Anyone else growing moss species in pots?

terrestrial_man(9)March 25, 2006

Just am wondering if I am the only person who is trying to

grow different species of mosses in pots. So far I have a

species of Polytrichum and a couple of clump type mosses

of which I believe one is Leucobryon and the other a Diacrinum species?? I have several others that I have growing outside and they get sprayed several times a day as

I live in Central California and so this is not really

naturally moss (as in the Northern US forests) type weather.

Our local mosses are used to dying back during the summers.

I also have a tropical moss that I am trying in plastic trays and a wash bucket in my greenhouse.

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deep_woods(z5 central IL)

I am growing many different species of moss in pots and on ground. Easy to do. Moss identification is not so easy. Getting id to genus level is possible to do but to species level can be challenge.

Polytrichum (pole-lick-trick-um) genus. Species are commune, juniperinum and piliferum most common three species.

Leucobryum (loo-co-bree-um) genus. Most common species is glaucum.

Dicranum (die-cran-um) genus. Many species.

Go to USDA plant website for different pictures: and type in moss and search as common name to get a picture list of most of North American mosses.

For good info go to:
Go to

Download moss grower's handbook free:

Latin pronunciations above are from a friend of mine, a bryology professor.

In 1997 the Horticultural Society of America gave the book of the year award to George Schenk for his book: Moss Gardening. I strongly suggest you buy the book.

Questions? I will help as much as I can. I am amateur bryologist.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2006 at 1:38PM
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Hello Rick!
Thanks so much for the post.
I was starting to think that I was the only one in the pot!
Though actually I only know of one young man who I will be sending some moss to in Indianapolis who wants to grow moss.
Currently I am growing several species of moss in pots though most are growing with the plants that I had bought as a weed. I do have a large pot of Polytrichum. Also I think I have a species of Leucobryon and several other genera but I would have to dig up the names.
I had a course at Humboldt State taught by Dr. Norris on mosses. It was very interesting. Also I grow sphagnum.
I have a webjournal on my bog

Did you attend Southern Illinois? I noticed that they have
a course on bryophytes?

And do you have any extra moss that you can share or trade.

thanks for all the links too!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2006 at 4:02PM
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deep_woods(z5 central IL)

I graduated from Bradley U many years ago. After reading Schenks' book, Moss Gardening three years ago I realized that no attempt by him was made to explain moss identification. I emailed a bryologist who put me in touch with a retired professor from University of Illinois. This friend has been teaching me moss identification. He and a collaborator are completing moss keys for North American mosses, which is something like 1200 species. Nomenclature used in moss identification is breathtakingly Byzantine until you get the hang of it. Thank goodness moss gardening is much, much easier. My friend and his collaborator will have a web page with keys for moss identification up soon but understanding the nomenclature is absolutely necessary to proceed with id. Also hand lenses and access to microscope would be very helpful.

Again, identification to genus level is much easier. For instance you know that your moss is the genus sphagnum. Determining which specie(s) of sphagnum, and you may have more than one, is very, very difficult.

More importantly sphagnum is one of the most beautiful of all mosses. I think the USDA website will give you good pictures.

I have been giving moss growing programs for area garden clubs where I give away moss I have collected. I encourage people to collect what they can locally to understand what they have in the local habitat. I can trade. But I suspect you would be surprised at the moss you have not yet discovered locally.

Start with the sidewalk mosses. After I had been collecting many different kinds I told my friend Mac that I could't find the sidewalk mosses, Bryum caespiticium and Bryum argentium. Mac said I was probably stepping over them. So I cruised the back alleys and little used sidewalks, where salt is not used in the winter. Lo and behold in the alley behind the Public Aid office I found both Bryums.

B. caespiticium is short and dark green. Although it spreads well it is really composed of many, many upright growing mosses, which are designated acrocarpus or upright growing mosses. B. argentium has a silver cast to it because the leaves at the tip have no chlorophyll, thus the silver sheen. When argentium is swollen with water it has nice hint of blue green that I find breath taking. Argentium according to Schenk is one of the best bonsai mosses and it also is an acrocarpus. The mosses that are not acrocarpus and thus do not grow upright are called pleurocarpus or multi-branching.

When looking for them remember during a dry spell they don't stand out.

Want to find the exotic mosses in your area? Find a ravine with a good amount of shade, especially no sun from the south, and abundant moisture from runoff from the road or whaever drains to it.

Look around at the bricks or concrete or rubble and you will see moss growing on them. I took some naturalists last Spring through their park and I spotted a tennis shoe overgrown with moss. Moss will grow on many things given time and opportunity.

