A 1.5 hour-long guided tour of the Osmosis Kyoto-style Meditation garden will be conducted by Osmosis founder Michael Stusser and tree pruning expert Michael Alliger. This garden makes extensive use of stone, water and deer resistant plants to express the tranquil feeling of a Japanese style design.
Visitors will be treated to an in-depth look at the underlying Zen themes built into the rock arrangements and pond layout, as well as information about the planting themes and plant materials. The garden has been built over a period of many years and was designed by the preeminent landscape designer, Robert Ketchell, of Britain.
Tour followed by Cedar Enzyme Footbaths, tea and snacks.
Admission: $25. Book a service for that day and get $20 off any service. Space is limited to 14, make your reservations in advance.
Summer’s here in Sonoma County California and the rains have stopped. This means it’s time to water. Since water is increasingly precious it’s important to use it to best effect. My pruning mentor Dennis Makishima enlivened in me the love of growing trees in containers and it was he who said, “Watering is an art”. Those words changed me forever, remaking what might have been a mindless routine into a conscious relational act bordering on spiritual. As I came to understand it watering is a complex, intriguing aspect of plant care.
Effective watering depends on a plant’s needs, soil composition, sun and wind exposure, and temperature. A recurring concern is how much water and how often. Over-watering is especially problematic since we generally don’t see the effects until it’s too late with no remedy short of re-potting. To avoid this dilemma we learn from bonsai artists to use soil mix that is virtually without organic matter consisting only of drainage material. Most bagged potting mixes have high levels of humus, compost, etc. which retain water in such varying and unknown quantities that accurate assessment of soil moisture is difficult. Using the high drainage formula allows excess water to drain immediately. While eliminating the fear of over-watering this mix also means we must guard against drying out. So a regular seasonal schedule of watering is required. To help gauge soil moisture an inexpensive hydrometer may be available at local hardware stores or nurseries. In the absence of a hydrometer, a quick check of water retention can be done by lifting the container (when possible) to judge weight. A light container likely means it’s time to water. A plant that has seriously dried out can be dunked in a bucket of water; holding the soil level below water will elicit bubbles as air spaces are filled with water. Remove the container and water runs out to proper level. Another aspect of humus-free mix is that fertilizing is up to us. Proper fertilizing is an art unto itself and too lengthy a discussion for the current effort. Stay tuned.
Hose-end hand watering is best with a gently showering nozzle. This implement avoids splash-out of soil while freshening foliage without damage.
Most considerations for watering containers are applicable to watering in-ground plants. While clearly we are not responsible for overall soil conditions in our garden (e.g. loamy, clayey, sandy) amending that soil is critical. Adding humus-y composted material is almost always a good idea. It adds nutrients, aerates, and paradoxically improves both drainage and water retention. Hand-watering (holding a hose in hand) is generally ineffective for getting water to the roots of all but the slightest of bedding plants. For trees and shrubs a simple inexpensive sprinkler does the job nicely, especially when combined with a calendar and a standard household timer. For most trees, it’s best to water infrequently and deeply: every 3 to 4 weeks; 45 minutes; shrubs 20-30 minutes. Native plants may require less water, but please remember that drought “tolerant” plants may actually do somewhat better with slightly more water. Careful experimentation is the key. Established trees and shrubs should be watered out to the drip line (foliage circumference) as this is where the feeder roots grow. Watering at the trunk is largely ineffective. Newly planted specimens should be watered so as to encourage roots to spread out.
Regarding drip irrigation, there are pros and cons with both containers and in-ground gardens. On the plus side, drip allows us to water without being present and it can be automated. It helps sustain life, especially with initial planting. On the other hand, while seemingly carefree drip irrigation requires regular attention. We must examine emitters for location and potential clogging due to soil and bugs. Tubing should be checked for leaks, disconnects and kinks. Also, dissemination of water is limited by emitters (narrow gravity-driven trajectory) and sprayers rarely get deep enough. In addition emitters are rated at gallons per hour and it’s unusual to see a system set for more than 15 to 20 minutes. This might be ok for bedding plants but has little effect on trees and shrubs. Just as we water the newly planted increasingly toward the drip line, drip emitters must be periodically moved outward to accommodate spreading roots.
For me the biggest drawback to drip is that it separates us from actually tending to and interacting with our plants in an essential way. Hand-watering, when done consciously, affords an opportunity to inspect our trees forinsects, disease and general well-being. We become familiar with a healthy look and are therefore more aware of changes that indicate stress or threat. Perhaps the most profound benefit is the intimacy it brings – a chance to say hello to each plant and to bask in the silence of its reply.
Here in west Sonoma County, California, 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, March is the turning point of the seasons. In the Osmosis garden, winter work is nearly finished with the anticipation of spring’s soft explosion at hand. Though the weather varies, the seasons are consistent. Winter is marked by the loss of leaves on deciduous trees indicating the relative inactivity or dormancy of all plant material. Among the first signs of spring are the flowers of plum, which precede leaf growth.
Window of Opportunity
The window of opportunity for winter pruning is in this dormant period indicated by bare branches. Insect activity is also reduced at this time, lessening the chance for infestation. Winter work falls into two categories: Structural Reduction & Correction and Refinement of the winter silhouette (look).We learn from Japanese gardens that within the garden walls trees are kept at human scale, not towering above, as is their wont. Therefore, a consistent effort to contain trees and shrubs throughout the year is ramped up in winter as dormancy allows for more aggressive pruning.
