Nurturing Osmosis’s Japanese Garden – Winter/Spring 2019

japanese garden master pruner

By Michael Alliger, Master Pruner

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.

Pine Trees

red pineAlong 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.

Bamboo

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

japanese maple

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

green dragon hedgeOne 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, Spiraea and Germanderare 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.

Flowering Trees

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.

pine

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.

Find your Garden Tour Here!

Ultimate Girlfriend Getaway – Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

If you’re like many of us, it can be difficult to break away from the daily grind and give yourself the attention you deserve. We are all familiar with what happens when life gets busy — we see our friends a little less, maybe drop that extra yoga class we love so much. Often one of the most intimate and enjoyable ways to reconnect with one’s self and good friends is through a relaxing spa day experience. This is where we come in.

Tea for two (and you and you)

Begin the morning with the girls by slipping into an authentic cotton Japanese robe, and settling into a private room overlooking the Japanese Tea Garden. Take some time to chat with your friends about setting intentions for the day. Hoping to reconnect with your bestie? Let her know! Enjoy some light conversation over a cup of tea crafted to work in tandem with your warming cedar enzyme bath.

girls_cedarbathFermenting with Friends

Why experience our warming cedar enzyme bath in good company? Because it is just that — an experience! As the only day spa in North America with such a service, our cedar enzyme bath is quite unique and many agree is best enjoyed in pairs or with friends. Enjoy yet another curated garden view from the cedar baths, and settle into the warmth around you. Because it is a heat treatment, this service lasts 20 minutes with cooling lavender towels and cold water refreshments periodically in between. Chat with friends or ease into the moment and take some time for you.

Organic Facials

After your cedar baths, enjoy an electrolyte drink and carry on with the transformative journey by heading to your organic facials. Getting a facial with friends often feels like the ultimate self-care and treat yourself experience. Why? A little less intimate than a massage, our organic facials, in tandem with the cedar enzyme bath leaves you feeling as if your body just got a bit of a makeover. Smooth and glowing, your skin (and friends) will thank you for arranging a full day of self-love at the spa, in the loving hands of Osmosis.

Sound Therapygirls relaxing in hammock garden at Osmosis Day Spa

After your services have completed and if the weather is fair, head to the Field of Hammocks with your flock for some Hemi-Sync® sound therapy. These unique recordings, based on research into how sound waves influence the mind, help optimize your brain’s activity and promote deep relaxation and creativity. A perfect reset for active minds!

Meditation Gardens

A favorite activity for many who find themselves at Osmosis for a spa day is the time spent in the meditation gardens. Walking the changing path, opening the gate and discovering the magic of the tranquility the gardens have is something special, especially with company. Enjoy a few moments of stillness on the meditation cushions overlooking the pond; notice the buzzing life abound.

One of the most wonderful parts about a spa day with the girls is that it is both beneficial to you as an individual as well as enjoyable with a small group. A spa day with others gives you a chance to reflect inward as well as a time to enjoy outwardly with the ones you love the most  –  choosing an environment that brings you closer will generate memories that can last a lifetime.

Mental-Emotional Benefits of Massage

massage at OsmosisMassage is often viewed as a luxury, a pampering or self-indulgent extravagance. Research shows that while massage is definitely a “feel good” experience, it has numerous mental and emotional benefits linked to neurotransmitters and hormones released through therapeutic touch. Yes, we all know massage can increase muscle flexibility, blood circulation and our joints’ range of motion. But massage can do more than that. Massage can reduce stress, elevate our mood, help with depression and anxiety, improve our sleep and increase our sociability.

Five Neurochemical Benefits of Massage, all Improving Your Mental-Emotional Well-Being

Seratonin and Dopamine

While anyone who has experienced massage knows that it is a relaxing experience, few understand the neurochemical changes produced by therapeutic touch, all of which can increase our feelings of emotional well-being. One study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage recipients measure a 28% averaged increase of serotonin and a 31% averaged increase in of dopamine in the bloodstream, following massage therapy.  Serotonin helps to regulate mood, appetite and digestion. Synthesized in the brain and intestines, it is theorized that low serotonin levels contribute to depression and anxiety. Its close relative, dopamine, is associated with the reward centers of the brain. Low dopamine levels are associated with lack of motivation, low energy and the inability to focus, all symptoms linked to depression. The increased levels of these neurotransmitters produced by massage can regulate, even elevate your mood, energy, motivation and mental focus, all improving your emotional state.

