by Michael Alliger
Astrologers say that August is the gateway to autumn and here in Sonoma County that seems to be so true as we see the light become more golden, trees turning color and we sense the occasional cool lilt to a breeze. Changing seasons always brings pause to the garden and the gardener. Autumn is especially a time for reflection; spiritually, soulfully, and in the garden. Looking back we may ask: what have we accomplished? Which of our plans have reached fruition? Which are still developing? And our reflection may lead us forward. What will we be focusing on this winter, time of dormancy, by way of preparation for spring?
Yet autumnal weather also offers us some opportunities for pruning and general garden care. Here in Northern California while the season becomes milder we know that there is a likely possibility for high temperatures still to come. This is an excellent time to replenish garden mulch with a nutrient rich compost or humus-y blend. This will help retain precious moisture as we enter the driest period of the year. Here at Osmosis we prefer composted material rather than mere bark for mulching because plants get the added benefit of natural fertilizing as the winter rains leach nutrients into the soil. Along similar lines it’s important that drip irrigation remain functional and on even as expectations of rain increase.
Hinoki Tree – Unpruned and Pruned
It may go without saying that the falling autumn leaves demand regular raking and sweeping. Not only the paths and beds are swept, but the plants themselves which collect fallen leaves must be groomed daily. The large bay trees along Salmon Creek bordering our garden seem to be among the first to drop, though being evergreen their color show is limited to a cinnamon brown. It is interesting to note that nearby redwood trees are also losing leaves at this time. Even evergreen trees lose leaves in autumn; though with conifers and other evergreens it is subtler than with deciduous trees and may even bring alarm at first sight. At Osmosis we have a number of hinoki trees (a species of Chamaecyparis) whose inner leaves turn brown though they tend to persist until brushed off, another seasonal chore.
Hinoki Tree – Unpruned & Pruned
With regards to pruning this is an excellent time to attend to some of the projects that the busy spring and summer postpone. Many of our conifers (junipers, spruce, cedar) are tended to now. In the event of a spike in heat they are generally tough enough to bear it without signs of stress while their slow-growing nature allows them to be pruned just once a year. We also find time to address some of the background material: a large domed English laurel, California myrtle hedges, and sheared yews, for example.
“At Osmosis we employ the Japanese garden approach to these shrubs wherein we value the older wood for its character and clear some of the young upstart shoots. “
A number of other semi-focal or auxiliary plants receive attention now. Nandinas may be thinned and shaped. The European or western approach might be to cut away the old growth in an effort to “renovate” the plant. A beautiful and delicate plant is the Pieris japonica which is actually related to manzanita and rhododendron. Like it’s two relatives pieris sets its spring flowers in summer/fall.
Conflicting with these developing flowers are last springs spent flower parts and this is a perfect opportunity to clean these off though it takes a careful eye to distinguish the two at first. Late summer/fall is an excellent time for cutback, thinning and styling of magnolia trees. Magnolias represent another instance of a plant setting flower buds in fall for spring show. Magnolias are amongst the first of the spring blooms and here in Northern California they’ll actually be opening in January and February. This limits the notion of winter pruning since we try to interfere with flowering as little as possible while making the tree’s overall appearance exemplary. Pruning in late summer allows enough time for the tree to establish flower buds to replace any lost through shaping.
Fall is the recommended time for thinning bamboo. Thinning bamboo is important because it allows the coming spring’s energy to go into making sturdier more demonstrative culms (shoots). Thinning also reduces the plant’s urge to spread as it has more internal space with less crowding. Fall is also a good time to apply slow release organic fertilizer to bamboo thus encouraging the best new growth in spring.
While there are specific tasks for fall the brief pause can be welcomed with an out-breath of gratitude for all that has gone before and the deep rest that garden life will receive during the coming winter.
by Michael Stusser
Beyond our daily routines and to-do lists the world goes on with or with out us. The world of nature is generating its serene healing energy abundantly all the time if we could simply open ourselves to receive it. When, where and how we make our connection to this larger-than-human world is part grace, part circumstance and partly up to us. As we drive back and forth continuously in our cars and in our minds between the same points daily, our connection with nature and ourselves can unconsciously erode to the point where we hardly know much at all about our true selves.
