The season of blue skies and abundance of green is slowly drawing to a close. Walls, made of stones cleared from uplands to allow grass to grow, deter flocks of sheep and the occasional goat from straying off the upland slopes onto roads and farmland. Moss clings to the chunky stone walls inviting touch. Slightly damp from morning dew, it softly invites you even to stroke it.

Britain is famed for its gardens but, as far as I know, there are no moss ones. Instead the lawn reigns supreme, to the sound of mowing machines on the long summer evenings. I was fascinated by the moss gardens I walked through when on a lecture tour in Japan. Kyoto is famed for its gardens and the moss ones along the ‘philosophical walk’  are the most seductive. Moss is nature’s green velvet inviting caresses. Try stroking it back and forth. You find it has its own pile with light and dark sides. Like the background wash on an artist’s canvas, it is blank, featureless, unless on an interesting surface of a wall, or covering the ground where carefully chosen bushes or trees have been planted. Perhaps they appear first and later the moss carpets the ground that has been smoothed to welcome it.  It delights the eye and invites touch like the coat of a cat. I even found these gardens strangely uncanny, as if they were the sleek part of a creature half-buried and forever changing shape. Strategically planted dwarf maple trees, not bushes, scattered their leaves over what seemed like a closely cut lawn without trace of a mower that could hardly cut it so close to the ground.

Those moss lawns were almost as impenetrable as the looks of the Japanese couples and families that passed me on the Philosophers’ Walk. When I paused to ask a young pair the way to the Philosophers’ Walk, they pointed, answered briefly in Japanese, and walked on. I passed them on the way back and smiled. They looked straight through me. Apparently, I learned later, this was the custom, not rudeness. When one asked someone for directions, that does not mean that one knows them enough to greet them or even smile when one happens to see them again. One has to be formally introduced. 
So last weekend out on the Yorkshire moors, it was a singularly agreeable sensation to stop by a moss-covered stone wall to stroke, even fondle the weathered stones, to greet other walkers and wonder why moss gardens cannot be created here by the so-called ‘nation of gardeners’.

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