31 years and lecturer emeritus Department of Horticultural Science, North Carolina State University, Lane discusses "Joy of Gardening and Power of Plants to Free Your Spirit."

"Gardening has the ability to change the way we look at life, death, history, art and love," he says.

"It connects us to nature and the environment, to family and friends. Gardening helps us pay attention — to the whole, and to the details of life."

—Marta McDowell, meet Beatrix Potter. An author and a landscape history and horticulture instructor at New York Botanic Garden, McDowell talks about the "Gardening Triumphs of Beatrix Potter, a successful farmer who fought to preserve her beloved countryside — not just blue-jacketed bunnies and fuzzy friends.

"My talk explores her botanical art, the flora and horticulture that appeared in her stories and sprouted from the gardens she knew," she says.

"Beatrix Potter was smitten with the study of botany — specifically mycology/mushrooms — before she became a children’s book author/illustrator. As a gardener, Beatrix Potter was a late bloomer. She didn’t have a garden of her own until she was almost 40 years old, meaning it’s never too late to start.

"She went native in England’s Lake District, becoming a farmer of a heritage breed of sheep and, when she died, leaving 4,000 acres of preserved farmland to the National Trust."

—Luan Akin, lover of worms and bees. A garden ambassador for Tagawa Gardens in Centennial, Co., she embraces topics that engage young and old on the wonders of gardening and how to enjoy worms, compost and bees. She also encourages diversity in the garden for personal success and Mother Nature’s benefit, which she addresses in her program, "Free for All: Earth and Pet-Happy Gardens."

"Don’t plant a lot of the same thing," she says. "Monocultures make it easy for insects and diseases to take over. Rather than damaging a patch of something, the invaders can take out entire beds.

"Use plants that bugs don’t like – lavender, sage, artemisia and penstemmon all have pungent leaves – so bugs and four-legged critters usually don’t find them appetizing."

—Daniel Potter, buzzing about. A professor of entomology at the University of Kentucky, Potter is concerned about the global decline of honey bee colonies and other pollinators in landscapes, and will explore the opportunities for bee-friendly lawns and landscapes in his talk, "Freedom to Bee: Safeguarding and Conserving Pollinators in Lawns and Landscapes."

"Why are bees declining? Vampire mites, diseases, jet lag, junk food, habitat loss, and pesticide misapplications — it’s not easy being a bee these days," he says.



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