Rock gardens are about stony places with special plant varieties, often smaller in size and with subtle beauty, which depend in part upon the nature and placements of the rocks themselves. Some rock gardens will be found in sunny place, however some are found in partial to fully shady areas. A new rock garden can be given the feeling of having existed for a lengthy time by the incorporation of mosses and lichens. The color green is closely associated with serenity; moss and lichens excel in beauty in their own right. Consider a few varieties to see how this is so.
Not actually a moss, but a form of lichens, Reindeer moss (Cladonia ragiferina) possesses a beautiful color that imparts a feeling of age. Gray-green, it can be readily moved about, as it does not depend upon a system of roots to grow. A fine specimen of reindeer moss can be seen in this image from the University of Florida School of Forest Resources & Conservation. A more accurate name is reindeer lichens. Reindeer lichens can be lifted from one location and placed in another. It will continue to thrive, growing and spreading.
British Soldier “Moss”
Another gray-green delight (or is that grey-green?) is British soldier moss. This is yet another case of mistaken identity, as British soldier moss is also a variety of lichens. A photo of it can be seen at the PBase website. Although, as mentioned, it is primarily gray-green, it is tipped in the most beautiful red. Sometimes beauty does, indeed, come in small packages; such is the case with British soldier moss.
Why Seldom Actual Mosses?
True mosses can be added to your rock garden, but often they require mildly acid soil and ample moisture (with drainage), along with at least partial shade. So not every rock garden can incorporate moss. In addition, not many moss varieties are available commercially. Among the few varieties that are available are cushion moss (Leucobryum-also called sun mosses), rock cap moss (Dicranum-led broom mosses), and sheet moss (Hypnum or cypress-leaved plait-moss).
After considering these plants, if you need more to supplement your rock garden, consider transplanting varieties of moss that grow in your area, and/or purchase plants such as native sedums to bolster your rock garden. “Related” to the mosses are the liverworts and the hornworts, which also add beauty and elegance to a shaded rock garden.
Additional References and Resources:
Moss Acres – Gardening with Moss & Growing Moss
Garden Helper – Growing Decorative Mosses in Your Garden
Boreal Forest – Dicranum (Broom Mosses)