The Big Question
What could one do in the time span of a day to go deep into a direct experience with nature and inner truth? We have been turning this question for over 30 years as we have developed our facilities, grounds and the way we serve at Osmosis.
From day one a core intention has been to create a meditative environment. The deep level of relaxation from spa treatments opens the door to greater sensory awareness, quietude and receptivity to present moment.
What is Forest Bathing?
Forest Bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a relatively new movement that is growing rapidly in Japan and around the world. The lead proponent in the United States is Amos Clifford, founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. He has provided training to establish programs at several different spas. The spa environment could be an especially effective gateway to an optimal forest bathing experience.
Amos has worked as a wilderness guide since 1972, pioneered eco-therapy programs connecting troubled teens to nature, worked in the arena of Restorative Justice and is the founder of Sky Creek Dharma (Zen) Center in Chico.
“Shinrin-yoku” is a term that means, “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.
The idea is simple: if a person simply visits a natural area and walks in a relaxed way there are calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits to be achieved.
We have always known this intuitively. But in the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that are demonstrating the mechanisms behind the healing effects of simply being in wild and natural areas. By breathing in the essential oils produced by trees (known as phytoncides), forest bathers can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and restlessness. These organic compounds support our “NK” (natural killer) cells that are part of our immune system.
Forest therapy approaches such as Shinrin-yoku have roots in many cultures throughout history. John Muir wrote, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home. Wilderness is a necessity.” He is one of many people who can be included when we think about the origins of the practice.
Forest Therapy combines leisurely walks on gentle paths under forest canopy with guided activities and meditations to help you open your senses, hone your intuition, and experience the forest, as you never have before. It draws upon mindfulness meditation practices, and the techniques of deep nature connection mentoring. The Way of Council for group discussions is also used at several points along the walk, to help participants learn from and teach each other.
Evolution for Expanded Awareness
Blending spa treatments with elements such as mindfulness practice and focused nature experiences such as Forest Bath present an exciting evolution for expanded awareness. As pioneers in the wellness and vitality movement, we at Osmosis look forward to providing special opportunities for individuals to make their connection to the larger-than-human world of nature.
**The inaugural day-long spa Forest Bathing retreat at Osmosis with M. Amos Clifford, the founder of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs. Along with Nicole Daspit, a Certified Forest Therapy Guide will take place on September 14th. Amos will facilitate a series of invitations that progressively deepen connection with the more-than-human world of nature.
His perspective is that the forest itself is the therapist; as a guide, he opens the doors of sensing, embodiment, and presence that allow the forest to come into a person’s consciousness and do its healing work. We will be breaking new ground by combining the tension releasing benefits of our unique Cedar Enzyme Bath, 75-minute massage and a specially tailored program of Forest Bathing combined with time in our tranquil meditation garden.
Nature is Our Sanctuary
More and more data is revealing that spending time outdoors can actually make you healthier. Escaping to the woods, mountains or a walk along the beach helps both your body and your brain. At Osmosis, we recognize communion with nature is a key element to healing, rejuvenation and mental and physical wellness.
Our extensive grounds are designed to give our guests unique experiences in nature. From enjoying a massage in one of our creekside Pagodas, sound healing in our Field of Hammocks, or a relaxing stroll through our Japanese inspired meditation gardens, we have you covered!
We feel very blessed to be located in West Sonoma County with so many scenic wonders. Bodega Bay and the rugged Sonoma Coast are just minutes away along with charming redwood ringed Freestone and Occidental—there is so much outdoor allurement in West Sonoma County this time of year! The Sonoma Coast offers some of the most spectacular grandeur in all of California. Rolling hills with rich biodiversity meet the wild Pacific Ocean on Sonoma County’s 62-mile stunning coastline.
For your end of summer enjoyment, we have compiled a list of our Top 10 Outdoor Activities in West Sonoma County that can actually make us healthier. Read on to learn more.
HIKING – Pomo Canyon Trail – One of the best hikes in Sonoma County, the Pomo Canyon to Shell Beach hike offers a little bit of everything, from towering redwoods to pounding surf, from ferny dells to ridge-top vistas.
KAYAKING – WaterTreks – Where the river meets the waves in the heart of Sonoma Coast State Park and the Greater Farallones Sanctuary
STAND UP PADDLE BOARDING – Located in the heart of the Wine Country, just south of Healdsburg, Russian River Paddle Boards offers both tours and rentals on some of the most undisturbed and pristine bodies of water in the county.
