Author Archive

Garden Journal for February 2016

by Michael Alliger
Master Pruner

Welcome to the Osmosis garden journal!  We in the garden will be writing monthly installments relating our horticultural endeavors.  Attention will be given to pruning; grounds maintenance, such as weeding, sweeping, raking, and insect control; planting and transplanting.


Also to be discussed will be design considerations including the specific roles of plants and their relationship to each other as well as to other elements like stone and water.  This may naturally lead us to touch upon the philosophical notions informing the design.

February stirs the gardener’s soul! For it is at once both winter and spring. The leaden winter shows signs of life; crocus and muscari peek out along with snowdrop and daphne! Last year’s garden becomes this year’s garden. We still have cool temperatures and short days. The wintry rains (thank you!) continue to wash clean the pines and other conifers allowing them to glisten amongst the bare branches of deciduous trees. Yet the new buds of pines emerge. Over next few months these buds will grow into the long shoots known as candles. For now we simply watch with anticipation of what’s to come.

Around mid-month flowering trees begin to bloom. Plums are first, usually around St. Valentine’s Day, marking the end of winter pruning for them though there’s still time for cherries and crabapples as well as fruiting trees like apple, pear and persimmon that don’t bloom until March.

We know, too, that roots begin to move in February indicating the cusp of transplanting season. Emerging roots will soon bridge the gap between dug-up rootball and freshly prepared soil. Moving plants too early can result in a dormant plant sitting in cold wet unwelcoming soil. Moving too late might mean missing an opportunity to maximize a plant’s accepting it’s new home.

Grounds Care

As mentioned in January weeds abound with rain and in the Osmosis garden as with other Asian-inspired gardens we have expanses of gravel as well as paths that must be kept pristine. For control of emerging weeds we use a propane-powered torch rather than sprays. Hand pulling is out of the question for this minutiae.

Raised beds are turned and refurbished with fresh soil amendment. Mulching begun last fall continues. At Osmosis most of our fertilizing is done by keeping a healthy vibrant soil rich with worms and insect life. For this we use mulch that is nutrient balanced and rich in humus. Some specialty fertilizing (e.g. bog iris)is done as needed. Cutback of background overgrowth (e.g. willows) is completed. Irrigation supplies are inventoried and replenished in anticipation of summer use.

Please do enjoy this exciting transitional time in the garden.

Osmosis Garden Journal

japanese garden master pruner

by Michael Alliger
Master Pruner

Welcome to the Osmosis garden journal!  We in the garden will be writing monthly installments relating our horticultural endeavors.  Attention will be given to pruning; grounds maintenance, such as weeding, sweeping, raking, and insect control; planting and transplanting.

Also to be discussed will be design considerations including the specific roles of plants and their relationship to each other as well as to other elements like stone and water.  This may naturally lead us to touch upon the philosophical notions informing the design.


It is fitting to begin in January not only because it’s the opening of the calendar year but also it being deep winter the garden is relatively at rest.  The mention of seasons in Northern California often brings questions:  when is spring? Do we have autumn distinct from summer?  And when?  So let’s name the seasons as we see them by the months they include here in our area keeping in mind that those in other areas (even micro-climates) may experience them differently.

Winter: December through mid-March
Spring: mid-March through mid-June
Summer:  mid-June through mid-October
Autumn: mid-October through November

For our purposes the seasons are based on air and soil temperature; sunlight levels and  rainfall.  Knowing the seasons is important because they present us with opportunities and deadlines.  For instance, deciduous trees (those that annually lose all their leaves) begin doing so here roughly in November and December.  This provides us a window within which certain pruning approaches may be employed.  Though with the advent of new leaves around mid-March winter pruning ceases in order to allow the tree to benefit from the stored energy used to push out these leaves.  Opportunity and deadline.


Then let’s be on to January!

Pruning:

Cooler temperatures and  shorter days of weaker sunlight  bring a decrease in plant and insect activity.
This period allows us to do two types of pruning: structural (i.e. heavier) and winter silhouette (i.e. finer).

At Osmosis we have a Monterey cypress (like those on our Sonoma coast) with a design height of 15’.  It takes significant pruning to prevent it from “escaping” to it’s natural height of 60’.  This heavy structural pruning is relegated to winter since warmer season are conducive to insects which might attack the tree having been attracted by sap from large pruning wounds.  Relative plant dormancy also minimizes need for photosynthesis  allowing us to remove more than the usual percentage of branches and foliage.


