Crafting With Nature
Grow or Gather Your Own Supplies for Simple Handmade Crafts, Gifts & Recipes
By Amy Renea
Page Street Publishing Co. Copyright © 2016 Amy Renea
All rights reserved.
MOSS HISTORIES & FAIRY MYSTERIES
When you want to begin crafting with natural materials, you should pick plants that are readily available, easy to grow and easy to maintain. Moss is a perfect candidate. In this chapter, I will give you an introduction to the plant itself, and then dive straight into the world of fairy gardens, moss rocks and miniature décor. Let's start with the plant though, shall we?
HOW TO GATHER AND TRANSPLANT MOSS
Moss is as old as sin. Hanging with its woodland bedfellow, the fern, moss has quite possibly been around since the dawn of time. It is different from most plants in several ways.
» It grows very, very slowly.
» Moss does not have roots that penetrate the soil. Rather, it connects to a substrate via short rhizoids. Think of these like little pieces of Velcro holding the moss onto a rock or tree trunk, rather than feeding tubes for the plant.
» Moss gets most of its nutrients through its leaves and from the water it absorbs, not from roots in rich soil.
» Moss has no flowers. (Sad, I know!)
» Moss reproduces via spores–not seeds. You will sometimes see moss with what looks like tiny stems and flowers, but those are called "capsules" and they contain the spores. Moss relies on wind to burst open the capsules and transport the spores to create new colonies.
What does all of that mean for you, the beginner gardeners, the fairy aficionados and the natural crafting crowd? Well, it means you have to give moss what it wants, and what it wants is often much different than a typical plant. When you want to collect moss for a project, there are two very important things to remember.
DO NOT DIG! SLICE OR SCRUNCH INSTEAD
There are two basic methods to collecting moss: slice or scrunch. When moss is very wet, slicing works best, but when dry, it can simply be scrunched off its rock or bark. To slice, simply take a trowel or hori-hori and horizontally detach the rhizoids near the soil, bark or rock. Attempt to keep the moss clump as intact as possible. Immediately transport the moss to a similar planting environment and water it in.
To scrunch the moss, use a gentle pressure with your fingers on the top of the moss, as if you were shampooing your hair. Many mosses will detach very easily and scrunching helps to keep the clumps intact. Again, move to a new environment quickly and water well.
TAKE A LITTLE, LEAVE A LOT
Though moss is often considered a weed and certainly not lacking in my woods, I still have a responsibility to leave the woodland environment with as little damage and loss as possible. Therefore, I collect from "weedy" locations first, like the lawn. I also try to go by a 10 percent rule for each variety of plant while collecting. If there are 100 clumps of cushion moss along the stream, I will take 10 or so. If there are only 10 clumps of fern moss, well, I only get 1. If you are collecting moss from an area that is about to be demolished or developed, feel free to collect all that is available.
TYPES OF MOSS
There are thousands of species of moss, but we will focus on a few common types crafters and gardeners love — especially those that are good for fairy gardens.
1. Rock-cap moss. These are tough mosses that grow directly on rocks. (See more about moss rocks on the next page.) Use them directly on rocks as accents in the fairy garden or use large moss rocks to anchor a scene.
2. Fern moss. This moss predictably looks like a carpet of ferns that spreads laterally over the surface of the soil. Fern moss makes a fabulous forest floor base for fairies, mimicking human scaled ferns on a woodland path.
3. Cushion moss. These adorable little clumps that look like fairy cushions are my favorite! Use these little puffs of moss in mini-gardens, as accents against flatter mosses and in groups to look like rolling hillsides of grass.
4. Spoon moss. Use this moss in "sheets" to cover soil, drape over fairy rooftops or to create a tiny "lawn."
5. Tree moss. This moss has little "trees" that grow out of a flatter base layer, making it perfect for creating a bit of height in a fairy garden. This type also absorbs quite a bit more than other types of moss, making it perfect for small containers that you are worried about overflowing.
6. Log moss. Contrary to tree moss, log moss does not look like trees. Rather, it grows on trees — particularly dead, rotting logs. It grows quickly (for moss), so if you find some, you can take more than what my 10 percent rule usually allows. It can be weedier than most moss, so craft away heartily!
HOW TO COLLECT AND MAINTAIN MOSS ROCKS
My favorite way to collect moss is to collect its full habitat. Mosses often grow on beautiful rocks or on bark, typically on the forest floor. Collecting rocks and bark with moss already growing is an easier way to get instant atmosphere in your fairy gardens as well as maintaining the environment where the moss is "happy." Most "moss failures" occur when moss is collected and then placed in an environment where it cannot thrive. Lack of water, lack of light and the change of host environment can really deal a deathly blow to moss. Whether you collect moss rocks for fairy gardens or simply as accents to your garden pots and paths, they are a charming addition.
