Perhaps the most thrilling part of our recent installation of Patrick Lannan’s interior plants and a vertical garden at Oculus VR is that I was also commissioned to create two moss wall panels for their work studio. I’d worked on these panels a couple of times in the past, but these were the largest I have worked on in terms of square footage. It was quite a project, I must say!
Conceptually, it’s a simple process. In execution, it’s also relatively straightforward, but exceptionally time-consuming and a bit tedious. Very worth the effort, though, and it’s thrilling as all get-out to know you’re gluing in the final clump of moss.
First off is to build the frame: plywood backing with 1×4 lumber framing. I chose premium pine for the framing instead of a higher grade wood, because these are going to be fitted with additional steel frames later and the wood frames we built will appear more like matte board on a photo frame. We cut in the framing with mitered corners, and attached it with finishing nails. The inside surface we painted in a lime green that’s close enough to the moss color, and all the rest (frame and back) are painted matte black.
Reindeer moss is an interesting critter. It’s commonly used in crafts and floristry, and is often sold in garden centers as a topper for potted houseplants. Botanically, it’s Cladonia rangiferina – it’s not actually a moss, but rather is a lichen. It grows on forest floors, near the edges of the forest in bright light. The bulk of retail production comes from Norway, where it’s the primary forage for reindeer (thus it’s name). It has to be farmed and harvested carefully, so as not to starve the animals. Interestingly enough, the packages come with clear evidence that it’s grown on a forest floor: there are twigs and pine cones and pine needles galore embedded in the lichen, and much of that has to be picked out before gluing.
The moss is dyed in a dozen colors, and is also treated with a saline solution to keep it spongy, and flame retardants for reasons unknown to me. You can get the stuff online or in retail stores (I used the brand SuperMoss.com, and have the good fortune of being able to get it in bulk at the San Francisco Flower Mart at wholesale pricing). The biggest bummer of it is that you basically only use about a third to a half of each box after trimming out the root-ends of the lichen and removing twigs and cones.
Basically, you’re looking for “the good stuff” within a box. It’s kinda like getting just the florets when you cook broccoli, instead of the whole stalk. You want to trim off the bottom end of a clump until you’ve got about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of lichen left. Then, it’s a simple matter of coating the cut end in a swirl of hot glue and sticking it in place in your frame. When you’ve got a 9-square-foot frame and a 20-square-foot frame, that means you’ll be doing this til you go blind with exhaustion. The 29 total square feet took me about 20 hours total of hot gluing.
Side notes: hot glue is hot. I’ve got 11 significant blisters to prove it. Also, in hindsight, I should have been wearing latex (or nitrile) gloves and a mask. Mask because the moss starts smoking when the hot glue hits it, and I’m sure the flame retardants and dyes aren’t great to inhale once vaporized. Gloves because your fingers will turn whatever color moss you’re working with, and the dye is still there after three days. Patrick said it looked like I’d been fingering Kermit.
That’s really the gist of it. The smaller 3×3 panel is hung in the bathroom and mounted on drywall. We mounted these with flush-mount hangers (they function similar to a hook-and-eye like you’d have instead of a snap on your slacks), and those are attached to the wall using drywall anchors. The larger 4×5 panel is hanging on brick in the kitchen. To hang that, the property manager had some 2×6’s bolted to the walls using concrete anchors. We simply screwed through the panels into the 2×6’s.
The end result is exquisite! A soft green field of lichen. Care is simple: since the plants are no longer alive, it’s really just about keeping it soft and spongy. If the lichen dries you can’t even tell the difference visually, but it becomes brittle. So, a simple misting with a spray-bottle every week or two will help keep it from drying out, and keep dust from settling into it.
To see the whole photo series, check out the Flickr set here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zanncannongoff/sets/72157651164096107/