Pruning for the winter silhouette is also part of this season’s work.  Here we are focused on deciduous trees such as Japanese maples, magnolias, flowering cherries and plums; refining winter’s leafless look into a thing of beauty.  This pruning is subtle and may go unnoticed by the casual observer though reaping long-term benefits in the coming months.  Maintenance of proper scale (height, width and density) is key in gardens influenced
by the Japanese style, as is Osmosis.  Winter silhouette pruning is the removal of relatively thicker branches as finer growth appears over the years.  This allows for a lighter, more natural look in spring and summer.  Less blocky.  As with most Japanese garden pruning the work is as much or more about future development as the present result.


Grounds maintenance:

Irrigation:  With drip irrigation turned off (ONLY IF CONSISTENT RAIN IS OCCURRING) some spot watering of areas under eaves or other protection may be required.  Hose-bibs and other exposed pipes should be wrapped to prevent freezing.



Weeding:  Rain brings weeds and so one of spring’s predominant chores begins in winter.

Raking/sweeping:  While practically a daily chore raking is lessened once deciduous trees (e.g. oaks, willows) have shed, at Osmosis we have large quantities of bamboo and a giant bay tree that drop leaves year round.

Repairs: As plant activity slackens time is allowed for small repairs of fences, gates, etc.

Tools:  Hand tools like hoes, rakes and shovels are given a thorough cleaning, sharpening and oiling.

Misc.:  Specific clump grasses are cut back.
Supplies (mulch, fertilizer, etc.) are inventoried and re-ordered.


Thank you!  And please enjoy this season’s gift of RAIN.

Loving Kindness Meditation

by Jack Kornfield

May I be filled with lovingkindness

“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.”
– Walt Whitman

This meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke a lovingkindness and friendliness toward oneself and others. With each recitation of the phrases, we are expressing an intention, planting the seeds of loving wishes over and over in our heart.

With a loving heart as the background, all that we attempt, all that we encounter will open and flow more easily. You can begin the practice of lovingkindness by meditating for fifteen or twenty minutes in a quiet place. Let yourself sit in a comfortable fashion. Let your body rest and be relaxed. Let your heart be soft. Let go of any plans or preoccupations.

Begin with yourself. Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed toward our own well-being. You being with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others.

May I be filled with lovingkindness.

May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

As you repeat these phrases, picture yourself as you are now, and hold that image in a heart of lovingkindness. Or perhaps you will find it easier to picture yourself as a young and beloved child. Adjust the words and images in any way you wish. Create the exact phrases that best open your heart of kindness. Repeat these phrases over and over again, letting the feelings permeate your body and mind. Practice this meditation for a number of weeks, until the sense of lovingkindness for yourself grows.

Be aware that this meditation may at times feel mechanical or awkward. It can also bring up feelings contrary to lovingkindness, feelings of irritation and anger. If this happens, it is especially important to be patient and kind toward yourself, allowing whatever arises to be received in a spirit of friendliness and kind affection. When you feel you have established some stronger sense of lovingkindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others. After focusing on yourself for five or ten minutes, choose a benefactor, someone in your life who has loved and truly cared for you. Picture this person and carefully recite the same phrases:

May you be filled with lovingkindness.

May you be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May you be well in body and mind.

May you be at ease and happy.

Let the image and feelings you have for your benefactor support the meditation. Whether the image or feelings are clear or not does not matter. In meditation they will be subject to change. Simply continue to plant the seeds of loving wishes, repeating the phrases gently no matter what arises.

Expressing gratitude to our benefactors is a natural form of love. In fact, some people find lovingkindness for themselves so hard, they begin their practice with a benefactor. This too is fine. The rule in lovingkindness practice is to follow the way that most easily opens your heart.

When lovingkindness for your benefactor has developed, you can gradually begin to include other people in your meditation. Picturing each beloved person, recite inwardly the same phrases, evoking a sense of lovingkindness for each person in turn.

After this you can include others: Spend some time wishing well to a wider circle of friends. Then gradually extend your meditation to picture and include community members, neighbors, people everywhere, animals, all beings, the whole earth.

Finally, include the difficult people in your life, even your enemies, wishing that they too may be filled with lovingkindness and peace. This will take practice. But as your heart opens, first to loved ones and friends, you will find that in the end you won’t want to close it anymore.

Lovingkindness can be practiced anywhere. You can use this meditation in traffic jams, in buses, and on airplanes. As you silently practice this meditation among people, you will come to feel a wonderful connection with them – the power of lovingkindness. It will calm your mind and keep you connected to your heart.