Both Schenk and the BBS book cover moss cultivation. It is different than the vascular plants but not difficult. Weak 1/4 strength acid fertilizer like Miracid is a good idea every two to three weeks during the Spring and Fall. However argentium is the exception. George Schenk said argentium was a nitrophile and to go easy on the nitrogen fertilizer with argentium he wasn't kidding. Even though I used 1/4 strength Muracid fert the argentium turned into a shag carpet.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2006 at 8:56PM
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joanmary_z10(z10 Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

terrestrial_man, your bog adventure made facinating reading. Nature certainly has its own life rhythum! I enjoyed your journal very much. Thanks for sharing.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 12:24AM
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Thanks joanmary!
Appreciate your response.
i like plants and I like writing.
So just a few months ago I decided on this web-journal
format to combine the two.
I have been writing for many years having self-published
a small zine on action figures, trading cards, and other
related topics. i called it Split/Image. I ran it for about
3 years until time and bucks were exhausted!
I had a website in which I tried to revive it but it was so
much work doing the programming and keeping everything updated it became WORK!! So I axed it! It is supposed to be fun! I did leave a story I wrote about life on mars if
you are interested in sci-fi.
Life Forms on Mars

I am currently working on two journals,
one on Jewel Orchids and one on mosses. Actually the word is not working on but rather creating!!!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2006 at 4:18PM
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I am going to start a moss garden in a small concrete pot. I was planning to harvest moss from my front yard, filling the pot with the native soil. Does this sound like a plan, or should I use commercial potting soil instead?


    Bookmark   April 22, 2006 at 7:52PM
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deep_woods(z5 central IL)


Moss in concrete pot sounds good. Do not use pottings soil in pot! Vascular plants in a pot need aerated soil (potting soil) while moss does not tolerate aerated soil unless it is well compacted. By aerated soil I mean it probably contains perlite or vermiculite. Much better to use soil from yard and make sure soil is well packed into pot. You don't need to cram the yard soil just compress/pack down. If concrete pot is new, then scrub mildly with 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 water. You should wear eye protection because vinegar is acetic acid.

You can use shorter pot or tray if you want because the moss only needs a very small amount of soil 1/4 to 3/8 inch thickness unless you are growing Polytrichum. Polytrichum looks like little pine trees 2 to 4 inches tall.

If using shorter pot or tray make sure the pot/tray has drainage hole(s). Moss doesn't like to be underwater or dripping wet for more than a few days.

That answers soil. What do you have for lighting and water?

Moss has three needs: soil, water and light


    Bookmark   April 22, 2006 at 11:08PM
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Hello Rick,
I am growing my Polytrichum in a mix of sand and vermiculite. Did I send you an image of it?

Also I found out what that aquatic moss was: a
Vesicularia species.

Also (don't mean to contradict you but) most of the mosses
I have are growing on top on in pots with commercial potting
soils! My favorite moss which I collected years ago in
Humboldt County (California) is growing on Osmunda root-I water or spray this along with the rest everyday. some do good some just survive. Will be trying to improve my culture this year. Also hope to put up a webjournal on the mosses I have in my collection.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2006 at 6:30AM
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I was inspired by the quite beautiful moss gardens, in low concrete planting boxes, I saw at the arboretum in San Francisco. The ones there were in full sun, and probably needed water every day. The small planter I have in mind is about 4 inches deep. I will keep it out on my shady terrace until the moss is established -- since I plan to harvest the moss from the lawn a couple feet away this should not be a big shock for the plants. Then I hope to take the entire planter to my office, which is windowless, but the planter could move to a windowsill over the weekends.

The other question revolves around the drainage hole. This pot has none, and I don't think I can drill one. I could put an inch of perlite at the bottom, to ensure good drainage...


    Bookmark   April 23, 2006 at 1:43PM
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That is great that you have moss growing in your front yard.
But that moss you saw in SF was probably what is called Irish or Scotch moss. Most mosses do not do well in full sun except for sphagnum.

