Many people spend a lot of their spare time fighting to remove moss from their garden lawns - but actually if you think about it, moss is a great alternative to a traditional lawn, especially for shady gardens.
In fact mosses tend to thrive in areas where traditional lawns suffer. They love compacted soil. As nonvascular plants they do not possess true roots and they get their nutrients and moisture from the air by capilliary movement. Mosses also seem to prefer poor quality soil with low nutrient levels - they really are wonderful plants.
Before you head straight off to buy some moss, one word of caution: mosses love acid soil, so this is one of the rare occasions when it is actually worth testing the acidity of your garden. A ph of 5.0 to 6.0 is ideal
Moss forms dense, low growing mats in the garden. I can see why they are so revered in Japanese gardening - and think it's time we caught on to their potential...
The best moss to use as a lawn alternative in shady areas is Fern Moss (Thuidium delicatulum). This moss will tolerate dappled sunlight and morning sun but not direct afternoon sunshine. For an instant effect, these moss plants are available by the square metre to be laid like turf.
Alternatively you can use smaller plants or plugs which will grow and knit together over time.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON MOSS
Join the Japanese Garden Society
Visit the Garden at The Bonsai Nusery in Cornwall which has a great moss garden (along with other fantastic traditional japanese elements)
Check out George Schenk's brilliant book on Moss Gardening
Moss Acres USA