One such situation in the Osmosis garden is the presence of a planted Monterey Cypress. Left on its own it would dominate and outgrow the limited space it is afforded. Yet for nearly 20 years we have managed to keep it at approximately 15’ with a fairly natural appearance. Normally this tree would not be a good candidate for a garden but, it was a gift and we have taken it on as an experiment to see what might be the possibilities and limitations of this native plant.
We have a large Mayten tree (broadleaf evergreen) anchoring one corner of our tea garden.This fast-growing tree is necessarily reduced and thinned each winter. We also have two Douglas Firs (another native) which are maintained in our bath garden as large shrubs (!) at about 8’.
Osmosis has a limited number of Japanese Maples with each being planted at a primary location (path or pond) in the garden. Ranging in size from diminutive (18” x 36”) to person-sized (6’ x 5’) these trees must look excellent all through the year. This means winter pruning is required not only to set up a beautiful spring/summer look but also to treat the eye in winter to the intricate delicacy of bare branches.
Along with the evergreens previously mentioned Osmosis has a number of Pines that get close attention.We have three Red Pines and three Black Pines.Two of the red pines are structurally pruned in winter to maintain proper scale.All the pines are groomed of excessive needles both as a matter of appearance and to help limit spring growth by reducing photosynthesis.
Support plants such as Grasses and Tamamono (mound-shaped shrubs) are also seen to in winter.Grasses are cut to the ground in anticipation of spring’s regeneration while the sheared shrubs may get a thorough opening up with hand pruners to allow light and air to reach inner branches that back budding may occur. Back budding is the breaking out of new leaves on bare wood. The vitality of inner wood helps ensure fullness at the time of spring shearing.
Thinning of Bamboo is begun in fall and may continue into winter.Third-year culms (canes) will be dying back and are thus removed along with weak or excessively crowding culms.
Transplanting is also scheduled for winter again because of dormancy. This year we flip-flopped Hellebores with Red Buckwheat plants that found themselves in each other’s microclimates.We also removed a large and languishing Rosemary from our entryway and replace it with a grouping of three small Hinoki trees and an array of Manzanitas.
Advent of Spring
With the advent of spring, the gardener sharpens tools, restocks sunscreen and cinches up her belt in preparation for the marathon to come.The surge of the plant world is both inspiring and
daunting.With so much growth at once, the garden pruner must establish priorities.Decisions are based upon the degree of unruliness and visual prominence.
Though Japanese Maples are amongst the most meaningful plants in the Osmosis garden their gently soft spring growth is so welcome and complacent that pruning may be set aside for more pressing matters.
When the time comes, Maples are both thinned and reduced for proper scale and a natural look.The one caveat is that when maples are in full sun or receive a lot of afternoon sun care should be taken to not open large holes in the canopy as inner leaves and bark can burn if suddenly exposed to strong heat/light.
Importance of Hedges and Shrubs
One of the possibly more pressing matters mentioned above is the 30’ Green Dragon Hedge separating the meditation garden from its entry gate.The importance of this hedge cannot be overstated as it provides the hide-and-reveal effect so integral to Japanese gardens allowing for a gradual revelation as guests follow the path.Once grown out wild, this element becomes more of a distraction than subtle influence so it’s imperative to keep it in bounds.
At Osmosis, we use manual hedge shears rather than gas or electric powered.The cleaner, sharper result is well worth the extra time and effort in a garden where aesthetics encourage a peaceful meditative state.
Along these lines, the individual sheared shrubs(we use variously Berberis, Euonymus, SpiraeaandGermander) are sometimes overlooked in deference to the dramatic appearance of pines and maples yet their function in the garden is paramount as a grounding element and counterpoint to the focal trees.These smaller shrubs (Tamamono) must be tended with consistent care especially with spring’s first burst.
Perhaps flowering trees such as Camellias, Rhododendrons, Ribes and Magnolia present questions as to when to prune them.In all these cases, as with Plum, the flowers appear before the leaves.This means that a well-maintained plant won’t need pruning (except grooming and deadheading) until after the new vegetative (leafy) growth occurs and extends.Observation leads to pruning guidelines.
Lastly, in our discussion of spring pruning is the Japanese Black Pine.Whiles there are many approaches to pine pruning, here at Osmosis we
remove the candle growth in spring followed byselective thinning in fall and winter. Candle is the term for the initial spring shoot growing on pines. Candle growth generally signal the strength and will power of the tree as it tries to attain its genetic height (60’).This size being beyond “human scale” in the garden, forces us to meet the tree’s will with skill and an aesthetic will of our own. As they extend, candles initially look like tubes; when they stop extending needle open out from the tubes.It is at this time they are removed in favor of their replacements, which develop over the summer in greater numbers and lesser length.
We who garden are fortunate to be so attentive to the seasons as this draws us closer to the unseen world. Make sure you leave time to visit our gardens during your next visit to Osmosis. We also offer Horticultural Garden Tours throughout Spring and Summer for a more in depth look at the underlying Zen themes built into the rock arrangements and pond layout, as well as information about the planting themes and plant materials.