Water source or gallon jug of water
NOTE: Some moss rocks have tiny little colonies just beginning while others have thick, thriving moss. Try a combination of the different types for a varied garden landscape or stick with one type for a striking planter! Also, remember to take small amounts of the current moss colony when collecting, leaving plenty of each variety in the woods to continue propagating naturally.
1. When you decide to hunt down moss rocks, it's a good idea to bring gloves along so that the rocks don't fall out of your hands and onto your feet! The rocks are very slippery! This is especially true if little ones are assisting to gather the moss rocks. You also want a large bucket for hauling your rocks with water to keep the moss moist. If you are not going to be gathering the moss rocks from a place near a natural water source like a stream or lake, bring along a gallon jug of water.
2. Look for moss rocks in a shallow creek bed, under little "coves" on creek banks and throughout cool woodland terrain. Look for very large colonies of moss on and nearby the rock, and only take a small portion (up to 10 percent) of that colony.
3. Once you find your moss rocks, lift up gently from the bottom without touching the moss on top. Place gently into your bucket and keep moist with a small amount of water. The rocks do not need to be submerged, but should stay moist to the touch.
4. After collecting moss rocks, give them a home that mimics their environment in a cool, shaded place. Moisture is a must, so a pot that is watered daily, a fountain that sprays its surroundings or even a man-made stream are all good options! Remember that if you are using an acrocarp, the moss must dry out once a week or so and cannot constantly be wet.
5. To maintain your rocks, check every other day or so that there is moisture getting to the moss. There is no need to feed the moss. If the moss starts to turn brown, that is a sign that it is getting too much sun and/or not enough moisture. Change the location or add additional moisture to green it up again!
MINIATURE FAIRY GARDENS
Moss suits itself perfectly as the base for fairy gardens. Fairy gardens are themed gardens that operate under the assumption that imaginary fairies have taken up residence. They can be made in a portion of a traditional outdoor garden or set up as tiny miniature gardens in a pot. The basic components are typically moss, twigs, branches and bark structures, moss rocks and tiny accessories.
Fairy gardens need not be complicated, time consuming or expensive. While you can spend hundreds of dollars collecting fairy garden "supplies," I think the most rewarding fairy gardens are often the tiny ones. Little hidden fairy hideouts are unexpected, inexpensive and easy enough for children to assemble.
Enough potting soil to mostly fill container
Collected moss specimens and moss rocks (see here)
Collected bits and baubles
1. Start with a simple container. It can be anything — natural cavities in a chunk of wood, a thrift store ceramic find or a recycling bin rescue. It can even be broken or chipped, though beware the tiny hands of children around sharp edges. The only requirement fairies dictate is that it must be cute.
2. Fill 3/4 of your container with potting soil and then add in complementary moss and/or moss rocks. Think of your moss and containers first and foremost as shapes. Are you connecting two pieces of a circle with a rounded bowl and cushion moss? Are you creating an arching bridge of moss over a bent bark log? How will the moss continue or complement the lines of your container?
3. Once you have arranged your moss so that it is pleasing to the eye, give the planter a good shower of water. I typically give new planters a few waterings in the sink or outdoors with a watering can, so that they can get a good dunking with water saturating the moss and the soil, eventually running out the bottom of the planter. If your container does not have a drainage hole, you can use a power drill or hammer and nails to create several small holes in the bottom for drainage. If that's not possible, you still want to give it a good soaking, but make sure there is no water sitting in the bottom of the container. Allow it to dry out before watering again.
4. The third and final component of these miniature gardens is perhaps the most fun — decorating! Collect various little bits and baubles from the woods, the junk drawer or the toy box to adorn the garden and attract fairies.
Acorn tops, twigs, bits of rope, shiny marbles or little charms are all a good place to start. Consider creating furniture sets out of twigs, housing out of chunks of bark and fairy home accessories from the dregs of your child's toy collection. Keep in mind that fairies love all things tiny and adorable! Refer to the provided photos for super easy and fun decorations.
Consider your fairy to be a bit like Mr. Elf on the Shelf. Fairies can be whimsical and ridiculous, cute and flirty or plain old petulant. It is fun to create environments for different fairy personalities. Why not create a fairy farm? Perhaps a tiny fairy tends a "farm" of dinosaur eggs! Weird? Yes. Fun? Yes! Consider the glamorous and Oz-loving fairies that might create an Emerald City. Complete with green glass bottles, painted glass and moss accents, a miniature Emerald City speaks to a more ambitious and beauty-seeking fairy, don't you think? Of course, there are the utilitarian fairies who prefer good old cement. Perhaps these fairies set up housekeeping in small cement planters all stacked in a row!
