Constructive Neglect Posted on December 12, 2011

I suppose I used to assume that moss and damp went together; that our mossy bits were just shady and badly drained (as they may well be). I had no intention of cutting down the trees or installing new drainage, so tant pis; let’s enjoy the moss.

But here we are, after one of the driest years of our times, and there is more moss than ever, so it can’t be rain. Anyway it looks marvellous. If I hadn’t read so many lawn care articles I’d say I prefer moss to grass. The Moss Garden in Kyoto (the result, they say, of ages of neglect) makes me want to take up neglect as my retirement hobby.

Why is our moss shameful, where theirs is a matter of pride? Because, I fear, Japanese summers have plenty of rain, and ours, in spite of folklore, not nearly enough, or only during Test matches.

We have to keep tipping the balance in favour of grass, because grass is our default ground cover. Even if the evidence, in large parts of this aging garden, points in the direction of ivy as nature’s choice. Ivy is fine in surplus areas where no one walks. I am rather pleased with a patch under an alley of Norway maples which I decided, a year or two ago, to dedicate entirely to ivy, suppressing any competition or variation that cropped up. An annual strimming keeps it flat and tidy – except of course, where it sets off up the trunks of the trees. But finger-nailing the invading shoots of ivy off my tree-trunks is a part of my garden psychotherapy. It delays my getting on with proper jobs: there is always an ambitious tendril somewhere in sight, an urgent distraction and soothing balm.

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