Endorphins

Research also shows an increase in endorphins resulting from massage, as much as 16% more found in volunteers tested after connective tissue massage. Endorphins are the neurotransmitters produced to relieve pain and improve mood. They are your body’s natural narcotic. In fact, the chemical structure of endorphins resembles that of opiate pain-relieving drugs that are derived from the poppy plant. Most people associate elevated endorphins with exercise, such as the “runner’s high,” but endorphins are also produced by laughter, dark chocolate (yes!) and of course, massage.

Oxytocin

Additionally, massage and other forms of touch, such as a hug or embrace, have been shown through numerous studies to increase the neurotransmitter and hormone of oxytocin. Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone.” It increases feelings of bonding and belonging, a sense of stability and trust, and enhances our sociability.  Research has shown that this hormone can relieve social anxiety, depression and stress, while increasing empathy, generosity, self-esteem, and optimism.

Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous System

While we see that massage can increase our “feel good” neurotransmitters and hormones, it also helps to reduce those that produce unpleasant experiences associated with the stress hormones. Understand that the autonomic nervous system has two divisions: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. The latter activates the “fight or flight” response. It can help you respond to a perceived threat and will accelerate the heart rate, contract muscles and increase the rate of your breath, readying your body for action. The parasympathetic, by contrast, is seen as the “rest and digest” mode, characterized by relaxed breathing.

Humans are complex beings. Our sympathetic nervous system isn’t just activated by life-threatening events, but also memories of past traumas or threats, and daily stressors, such as work demands, family dysfunctions or traffic congestion.  We can get thrown into, or even stuck in, flight-or-flight mode, resulting in feelings of stress, worry or overwhelm. Any time the sympathetic nervous system is activated, we see an increase in the hormones of adrenaline and norepinephrine, the hormones that enable the body to spring into action. This may have been helpful to our ancestors who perceived the threat of tiger hunting the village. But if your brain is constantly interpreting chronic financial or relationship distress, the physiological response will probably result in continual stress and anxiety.  

Massage can be an antidote to an overactive sympathetic nervous system.  It can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, thus reducing levels of adrenaline and norepinephrine, and helping the body to return to it “rest and digest” state.  

Cortisol

Stress produces another hormone called cortisol. If chronic stressors in life result in cortisol release over a long amount of time, immune system suppression, increased blood pressure and weight gain can be the results. Research again shows massage as a potential antidote.  A study in 2010 found that Swedish massage recipients had lower levels of cortisol and higher counts in white blood cells, after receiving massage.

Human contact, or the touch therapies, are clearly critical to maintaining mental-emotional wellness in our often pace-paced, stressful lives. Not only does massage provide the much-needed relaxation throughout the treatment process, but its neurochemical effects can enhance your mood, relationships, and engagement in life. Schedule a massage today to experience the profound healing massage can provide if you are feeling down, anxious, having difficulty sleeping, feel isolated or just stressed-out.

Osmosis Vital Health Club

As we move into 2019, and you set your goals for better health and self-care, massage can be a profound addition to your regime. Consider the many benefits already proven by neuroscientific medical research on the deep impact massage has on our body-mind connection and health. Sign up for our Vital Health Club membership to build massage into your ongoing health care regime.

Raizelah Bayen, Spa Services Manager Osmosis Day SpaRaizelah Bayen is the Spa Services Manager at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary. She has 25 years in the field of massage, 15 years as a massage and yoga instructor, and is additionally certified in acupressure, herbology and aromatherapy. Her teaching specialties include Eastern Massage Modalities and Acupressure, Body Mechanics for Bodyworkers, and Integrative Wellness workshops, weaving herbs, aromatherapy, self-massage and yoga into a cohesive themed workshop, such as the one above.  If you are interested in hosting a workshop, please contact Raizelah at raizelah@osmosis.com. For more information, connect with Raizelah Bayen on LinkedIn.

Did You Know Osmosis Was a Junkyard?

By Michael Stusser

It was 30 years ago, October 31, 1988, when I first walked onto the property in Freestone that has become Osmosis. I had been looking for over a year to find a place in west Sonoma County to relocate after operating the original prototype version of the enzyme bath out of a 400-square-foot building I built with wood recycled from a chicken coop. I had looked at many possible places to move, but they were all in commercial environments and just not suitable for the ambiance I knew was needed.

 

What It Looked Like

junk and mess

It was a beautiful fall day when I went over to meet my real estate agent Cary Fargo in Freestone. The building was cold and dark with very few windows, and a funky gas heater was mounted on the wall. The floor was covered with a red carpet that was thin, tacky and stained. Paint was chipping off everywhere, and a vibe of abandonment hung in the air. A flimsy bathroom had been tacked onto the back of the building. A half-way decent two-bedroom apartment was on the second floor, but we had to climb a rickety outdoor staircase to get there.

