Contemplating landscapes was a path to enlightenment, a break from constant mental chatter, a quiet escape from busy practical concerns. Just as today, cities crowded the mind, and garden spaces were tight. Using simple stones and tiny plants, the monks created in miniature the oases of wildness they craved. Their gardens were small, enclosed, simple, and serene. These moss-covered shrines embodied absolute minimalism, distilling natural essence into a shelter for the mind and the body.
Joe Zazzera and Pat Mahan are at the forefront of this lovely new trend in interior living designs. Joe and Pat are the long-time owners of Plant Solutions, a company that designs interior plantscapes in Arizona. Over 25 years of designing natural installations, they kept hearing clients ask for designs that did not require watering or maintenance, but still brought the sensation of nature into their interior spaces. They discovered that they could create dimensional art pieces that abstracted natural design, and complemented all kinds of interiors. They began incorporating moss and lichen, along with beautiful and sustainably hand-harvested pieces of driftwood and other natural elements, into custom vertical pieces. Their work is stunning, and all are unique.
These pieces are shrine-like spaces to be sensed as much as viewed. Tiny landscapes of lichen and moss rest alongside wood and stone, mimicking the natural beauty of the outdoors, and bringing it within. “We think of these as biomimicry art pieces, mimicking the outdoors we would rather be playing in, and connecting us to our human nature and innate love of living things,” says Joe. “Each one is a like a little miniature shrine at the edge of the wilderness between our offices and our primeval nature.”
In modern cities, where air pollution and artificial surfaces intrude upon us, mosses and lichens persist in the forgotten spaces between our daily frenzies — on roof tiles and between pavers, in sidewalk cracks, and along concrete walls. Lichens thrive in the leftover places of the world, too harsh for other creatures: frozen Arctic tundra, scorching dry deserts, rocky shorelines, poisoned slag heaps, and within solid rock. Lichens can voyage into space, become exposed to massive doses of ultraviolet and cosmic radiation, and return to Earth as happy as the day they left.
In times of famine, lichens and moss sustained traditional peoples all over the world. Today, we are hungry for connection – to the outdoors, to our inner peace, to each other. “I am obsessed with connecting people and nature,” says Zazzera, “Witnessing this is extremely fulfilling. The best job ever.”
When conditions are bad, mosses and lichens simply suspend animation, lying dormant until conditions are right. Then, they slowly reawaken, growing slowly but implacably to create new soil for new life. By growing together in cozy carpets an inch high, the humble mosses rely on each other to stay upright and moist. They fertilize and stabilize the soil, reduce flooding, and provide shade and shelter for insects and animals.
These unassuming organisms have much to share, and a moss wall is a surprisingly restorative teacher. How many other pieces of art remind us to live gracefully with change, strive for harmony with an infinite present? Mosses and lichens show up where they like, not where we put them. They are not attached to outcomes, but follow opportunity as it comes. Mosses quietly endure, harboring the spirit of wildness despite anything time or humanity throws at them.
Let your moss wall transport you to an ancient place of simplicity and seclusion, a world of mystery and possibility. This miniature landscape invites you. Forget your hurry. Slow down. Stroll along the woodland banks of your mind. Chartreuse and bright green delight cavorts in clumps and mats in the shade of a waterfall. Soft olive-grey hair tumbles from branches and boughs, while ancient crags and boulders sprout shaggy pale-green coats. The gentle rolling hills of this tiny ancient landscape melt away your busy concerns. Breathe deeply. This is your shrine, the edge of your wilderness. Be here now — wherever you are.