However trying to grow yours sound interesting. Do you use a forced air heater in your home? If so are you familiar with the filters that are used to filter out coarse materials going into the heater? If you have access to one of these or a used one which you can wash out I would get one of these and cut it down to fit inside the bottom of your concrete pot. Then I would use either leaves or a mulch (any fine bark mulch that can be purchased) and put a layer on top of the filter. Then get some of the dirt from your front yard and lay a thin layer of it on top of the mulch and then cut out a layer of your moss (like cutting a piece of pie) and size it to fit your pot and lay it on top of the soil layer. Then using distilled water and a hand or pressure sprayer spray on a medium sized mist to cover all the moss and watch to see that it drains down. Then one more time with the misting. Place the potted moss in your shaded spot and watch it daily but maybe mist only every other day unless it looks dry. If you take your moss to your office you will need to keep it in the coolest spot possible as heat can exhaust moss and force them into dormancy.
Hope I covered all the basics. Cheers. Jerry

PS: here is a link to those San Francisco gardens
Visit the San Francisco Botanic Gardens-click here

    Bookmark   April 23, 2006 at 4:18PM
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deep_woods(z5 central IL)

Watering moss and container soils

The short answer for container soils for moss gardening is they should not be potting soils particularly if a tall pot. That is the 90 / 10 rule. 90% of the time that is correct. Why, because fast draining soils take the moisture away from the surface and if your purpose is to grow moss then most of your watering is being wasted. Also taller pots have a perched water table more conducive to vascular plants than bryophytes.

Watering moss frequently will overcome the fast draining potting soil if it is used. This frequency need not even be daily. But it must be balanced with the light needs of the moss and the the wind it is receiving and the wind tolerance of the moss. The 90% answer rule is usually a simple statement. The 10% answer rule could be a book. Understanding a little of the vagaries of moss gardening will let you re-examine your approach to moss gardening because you are approaching it from the vascular gardening world. Moss gardening is much simpler and easier but it is different.

Terrestrial man and I have webversed and I have read his posted info. He has good maybe great gardening skills. What he does works for him and would work for anyone. I am looking to maximize the growing of moss. Shallow containers with fertilizer and warm weather and regular misting or watering from above with some mosses can lead to doubling the moss in a month. Or the same approach with moss taken from arid areas like moss from above the tree line could kill it.

The two best gardening skills are attentiveness and frequency. Constant feedback and evaluation allows the gardener to quickly adapt and maximize. If you could pick your genes that would be even better, but we cant. I gave a talk on moss gardening Saturday morning to a garden club. I explained that my wife was the farmerÂs daughter and that anyone in the room who grew up on a farm would probably be a better gardener than me.

If your pot has multiple plants, for example if moss is the ground cover for say a fern, a vascular plant, then you are compromising and making the best of it when you use potting soil. Let me give two examples that illustratethe differences of using moss in containers:

Last year I took one of the aluminum wire mesh baskets that are used as waster paper receptacles and lined it with moss, Brachythecium salebrosum. I then added potting soil, water crystals, and placed in the bottom of the wire basket was a clay saucer in to act as water reservoir. The vascular plant was an ostrich fern. The wire mesh was aluminum. If it had been galvanized the zinc would have killed the moss unless painted.

No way was the moss going to like this environment! Because of the inward sloping profile of the basket, rain water either never gets there or runs quickly off . The round profile makes surface watering by me almost impossible. What terrestrial man has instinctively understood is that moss must be watered from above. Watering from below by immersing your pot in a tray of water does almost nothing for the moss on the surface which not having roots relies for 90% of its water from watering from above, also from natureÂs mists and dews on foggy mornings.

Last year for me was a hot dry summer, I couldnÂt water daily and the tapwater I have could be used for embalming, so that planter didnÂt make it. I having a fascination with failure am now challenged. I will line the mesh pot with hydro matting placing the moss between the hydro matting and the basket mesh, I will be using automatic well placed misters, and the water for the misters will be from a new water garden, hopefully built this month, that will be sourced from the runoffs of roof rainwater.

Now let me describe a wire mesh moss garden basket container that has no soil, was watered once a month if at all and did well for two years. The wire basket was one of those turban baskets, you know the profile is like a HersheyÂs chocolate kiss. I turned the basket upside down. Since the basket was galvanized I painted it black because zinc used as the galvanizing coating will kill moss. I then cut and stuffed upholstery foam in this upside down basket. I placed newspaper between the foam and wire basket. Last I crammed Brachythecium salebrosum, a carpeting moss that if grown in humid moist areas can be as thick as a bear rug. I misted with rainwater, placed the basket in a dense undergrowth in my garden below an overhang that would shed rainwater onto it. Two months later I used this basket as a prop for a talk on moss gardening. Basket looked incredible. Basket was also covered with a light bird netting in the spring. This year I needed to rework basket so I left bird netting off to see if birds would go after it during the nesting season. Two weeks went by as well as 80% of the moss.

I will post a few pictures when I get basket reworked this weekend but I am having second thoughts because of GW confiscatory policy.