The opportunities and ideas are endless and this open-ended creative environment is perfect to allow children to exercise their imaginations! Whichever kind of fairy inhabits your garden, make sure the moss stays moist.
Once I have created these tiny hideouts, I like to place them where they are completely unexpected. A bright blue teapot with moss spilling off all sides finds a home just off the garden path while a ten-cent bowl filled high with cushion moss makes the perfect seat for a fairy finding room under a bench. Rather than broadcasting their location to the world, fairies like their privacy!
These mini-gardens are beautiful in the home, too. Of course, place them in partially hidden parts of a room to be mindful of the fairies' privacy. Your children will love the idea of inviting fairies into your home and trying to catch a glimpse of glitter or the whisper of their wings as they fly out of sight!
NOTE: You need not be limited in creativity or by cost when building fairy gardens! Here are a few ideas to kick-start your creativity using natural (free!) materials for fairy garden accessories.
Acorn Cap + Twig = Fairy Mushrooms or Trees
Double Acorn Cap + Marble = Fairy Sconce
Acorn Caps + Acorn Caps = Rain Chains or Rooftops
Maple Seed "Helicopters" = Fairy Wings
Two Large Branches + Tiny Sticks = Fairy Ladder
Jenga Pieces + String = Fairy Bridge
Wood Slices + Wood Pieces = Fairy Tables
THE FAIRY GARDEN HUB
If you have access to a woodland environment or creek, you can really go all out with a fairy "hub," so to speak. All those little fairy hideouts are for individual fairies or small families of fairies, but when the fairies get together, they can create quite a city! Moss rocks, large ladders (for those who have broken their wings), cobbled pathways of acorn caps — these are all signs that you have stumbled upon a fairy hub!
Suitable site (see note below)
Various types of moss
Hand trowel and garden fork
Old kitchen spoon, knife and fork (optional)
Various sizes of twigs
Acorn caps, seed pods and other woodland detritus
Old toys, game pieces and/or fairy garden furniture and accessories
NOTE: Fairy gardens can be created anywhere you please, but I think they look best in a woodland garden near a water source. Whether that is a creek, a small pool, a waterfall or a tiny trickle from a crack in a boulder, the sight and sound of water makes things a bit more magical. A water source will also make sure the moss in your garden does not dry out and die. It also makes your garden a bit more prone to flooding, so make sure you locate your garden on slightly higher ground near the water source. For my fairy garden hub, I chose a little island poking out of a small creek. You also want to consider foot traffic from both humans and animals. You want visitors to be able to see your garden without accidentally stepping on it!
1. After choosing a suitable location, assess the topographical qualities that are already available in the space. Is there a notch in a tree that looks like a fairy door? Is there a mound of virgin soil where moss could easily drape across and form hillocks? Are there rocks covered in moss that could be repositioned to make a garden wall? Use your imagination to see with "builders'" eyes.
2. Once you have taken stock of the area, decide what your basic layout will be. Will you have a central fairy house with various outbuildings, or will you make a small city with many small fairy huts? Will your garden extend up into a tree or stay on the ground? How will you use the water source? Use a twig to make a general outline in the soil of your rough city plan.
3. Once your outline is complete, you must consider the water source a bit more carefully. Are there already clues to how the water expands when it rains? Check for bare spots or collections of rocks with just one or two small plants. Check for trees with exposed roots on the creek banks. These are signs that those particular areas will flood when it rains. Alternatively, big patches of grass indicate that flooding does not happen very often.
4. Start building your garden literally from the ground up. Transplant the mosses you have collected onto bare patches of soil or create bare patches by using the trowel to clear the soil and a garden fork to gently rake it. If you do not have garden tools, a kitchen knife can cut moss to transplant, a kitchen spoon can scoop soil and a kitchen fork can rake the soil. Water in all moss thoroughly.
5. Once the basic "land" is laid out, it is time to consider fences and large structures. Fencing gives a more defined look to your fairy garden and can be created from a variety of materials. Little twigs or wood skewers make great posts and basic cotton string or hemp can be added to create crossbeams. Lash twigs together with string to make ladders and bridges, which make strong vertical and horizontal lines within the garden. If you'd like to make large "bark houses" or other significant structures, now is the time to site them. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Crafting With Nature by Amy Renea. Copyright © 2016 Amy Renea. Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
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