Osmosis represented at International Japanese Garden Conference

garden bird

by Michael Stusser

Over 150 delegates from around the world gathered the National Japanese Garden Association Conference at the Morikami Gardens in West Palm Beach Florida March 7th and 8th. Leading experts from Japan and Europe along with US counterparts provided two days of inspiring content at the home of one of the most celebrated Japanese Gardens in the United States.

The conference theme was: Towards a Healthier World – Japanese Gardens As Places For Wellness and Transformation.  The healing effects of this beloved landscape garden art form was presented from many perspectives ranging from public settings, studies of gardens built in the WWII Japanese internment camps, therapeutic settings and Zen Buddhist temples. In several fascinating presentations researchers presented their findings of scientific data on the effects of Japanese gardens on Alzheimer patients, hospice patience and community members with various handicaps. It was a profound confirmation of this fine tradition.

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The Osmosis garden fit right into this program.

Meditation garden designer Robert Ketchell came from England to join Osmosis founder Michael Stusser and pruning expert Michael Alliger to present the story of the spa’s unique meditation garden, how it cultivates awareness, tells a story beyond words, and nurtures a mood of repose. 

The 90-minute Osmosis session highlighted the founding intentions and collegial collaboration that seeded the success of the project. From the perspective of pruning it was shown how: anticipation and patience play out over time in ways that remind us of humility available to us in everyday life; the use of native plants reinforces a sense of place and human context in nature; the equanimity of empty space is shaped by pruning and design. The intimacy of detailed pruning techniques leads to a recognition of the unseen world of spirit.

The designer explained his use of narrative to engage garden viewers with his use of the Ox-herding parable from Zen as a way to guide on the journey to liberation. It was shown how spa programs use the garden for ritual; meditation, classes, and relaxation serve the deeper purpose of Osmosis  to synergize the renaissance in the healing arts taking place in our culture along with the distinct healing properties that have been identified in horticultural therapy. These elements along with the quest for awakening seeded by the arrival of Buddhism in America reflected in the Zen parable make for a potent combination.

The Ox herding story is cast in stone in the landscape garden. This parable is both the physical and physic heart of Osmosis. We cannot avoid being reminded of it each time we visit the garden. Every day the alchemy of this ancient tale works its magic on the hearts and souls of guests and workers alike.

Osmosis presence at this prestigious international gathering allowed us to join into the growing association among builders and curators of Japanese gardens who are focused on the healing aspects of this treasured art form.

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Left to right: Robert Ketchell, Michael Alliger, Michael Stusser and Martin Mosko

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.

A Tour of Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

A meditative journey through Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary with music and ambient sound. Lyrically photographed and magical. Take a look inside this beloved getaway destination in West Sonoma County. Includes cedar enzyme bath, meditation gardens and tea ceremony. Nestled in the most magical part of northern California, this spa is a favorite destination in Sonoma wine country.