Terrestrial man, congratulations on identifying the genus Vesicularia which I believe is called Java Moss. Here is the Alice in Wonderland problem of identifying to species level. There are 105, give or take, Vesicularia species. See Also no pics of Vesicularia in USDA plant gallery. Lots of pictures of some kind of Vesicularia/Java moss on aquarium web sites. Identification to the genus level is a challenge and anyone who can do that is to be congratulated. Identification to species level using scientific descriptions from bryology texts and microscope with no pictures of each species is another story.

I agree that full sun mosses are hard to find and the short answer is that mosses do not do well in full sun. The 10% answer is that yes there are mosses that do well in full sun. There are mosses in the desert. There are mosses above the tree line growing full sun. Mosses covered the earth before any tree or blade of grass ever existed and they grew everywhere. Here is a pic of genus Grimmia on full sun concrete in Nevada. Pic is in USDA picture gallery

Brendainva donÂt bother with perlite or drain hole. You need to mist indoor moss not water it. Can moss be grown indoors? Short answer is yes. Can it be grown under low light conditions? Yes. Moss from your front yard is getting much more light now than the moss that will be in your office. Will that work even if you give it once a week external light? Maybe. Explanation later on growing moss indoors.

Interesting note; I did hand out some moss at the Saturday program and people asked me if I had just collected the moss. I told them I had it on my enclosed back porch out of the sun for the last month. It was dry I told them because I hadnÂt bothered to water it and yes it would grow fine if the moss was watered that day. The moss was Brachythecium or Eurhynchium but I havenÂt tried to id.

Got to go,


    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 8:33AM
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I do indeed have access to a furnace filter, and will give it a try. I figure if the thing is a total failure there's no big loss, and it will be fun to try.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 11:54AM
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Hello Rick,
Thanks for all the interesting feedback.

On posting your images, I will not post images here because they keep them. However I came up with the webjournal format on a free website server (I am using
and with a basic knowledge of html (I learned from a free html course on the net) you can make up a journal and include images. Your knowledge and experiences would not only make interesting reading but be a source of invaluable info for people like myself who think that we are the odd man out when it comes to liking that little green scum on the pavement!!! (Hey I am into miniatures!!!)

So do!!! If you need any help in this direction let me know-I can try!


    Bookmark   April 24, 2006 at 3:19PM
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deep_woods(z5 central IL)

terrestrial man;

I will definitely take you up on the webserver. I can and will post some images on this site but some things must remain copyrighted. Got some good anecdotes from the one moss class I taught this past Saturday. Hopefully after tonights' Master Gardners meeting when I give a moss class I hope to find time to post images. I am going on a moss hunt with my expert buddy this Friday so hope to find some unusual species and have stories to tell.

Got to go.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 4:04PM
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Happy Hunting Rick.
Hey here is a site that tells you how to display images from off of the GardenWeb. All you need do is sign onto a free site such as or and download your images there. You should be able to do this without any knowledge of html just be sure to write down the address of the image. for example
here is the link:
Posting images

    Bookmark   April 25, 2006 at 10:15PM
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Thanks for your tips....I have become moss obsessed and have found very little info on the web for growing it in containers. I hope to eventually take it outside, but for now, I am focusing on growing it indoors in several types of containers including: under a cloche, in a hanging terrarium (with a hole in the front), in a jar, and in a small bowl with no covering. I have harvested moss in my area (Philadelphia), where it grows all over the rocks and in cracked pavement (almost no soil at all), and even on debris-filled pot holes.

From your previous conversations, I gather that taking some of the native soil/debri for the containers would be a good idea. Just as brendainva, I am growing in containers that have no drainage holes. I also gather that you would not suggest pebbles, clay balls, or charcoal at the bottom? These are suggestions I have heard from other sites.

As I mentioned, most of the moss here, which is short, bold green, and clumpy, grows on extremely nutrient poor areas such as rocks and walls. Which makes me think it might do well on some rocks/pebbles. Although I cannot tell you what species it is, what are your thoughts on this?

You said, "Shallow containers with fertilizer and warm weather and regular misting or watering from above with some mosses can lead to doubling the moss in a month." What type of fertilizer are you referring to?

Eventually I would like to add some ferns or other native plants to my moss terrariums. For now, however, I am focusing on the moss.

Thanks so much!! We need a MOSS FORUM QUICK! If you have any other sites or articles that you would recommend, pleeease send them my way.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2011 at 10:57PM
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Deep woods, Rick, has a website since this thread first appears several years ago.
Rick's site

For more info I do have several webjournals here:
terrestrial man's photobucket journals

Here is one that I am growing outside:

It came from the Piedmont of Georgia.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2011 at 2:27AM
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Thanks, terrestrial_man!