ZIP LINING – Sonoma Canopy Tours – Marvel at panoramic forest views and deep ravines. Discover the world-famous California Coastal Redwoods in a way you never imagined.
BICYCLING – West County Regional Trail – The West County Regional & Joe Rodota Trails are built along land that was once the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, a line that linked Petaluma and Santa Rosa with Sebastopol and Forestville. The trails total fourteen miles long. The trails are paved for walking, bicycle riding, and roller skating.
WATCH THE SUNSET – Bodega Bay – Enjoy spectacular sunsets along this shallow, rocky inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the coast of Northern California in the United States.
SURFING – Salmon Creek State Beach – North Salmon Creek Beach is right off Coast Highway 1 just north of Bodega Bay. Surfers are often out in the waves north of the river mouth.
FISHING – Russian River – Summer’s warm water provides small and large mouth bass, along with bluegill—the slow, lazy waters provide easy fishing from the banks. You can also fish from a boat. Drop in a line and let the day float by.
CAMPING – There are four camping areas in Sonoma Coast State Park. Bodega Dunes Campground is the campground with the most amenities. Wright’s Beach Campground is a little less fancy. Willow Creek Campground and Pomo Canyon Campground are what the state of California calls “Environmental Camps” or primitive camping areas.
FARMERS MARKETS – Occidental Farmers Market – Friday evenings from 5-8 p.m. June through October this quaint town comes alive! Great food vendors, live music and a unique mix of West County Locals. Sebastopol Farmers Market – Every Sunday all year round from 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Russian River Farmers Market – Stop by the Guerneville Farmers Market and have a family dinner with the wonderful selection of goodies for everyone, from fresh fruit and vegetables to baked goods. You can even get made to order food as well. This is a great way to spend a Thursday night!
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” –Henry David Thoreau
Choosing a Safe Sunscreen
The long days of summer are here and increased exposure to UV rays is something we all need to be aware of. Are you prepared to protect your skin during this time of increased outdoor activity? We hope to offer some helpful solutions for your summer skin that are safe and simple to implement.
Prolonged sun exposure can lead to premature aging of the skin, wrinkling, as well as suppression of the immune system. Covering up, wearing a hat, limiting exposure during peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and using sunscreen are just a few ways to protect yourself while outdoors.
If using sunscreen, it is important to choose a product that is safe for your skin and also has broad spectrum protection, meaning it effectively protects against significant portions of both the ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) ranges of the light spectrum. The Environmental Working Group (EWG)* discovered that 80% of sunscreens on the market offer “inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients.” One ingredient commonly found in non-mineral sunscreens is oxybenzone. This chemical is a common UV filter in sunscreen and can disrupt the hormone system.
Classic vs. Mineral Sunscreen
Another important factor in choosing a sunscreen is classic vs. mineral. Classic and Mineral sunscreens are differentiated by their active sun protection ingredients. Classic sunscreens use chemical (also commonly referred to as “non-mineral” or “traditional”) active ingredients designed to absorb and dissipate UVA/UVB rays, while Mineral sunscreens use mineral (also commonly referred to as “physical”) active ingredients such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide to scatter and reflect UVA/UVb rays. Since mineral actives are not absorbed into the skin these formulas are less irritating to sensitive skin and are also less likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream as “traditional” actives are.
COOLA Mineral Travel Set
At Osmosis, we currently offer COOLA brand sunscreen. COOLA uses as many ingredients as possible that are natural, organic, sustainable and locally sourced. Green, yet still luxurious, each of their high performance products protect and nourish the skin with vitamins and age-defying antioxidants, while remaining free of parabens, paba, petroleum and phthalates. Additionally, they formulate with Plant Protection® rather than Oxybenzone, which allows them to achieve clinically tested, broad spectrum and antioxidant-rich protections while using fewer traditional actives. Better for your skin, better for the environment. COOLA also offers both Mineral and Traditional active based sunscreens, using the healthiest active ingredients possible!
This month we are featuring our COOLA Mineral Travel Set, which includes a quartet of COOLA’s bestselling luxury mineral sun care must haves, all in TSA approved carry-on sizes! These high-performance products protect and nourish the skin with vitamins and age-defying antioxidants, while remaining free of undesirable chemicals. All in a reusable, travel-friendly and limited edition COOLA travel clutch! Order yours now just in time for Summer!
