MOSS and THE SPIRIT (and Remarkable Norie Burnet)

A passion for plants and gardening grabbed a youthful, vibrant Norie Burnet 80 years ago and never let go. “I feel so close to God and a host of spiritual beings when I work in the garden,” says Norie. “Somehow it quickens my spirit and reassures my soul. I can work for hours and not tire.”

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The result is a nearly acre-sized garden Norie created in Richmond, Virginia, so loved by visitors that its Circle Garden has been called “A Cathedral in the Woods” by a friend and “a magical spot” by a number of others.

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Appropriately named “Eden Woods” the garden is visited regularly by dozens of plant enthusiasts. There they encounter an astonishing green world that touches an almost spiritual depth rarely experienced when visiting a private residential garden.

Norie herself describes the garden as a meditative place. “I feel a holy sense of awe each day,” she says, as she tends as she tends native plants, shrubs, hollies, ferns,and azaleas along with large patches and paths of cushy moss that weave among the garden’s colorful shade plants.

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Moss Has Made Her Famous

Interestingly, it’s moss–a plant typically cast as a villain—more often poisoned or yanked out than revered—that has made Norie Burnet and her garden famous.

No longer relegated only to damp forests, moss curves through Norie’s wooded garden like a green velvet ribbon linking floral circles, small patios, a stone terrace, benches, a vine covered trellis and an inviting gazebo.

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A Prophetic Suggestion

When explaining how she became a moss gardener, Norie says, “I had the mindset that moss belongs in the woods, not your garden. I spent years trying to get rid of it, but one day, one of my sons said, ‘Moss is so pretty, Mom. Why don’t you just let it be?’

And then never dreaming how prophetic his words were, he added slyly, “Maybe the moss will make you famous.”

Taking a New Look at Moss

“I didn’t really cotton to that idea, “ Norie adds, “but I started taking a new look at the moss and cultivating it slowly in certain areas. I found that it was really returning a lot of beauty to me, and the rest is history—it just went off from there.”

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From Garden Clubs to The Smithsonian

Much in demand as a public speaker, Norie loves to share the secrets of her susperstar plant. Initially a local garden club regular, Norie has been honored over the years with horticultural awards while her garden has been featured in numerous national magazines and newspapers and on the internet and HGTV’s A Gardener’s Diary.

Her garden has also been documented in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens.

An Artist and Visionary

An artist and visionary gardener, Norie has brought all this into being by first “seeing the area” she was trying to create. “I had been working on it steadily since I retired from teaching and one day I saw that the area was no longer separate little garden spots. It had all come together.”

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“Initially there was really no garden to work with,” Norie says. “Only a benign jungle. I took it one step at a time. That’s the best way to do everything: Don’t focus on the enormity of what you want to do, just focus on making one area at a time beautiful and it will eventually become what you visualize.”

Let Things Happen

Instead of forcing grass to grow when the setting was not right, for example, Norie relaxed and let things take care of themselves, an attitude that characterizes man of the women who’s stories are told in this blog.

Once Norie was no longer trying to control the garden according to her image of what was right, “it became a Garden of Eden. Visitors compare it to walking into a terrarium—calling it lush, green, and also so inviting and peaceful.”

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Free from Debris

She explains, too, that like life, the best way to keep moss looking good is to keep it free of debris. A leaf blower is the ideal tool for getting rid of sticks, dead leaves or trash.

Norie still maintains Eden Woods and her four acres of property mostly by herself. Smiling, she adds, “The garden has kept me young.” Did I mention that she’s 84?