A shady Wis­con­sin gar­den be­comes a place of en­chant­ment where trees, plants, wa­ter, and stone weave to­gether to cre­ate a tran­quil dream in shades of emer­ald and jade. The magic in­gre­di­ent: moss.

Country Gardens - - Contents -

Lux­u­ri­ous rivers of moss flow down slopes and creep over stones for this Wis­con­sin gar­dener who dotes on the more than 40 dif­fer­ent species that make his gar­den a serene get­away.

“When you see moss early in the morn­ing, back­lit by the sun, it’s in­de­scrib­ably beau­ti­ful,” says gar­dener and Coun­try Gar­dens® award win­ner Dale Siev­ert. “It has an elec­tric dis­tinc­tion.”

More than 40 species of moss grow in Dale’s gar­den, cling­ing to cran­nies, smooth­ing over stones, climb­ing walls, and pop­ping up in pots. Mosses creep be­neath the broad leaves of Ligu­laria and Ber­ge­nia, pro­vide a plush back­drop for the danc­ing leaves of meadow rue (Thal­ic­trum dioicum), and drape a green cur­tain be­hind the stiff stalks of horse­tail grass (Equise­tum hye­male). The mosses are part of a suite of plants, in­clud­ing hostas by the hun­dreds, that weave the green spell. Con­tain­ers of red and pink flow­ers sur­round the pa­tio, and peren­ni­als are wel­come to bloom when they feel like it, but this gar­den is all about fo­liage.

Dale, a re­tired eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor, nurs­ery owner, and world trav­eler, likes to dive deep into the history and botany of any­thing he grows. He knew that moss has been a tra­di­tional el­e­ment of Ja­panese gar­dens for a thou­sand years. From vis­it­ing gar­dens in Ja­pan, Dale learned that “the color green en­gen­ders a great sense of tran­quil­ity, peace, and seren­ity.” He uses that con­cept to great ef­fect on his acre of land near Wauke­sha, Wis­con­sin. His prop­erty hosts a va­ri­ety of gar­den spa­ces, in­clud­ing a sunken gar­den, a for­mal parterre, and a Ja­panese gar­den with

metic­u­lously raked gravel, most of which was built by Dale. He opens his gar­dens for gar­den tours, notic­ing that ev­ery­one who vis­its seems drawn to the shadi­est corner, where “it’s all green­ness and moss gar­dens.”

There are in­fi­nite shades of green here, from near-yel­low char­treuse to ocean-deep blue-green. If you look closely, you’ll no­tice the var­ied leaves and hues of the mosses them­selves. Shape and tex­ture are also care­fully man­aged: Thou­sands of rocks, from grace­fully rounded to craggy and rugged, pro­vide struc­ture and form to the mossy gar­den.

Why grow moss? Why this low, unas­sum­ing plant that so many gar­den­ers dis­dain as a weed? “The trees kept get­ting big­ger and big­ger,” Dale says. Then, a dozen years ago, Dale was daz­zled by a wide sweep of moss in an­other Wis­con­sin gar­den. “That knocked my socks off,” he says. He started by adding some to his Ja­panese gar­den area, and it grew from there. The nu­mer­ous de­cid­u­ous trees in his yard pro­vide the ideal shady en­vi­ron­ment for many kinds of moss, which dry out quickly in heat and sun. Now moss flows like peace through this serene green land­scape.

ABOVE A craggy rock pro­vides plenty of moss nooks. Coun­try Gar­dens® award win­ner Dale Siev­ert col­lects most of his moss from nearby wood­lands, al­ways with the prop­erty owner’s per­mis­sion.

ABOVE Nearly all the trees on Dale’s prop­erty are de­cid­u­ous by plan, as he prefers the tex­ture and struc­ture of a leafy canopy rather than the rigid forms of ever­green trees. Other ar­eas with gen­er­ous sun ex­po­sure are de­signed with turf edged with Vibur­num, Co­toneaster, and hy­drangeas. BE­LOW Dale had been gar­den­ing for more than 30 years near Wauke­sha, Wis­con­sin, when he fell in love with moss.

ABOVE A gen­tly drip­ping bam­boo foun­tain cre­ates a small pool among moss-cov­ered rocks, adding gen­tle mu­sic to the peace­ful ex­pe­ri­ence of Dale’s moss gar­den. In na­ture, moist, shaded places are of­ten mossy. BE­LOW Tiny orange fungi (Rick­enella fibula) twin­kle above a mound of tou­sled broom moss (Di­cranum sco­par­ium).

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