*EWG provides information on sunscreen products from the published scientific literature, to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) sunscreen guide reviewed more than 1,700 SPF products like sunscreens, lip balms and moisturizers.
Since 2007, they have found a dramatic increase in the availability of mineral-only sunscreens, doubling from 17 percent of products to 34 percent in 2016. Sunscreens using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to rate well in their analysis: They are stable in sunlight, offer a good balance between protection from the two types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) and don’t often contain potentially harmful additives.
Oxybenzone is a common UV filter in sunscreen. It is a hormone disruptor and allergen. Sampling by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection has detected it in the urine of 97 percent of Americans. Despite emerging concerns, the sunscreen industry continues to rely heavily on oxybenzone as an active ingredient: it was in 70 percent of the non-mineral sunscreens evaluated for this year’s guide.
Master Pruner at Osmosis
by Michael Alliger
The summer solstice finds us focusing on California native plants used here in the Osmosis gardens. The theme of our garden design is California Asian, that is to say, a garden structured and pruned in the Asian way yet representative of our place here on this continent through the employment of some native plant material in addition to plants from Asia.
The development of Asian gardens has been in play for literally a thousand years. The pruning techniques, plant and stone choices, and spatial relationships have been refined through trial and error as well as bursts of creative genius. The appropriate plant material has been culled from the native landscape again through trial and error. Appropriateness refers largely to prunability: can a plant be maintained at the human scale required by the garden plan while still evoking the essence of the natural surroundings. This process of local plant selection, while age-old in Japan, is in its infancy here in California. It is the goal of the Osmosis garden not only to create a sense of place (home) by using native plants but also to further the cultivation of them. Our garden is somewhat of a proving ground in that regard; experimenting with the possibilities and limitations of the plants surrounding us.
The plant choices we have made vary in their adaptability from co-operative to questionable to doubtful. Among those most easily facilitated are the vine maple, ceanothus, two forms of ribes (currant) and manzanita. The vine maple is pruned as any Japanese maple with reduction for scale and thinning for appearance. Ceanothus gets cutback as the new growth extends after flowering. This plant is best kept full and usually either grouped or with accompanying plants beneath as they tend to defoliate below. Our pink flowering currant represents one of spring’s first blooms while also providing a screen along a path. Most pruning here is done in winter to contain the plant from its inherent wildness keeping it the right height and thickness and out of the path. We have found that by shearing the sprawling ribes viburnifolium we can create a form resembling the Japanese tamamono or horizontal oval. Manzanita has been used in several ways from shearing into O-karikomi style (contoured drift) to general screen to focal point at front entry sign. Each of these is pruned in late spring-summer as new growth follows flowering. The shearing of Manzanita definitely falls into the category of experimentation but has shown to be effective for a minimum of 10 years.
Shore Pine at Osmosis
Among the plants still in the discovery stage or requiring fairly adept pruning would be the shore pine and Douglas fir (surprisingly!). Without too much difficulty the shore pine can be pruned in the style of Japanese black pine by a skilled technician.
The Douglas fir lends itself to pruning quite readily as it exhibits the ability to freely break bud on bare wood, a characteristic rarely found in a conifer. This back budding allows for wholesale cutback and general pruning. The possibilities are seemingly limited only by the imagination and talent of the pruner. We have two that are documented to be over 50 years old and neither is over 7’ and both are full and lush shrub forms.
The tree with which we have had some success though cannot whole-heartedly recommend is the Monterey cypress. While this tree, known along the Pacific coast for it’s fabulous windswept shapes, can reach 40 to 60’ our specimen has remained at no more than 18’ with serious reductive pruning. The tree’s rapid growth and susceptibility to disease and infestation from hard pruning relegate it to doubtful in an ornamental garden.
We have barely touched the surface in our survey of native plants though some of the others tried include huckleberry, snowbell, and hazelnut. To find ourselves at the initiatory stage of this endless exploration gives a greater context to our deployment of Asian pruning and design techniques while lending a more familiar feel to exotic aesthetics.
Douglas Fir at Osmosis
Pink Flowering Ribe at Osmosis