moss garden
A moss garden cultivated by Master Gardener Steve Colgan; photo courtesy of Steve Colgan

My colleague Susan Edwards and I recently launched an initiative called The CounterAct Climate Change Project, which is an online educational initiative. We host interviews, how-to programs, and articles about activists, artists, educators, and entrepreneurs who offer climate-friendly products, services, or ideas. We do not do this for profit.

Our May presentation on “Mosses, Ferns and Lichens in Stony New England Landscapes” was led by Master Gardener Steve Colgan. (Here’s the link to the May webcast recording, in case you didn’t attend in real time: https://vimeo.com/416066090.)

I think it’s safe to say that all of us who attended now have a much greater appreciation for mosses, ferns and lichens! Certainly, the world would be less beautiful without them, and they play an important role in ecosystems. What would the world be like if we loved them more, and cultivated their presence in our homes, gardens, and communities?

Think about it; our modern civilization has glorified turf and lawn, to the detriment of the lowly (literally) plants. From the great gardens of Versailles to the golf courses of America, there’s something about lawns that makes us feel I dunno, good. Many of us clear trees in our yards to plant lawns, or we buy shade-loving varieties of grass seed, which we assiduously apply with fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. We’re often fighting nature, rather than going with the flow. Ironically, we then hop in our cars to walk in wild conservation lands so we can experience the majesty and soothing comfort of deep forests. Those forests would seem utterly lacking, if not for the vast, abundant array of mosses, ferns and lichens in them. Just thinking about moss-covered logs and lichen-covered trees and rocks makes me take a deep, satisfying breath.

Don’t get me wrong; lawns are wonderful, in good measure. And grass is a carbon sink (good) rather than a carbon source (bad). However, many people spend too much time planting and mowing lawns, which leads to less biodiversity of plants in our communities, and more CO2. It’s obvious that lawn mowing machines, whether electric or gas-powered, rely on fossil fuels that create CO2. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that CO2 is also created in the process of pumping and filtering water (whether it comes from a private well or municipal source), and in the process of mining and delivering fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides to stores and homes.

Peer pressure from neighbors can make it difficult to buck this trend; about a year ago on a community Facebook group, I posted an article that addressed the negative ecological consequences of lawns. About 98% of the comments agreed with the article, but 2% disagreed, and I admit I felt frustrated and discouraged by that 2%. It’s unfortunate that one or two objections can stifle my inclination to educate/share information. Social media is rife with flaming objections and opinions, so I guess I’d better get a thicker skin. I must remember to look at the bright side; i.e., the vast majority of people agreed with that article, and over the past 20 years or more, people have become aware of climate change, partly because of uncomfortable dialogues that are part of the education process.

Steve Colgan could have talked for hours more, to teach us a ton about the beauty and practicality of mosses, lichens and ferns. I admire his scientific knowledge of them, and his artistic knack for composing lovely gardens with them. I only wish I had known this information earlier in life, so I could have nurtured moss and fern gardens more along the way. Today, in the midst of the lawn mowing season, is a good day to start!

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