Dune mosses

October 12, 2017

I have a fascination with the southern end of Pouto Peninsula, due to the presence of remarkable forests in which the narrow-leaved maire (Nestegis montana) occurs in pure stands. On a recent trip to revisit these forests, I took a different path through the dunes with two friends, during which we walked through surprising natural moss ‘gardens’ situated right next to the foredunes.

The image below demonstrates how the dunes on the long walk towards Pouto Head’s lighthouse merge abruptly with the forests (mostly comprising kanuka) that clothe the hillsides (themselves giant, ancient dunes). At the point where pure sand meets the more consolidated ground of the hill, the ground plane shifts paradoxically to carpets of various mosses.

Amidst the mobile dunes, certain trees and shrubs that grow in the nearby forest must contend with the dynamic conditions that this environment imposes on plants. The Carmichaelia australis pictured below demonstrates how some species continue to actively grow when buried by shifting sands, in a similar manner to how the surrounding sand kanuka (Kunzea amathicola) makes its way through life.

The relationship of certain shrubs to these moss ‘gardens’ had an additional layer of interest for me, due to their similarity to some plantings in which we had imbued a related sensibility – in particular at the woodland garden (in Auckland) that is pictured below right. In that garden, Corokia cotoneaster emerges from a moss-like, native groundcover in a similar fashion to how compact shrubs (including C. cotoneaster) grow within the moss carpets on Pouto’s dunes.

In the case of this garden, we had not set out to replicate or imitate a natural scene. We were more concerned with establishing an aesthetic that instilled a calm character into the house’s entry, in a way that is essentially abstract. However, as I have noted on many occasions, natural environments have many faces to them – including those that we might consider to appear both abstract and artificial.