I checked out Rick's website, but there is not much info about soil (at least that applies to my situation - growing in containers). The only part that applied was the following:

"How can I transplant moss? If transplanting from
similar soil to similar soil then just pick up the moss.
If the moss clump is too fragile or if it has extensive
rhizomes like hair cap moss then use a spatula or
putty knife to get under the clump. Press the moss
clump firmly down on its new location. If transplanting
from an acidic soil it is critical the new soil is acidic.
Also the complement is true, alkaline soil to alkaline soil."

So, this makes me think that all there is to transplanting moss into a container is to take the native soil and put it in the pot. However, my gut is telling me that to really encourage growth, there must be other things you can do. Those details are what I am searching for. It appears that Rick's really valuable info is not on this website, but in his book, which you can only access if you purchase it. I'd really like to find a free source for some factual info on growing moss indoors and in containers/terrariums, which is why I joined the forum. Maybe it's just too small of a niche, not sure.

Beautiful Pic! What do you do in terms of soil for your mosses in containers? Do you grow most of your mosses like this, or outside? Any advice would be MUCH appreciated! Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 12:00AM
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I do not grow plants indoors except in a small fiberglass greenhouse. If you want to grow mosses indoors then you really need a cold room that will have temperatures that will range from the high 40s up to the high 70s and a means of providing excellent air circulation that is combined with a misting system that turns on when the humidity drops below 30% for the drier growing mosses and probably below 60% for the more rainforest types.
There are several approaches that you can use to do this.
Here is one done as a "Nano-Vivarium"

Here is the third page of a webjournal on Leucobryum that is growing entirely inside a plastic cake holder outside-see the first two pages at the link below the image

Growing mosses info

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 4:19AM
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lycopus(z5 NY)

kdzine, I agree completely with that paragraph that you quoted. Matching the soil or substrate requirements of the moss is a big key to success. I have multiple species of Polytrichum, Atrichum, and Leucobryum growing in terrariums and after much trial and error found the best success was had by getting as much of the substrate as possible. Some mosses and liverworts will grow happily on a commercial mix but my success rate has been around 90% when the native substrate was included. For Polytrichum species particularly it helps to get as much of the rhizoids as possible to avoid setting them back. My plants are growing in a lab so I have access to distilled water for watering and I think that helps too.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 2:40PM
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Thanks to both terrestrial and lycopus! Terrestrial, although I am positive you know more about moss than my beginner self, I think you may be working with a different type of moss than I. I live in the city, and this moss grows everywhere and survives four seasons of intense climate change. It does not receive constant warmth and humidity nor does it necessarily receive constant cool temps or excellent air quality/circulation (visit Philly and you will know what I mean - not exactly the cleanest, greenest city out there - not to dog on it cause i absolutely love it). Anyway, my point is that I'm not sure it needs a complex misting system or climate controlled room....but it is possible that this is what it would take to speed up growth. Unfortunately, I have a small apartment that just doesn't allow for this. So, for now, I will settle with the following soil setup:

For mosses harvested from soil: a layer of pebbles(maybe some charcoal), then a good deal of the native soil, then the moss itself (covered with a cloche and misted daily)

For mosses harvested from rock walls, sidewalks, and cracked pavement: I'm going to try to re-create this environment by simply using rocks (maybe a little soil). The rock wall I will harvest most of this moss from is falling apart, and I will take a few pieces of the crumbling rock for my terrarium.

What do you think? I'm sure this all takes some experimenting, as we are all working with different species, but if you notice anything in this plan that is absolutely a no-no, please feel free to call me out.....thanks! I will try to post a photo soon!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2011 at 11:34PM
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My experiences are that the least amount of substrate (the thinnest) the better the growth of mosses. This appears to be true for Polytrichum as well as for Bryum which I believe is the moss that you have found in the local sidewalks as that is its commonest habitat in the urban forest. For Bryum the mat system really works as I have tried to grow that even on its natural substrate but it just does not take for me until I tried the mat system.

Trying to grow some plant, any plant, in regards to its natural habitat in any unnatural situation does not allow the laws of nature to regulate the interactions that the plants are subjected to in nature. It may seem similar but it can never be. This truth I found out about in learning how to grow native Lycopodium species. You can only simulate the appearance of nature but the plant will know and will react accordingly. Here is Polytrichum growing on a substrate that is only about a quarter of an inch deep!

Why don't you try a test where you have the same moss but with one on a thick substrate and one on a thin substrate but all other conditions similar?

    Bookmark   March 24, 2011 at 2:43AM
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Great info! Thank you!

I will try the tests that you mentioned, and will also look to Rick's website for more details on the felt mat system. Pictures to come, hopefully!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 12:14AM
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