The Moss Boss

Annie Martin’s new book furthers her botanical legacy. Photos by Megan Marascalco.
Annie Martin’s new book furthers her botanical legacy. Photos by Megan Marascalco.

Asheville native “Mossin’ Annie” Martin has been enchanted and inspired by the look, feel, and unique botanical characteristics of moss since she was a little girl. Today, her company, Mountain Moss Enterprises, offers landscape design as well as professionally cultivated moss ready for planting. She is a member of the American Bryological and Lichenological Society, the International Association of Bryologists, and the American Horticultural Society.

Martin’s “moss artistry” has been featured in The New York Times, and her gorgeously photographed book, The Magical World of Moss Gardening (Timber Press, 2015), is perhaps the most complete go-to resource for moss gardeners. Carolina Home + Garden caught up with Martin — widely regarded as one of the world’s preeminent moss gardening experts — in between her many moss growing, rescuing, and installation projects.

When did Annie Martin become Mossin’ Annie?
Well, I used to be Purple Annie. That’s because I’m purple-ized: I wear a lot of purple. Then Mossin’ Annie evolved since people saw me mossin’ all the time and started calling me that. I’m fine and dandy with it, because I’m a mosser.

You’re sharing the joy of mosses with the masses.
I’m passionate about the creative process of taking rescued moss and putting it down where it will provide joy for years to come. Sculpting the land with moss makes my heart stop and my spirit soar.

Your book is reader-friendly and entertaining, but also filled with deep academic and technical knowledge and terminology.
I’m a quasi-scientist, not the kind who writes it all down and keeps meticulous notes. A lot of this information lives in my head. But you can’t get around scientific terms. Common names for botanicals are downright confusing.

Communication using scientific terms [including Latin and Greek names] is valuable because it simplifies the understanding and lets you share information all around the world.

How did you learn all of that?
I am what you’d call self-taught, because mostly I had to learn about moss on my own by being a moss gardener and doing research. But I am very appreciative of time spent with people who are in the field of bryology and professors around the world who have answered questions for me.

What is your educational background?
I have a Master’s Degree in Media Production from Appalachian State. After college I worked for WLOS-TV, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Emory University, and Brevard College. Then I decided to pursue my passion and focus on doing what I love most, which is mossin.’

Now that you have your book, you could use your media experience to make it into a moss gardening movie. But moss is so passive it wouldn’t exactly be an action film, would it?
Of course it would be an action film, because mossin’ is an action verb. You can also use it as an adjective, as in “the results of mossin’ are totally moss-some.”

Is moss finicky?
No, it cooperates quite well! Most landscapers don’t attempt wintertime installations, for example, but during a snowstorm in 2014, I created a 2,500-square-foot terraced moss garden. The only challenge was getting my crew down the mountain, because everyone was snowed in. Moss has its own antifreeze, requires no fertilizer, is resistant to insects, and deer won’t eat it, either.

But it needs to be watered frequently, right?
Yes. Mosses hydrate quickly, though. You only water it about 90 seconds at a time — a couple of minutes at the most. I mean, it takes you more time to set up the hose than to run it. Beyond that, the moss has had all it wants to drink and you’re just wasting water.

Can you only grow moss gardens in relatively shady spots?
Some mosses thrive in shade. Others love direct sunlight and even live in the desert. I ask schoolchildren to name the harshest place imaginable, and lots of them say Antarctica. Then I tell them, well, guess what? Moss can even be found there. You just have to know your species, what I call “right place, right moss.” One reason I wrote my book was to provide that important information to people so they can be more successful moss gardeners.

You commercially cultivate moss, but you also rescue it from logging and construction sites …
Oh, yes! I’m a state-certified plant collector, and was up on top of two roofs just this week, gathering moss off asphalt shingles. Otherwise it would have been destroyed, and moss is highly beneficial. Certain species are especially valuable for resolving storm-water runoff and others for erosion control.

Who first inspired your passion for all things mossy?
Oscar, my pet chameleon. I figured moss was something he needed to make his terrarium more comfortable.

Where’d you find Oscar?
I got him downtown, at [the former Asheville] Woolworth’s [now the gallery/café Woolworth Walk]. He came with a little string around his neck like a leash. You could attach the other end to your clothes with a safety pin. I’d wear him to Newton Elementary School to show the other kids.

Autographed copies of The Magical World of Moss Gardening are available on the author’s website, www.mountainmoss.com.

See Annie Martin’s presentation at the Asheville Outdoor Living Expo, April 24 at 2 p.m.