Junk Everywhere

Dozens of realtors’ cards were strewn about, evidencing that many had been to look but there had been no takers; the place had been on the market for a long time. Outside several dilapidated railway cars lined the side and back of the building. A large flat area that had been graded along the creek was strewn with dead cars and lots of junk. Apparently, the owner had died after consolidating his lifetime collection of railway equipment and antique cars on this, the last of many properties he had owned at one time. Walking through all of this was overwhelming and depressing. At first, it seemed impossible to envision anything beautiful or healing ever happening here.

painting of oz

Another Perspective

Then I walked to the back of the 5.5-acre property. As I climbed the hillside and gained the ridge, a whole 360-degree panorama of the Freestone Valley opened up. The view in every direction was stunning, the valley floor, farms, and redwood-lined ridges shimmering in the low-angle light of this magical fall day. It was very quiet, and the natural environment felt undisturbed and vibrant. Wandering down into the riparian thicket, I found my way into the bed of Salmon Creek. I felt enchanted by the quality of the air, the beauty of nature, and the good feeling arising in my being. It reminded me of the many sacred spots in the northern California terra that had captivated my soul again and again. I felt I had arrived at a long-sought-after destination, peaceful, calm, and invited.

 

building fieldThe Trees Spoke

It was as if the land and the trees were calling to me— “stay, breath in this place—heal your soul.” An unmistakable component of the message was – “How wonderful it would be to bring people here?” It became clear to me that whatever it would take to clean up the mess up in front and make that building into a spa would be worth it, because at some point, I would be able to get people to come into this magical riparian realm and share with them the vital spirit of nature I was feeling.

The Treetment – What if Your Next Spa Treatment Could Save the Planet?

CLICK HERE to TAKE ACTION https://greenspanetwork.org/gsnplants…

The video is designed to support the Green Spa Network with their Tree Planting Initiative, a campaign to create action and awareness in the spa and wellness industry around reforestation. Green Spa Network founder and activist, Michael Stusser alongside United Nations award-winning rapper/filmmaker, Aaron Ableman, have collaborated on an urgent “call to action” film, “The Treetment”, about the role everyday people can play in reversing climate change.

“We chose to partner with Aaron because he understands that we need to use music, humor, and art to mainstream this movement. For the last 12 years, he has been working to create motivating music, books, and videos for school-age children about the healing power of nature and how to reconnect by simple actions like planting trees. His talent, passion, and energy is irresistible,” said Stusser.

The musical comedy short film brings forward GSN’s invitation to the spa community and beyond to heal the broken connection between human beings and the earth. The story tells the tale of a stressed-out CEO who is urged to visit a healing spa, where he is transformed in a cedar enzyme bath experience featuring renowned Native-American activist, Lyla June. This awakening to personal healing for planetary action mirrors what GSN’s Tree Planting Initiative hopes to inspire in thousands of others. Can we reverse climate change by engaging in a global effort to restore our verdant planet? It has been scientifically validated and demonstrated with many projects that restoration of our planet’s health is entirely possible through regenerative forestry.

 

Regenerative tree planting addresses numerous issues to help make climate action easy for everyone. The following short video from our partner WeForest lays the groundwork for our initiative: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qhYo… “Healthy and growing forests remain the best technology for removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.” https://www.weforest.org/ Green Spa Network’s Tree Planting Initiative is premised on the critical and urgent need to regenerate the earth using trees’ natural abilities to reverse climate change. GSN is raising funds for the WeForest organization because of the science-based methodology used to support the ground operations, planting, and the survival of the trees. WeForest’s mission is to leverage business and scientific partnerships and empower communities to sustainably advance and implement innovative, high-standard, scalable, and lasting solutions to restore forest landscapes. Tree planting donations can be made at the GSN Tree Planting Initiative website: GreenSpaNetwork.org/GSNPlantsTrees. GSN is also using the hashtag #GSNPlantsTrees to follow the industry’s progress and stories.

About Green Spa Network

GSN is a nonprofit trade association serving the spa industry in support of action for a regenerative post-carbon era. Their mission is to promote the vital connections between personal wellbeing, economic sustainability and the health of our planet. Through networking, education, and best practices developed with a membership of the nation’s most innovative green spas, GSN is a resource for vital people building a vital planet. https://greenspanetwork.org/

Media Contact: Joanna Roche Executive Director joanna@greenspanetwork.org

The video was sponsored by and shot at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, California. https://www.osmosis.com/