In Praise of Moss
One of the more benign consequences of perpetual rainfall, if you’re not living in a floodplain or on a disintegrating riverbank, is moss. When the rain stops, take a look at the vivid green material blanketing flagstones and roof-tiles, laying down velvety pads underfoot which make it feel as if you’re wearing cushioned trainers. The plant can’t get too much moisture: moss doesn’t have roots, but takes in water through its leaves.
One of the most memorable Japanese temple gardens is Saiho-ji in Kyoto, where 120 varieties of moss and lichen make up almost the entire range of vegetation (mature trees give shade and preserve the ground cover during drier weather). Moss coats the ground, blankets the bridges, wraps the tree roots and rocks all the way to the water’s edge. It wasn’t part of the 14th-century design, but grew uninvited during a period of neglect in the late 19th century.
Anna Garforth, a British street artist, works in moss. She got the idea from old gravestones. She plants her slogans (‘Supporting’, ‘Grow’) on brick walls in bold and cursive fonts.
Meanwhile, a group of Cambridge scientists has developed a moss-powered radio: no more tiresome winding a handle to obtain power, no more furtive journeys to deposit yet more batteries in the recycling bin; now every home can aspire to a windowsill covered with verdant boxes of moss, wired up in a Heath Robinson manner, to get their radio working. Photosynthesis delivers a strong signal.