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.
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).