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Native Ferns, Moss, & Grasses

Kip reviews the book, Native Ferns, Moss, & Grasses, by William Cullina

The central purpose of William Cullina's Native Ferns, Moss, & Grasses is to show the possibilities that abound in our native flora so that one can choose plants that are both appealing and adapted to the climate and soils of the region in which one lives. To this end, each of the sections dealing with the three plant groups stated in the title contains an encyclopedia for the group it covers, with many of the entries accompanied by a photograph. Precise information is given in regard to a species' soil and light requirements; to hardiness, habitat, and native range. Grasses of course, unlike ferns and moss, are flowering plants, but that is not to say that their flowers are like those found in grandmother's garden.

[G]ardens and landscapes are fusions of form, color, and texture. The three act in concert to create spaces, moods, and aesthetic impressions. Though we tend to focus on color, it is form and texture that really create spaces and give them tone and mood. In a sense, color is candy for the eye, while texture and form are the starch and protein—richer, more complex, and enduring.

There is little, if any, advice in Cullina's book on garden design per se, but hundreds of books on that subject are readily available. A gardener who already has some sense of design will find Native Ferns, Moss, & Grasses a valuable resource when it comes to making sensible, informed choices from the plant groups covered in the text. Interestingly, ferns and grasses are the exemplars of two of the three main leaf texture types (the third being simple broad leaves). So many plant combinations, so little time.

On a trip to the Pacific Northwest many years ago I visited a moss garden on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, Washington. The feeling this particular greenspace evoked was unlike any I had experienced before or have experienced since. Granted, moss is quite easy to come by in that misty climate, but a lush, plush moss lawn is not an impossible dream in other parts of the country. Cullina gives clear instructions on how to create one, and I am not talking about those unwelcome and unwelcoming mossy patches that occur where lawn grasses just won't grow.

There is an exhaustive section on propagating the plants discussed at the end of the book, should anyone be inclined to try doing that. In any case, collecting plants in the wild is strongly discouraged, and for good reasons, a point the author makes more than once.

I have to admit that my favorite part of the book is the introductory sections, where I was surprised by some ecological notions that had never occurred to me. In regard to global warming:

In situations where a particular ecoregion stretches north to south, species tend to migrate north as the climate warms. Therefore, if I were thinking proactively, I would try to obtain ecotypes from a hardiness zone or two south within the same or adjacent ecoregions. These would theoretically be better adapted to a milder or hotter climate.

Perhaps so. As for me, I think I'll move north and bring along my old plants, because they and I are both adapted to the same hardiness zone.

Kip Anderson has been the Victory Garden's head gardener for over 20 years.

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Published November 1, 2007