Rewilding with Little Forests

“Ecological aesthetics [rewilding] is not a retreat into an imagined wilderness where humans have no place but step toward belonging in all dimensions, the ability to perceive beauty through sustained, embodied relationship within a particular part of the community of life.

~David Haskell, The Songs of Trees

Little Forests invite diversity

Birds, bees and bugs of all sorts. Each layer in a forest is home, shelter or forage for different species.

Compared to a monoculture, these types of forests offer incredible benefits, such as a much faster growth rate and a much higher rate of biodiversity. We normally plant more than 30 species in each forest, which attracts a far wider range of birds, butterflies and insects than a single species would… The high density also enables us to use 100 per cent of the vertical space, because everywhere above the ground is filled with greenery. That gives us 30 times more green surface area of leaves than a monoculture. The forest will also absorb 30 per cent more carbon dioxide, and all the other ecological advantages are similarly multiplied.

Shubhendu Sharma has planted more than 125 forests based on the Miyawaki method, watch his TED talk

Plant your own Front Yard Little Forest

Here is the methodology we’ll be using to plant Little Forests. If you want to plant one in your yard, you can follow this same methodology. We’ll be building up content to support people wanting to plant a Little Forest themselves.

Modified from Handbook: Tiny Forest Planting Method, IVN

What are the forest communities indigenous to the Kingston area?

One of the most important steps in planting a Little Forest is choosing native species that naturally grow together in the Kingston area. Kingston and area is on the border between the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest and Deciduous Forest regions in Ecoregion 6E-15. Because forests naturally grow in layers, each Little Forest community has canopy trees, trees, understory trees and tall shrubs, smaller shrubs and ground covering plants, grasses and sedges.

four possiblities for planting a forest community in your yard

Enter into a conversation with the land

We have a lot of learning to do. Think of planting a Little Forest as entering into a conversation with the land. A conversation from which we have a lot to learn.

True conversation involves listening as well as talking, being open to the unexpected, and being willing to change direction. When nature, rather than another person, is the partner, the conversation begins with the acknowledgement that the natural world is “something in its own right” rather than purely an object of scrutiny. For a conversation with nature to be possible, the observer must assume that the object or phenomenon under study possesses an “inner life” or integrity that can’t be easily summed up or explained.

Christina Root, Conversation Between Friends: An Inspiration for Goethe’s Phenomenological Method


During the Q&A you asked some excellent questions.

What if I have a Norway Maple? Do I have to cut it down?

While I’ll be girdling a young Norway Maple in my son’s yard (leaving the dead tree standing for wildlife habitat), I wouldn’t recommend cutting down a mature Norwy Maple. We invited Norway Maple into our yards and our cities for it’s ability to withstand extreme conditions. Unfortunately, we now know that Norway Maples don’t form good relationships with our indigenous forests. They crowd out other species with their prolific seed, dense shade and greedy roots—making it difficult for other plants to thrive.

If you’d like to naturalize your yard with a Little Forest that will one day succeed a Norway Maple, you could hire an arborist to use a light metre to selectively prune. This would allow enough light through to plant shade tolerant understory species such as Sugar Maple, Ironwood, Blue Beech, American Beech, Maple-leaved Viburnum, Ironwood, Chokecherry, Red Elderberry, Serviceberry, Spicebush and Pawpaw to take root. Because of Norway Maple’s greedy roots, you’ll have to water during droughts.

Will planting a Little Forest harm existing trees?

“Occasionally some solitary tree is left standing, throwing its wide arms, and appearing as if in lamentation at its separation from its companions, with whom for centuries it had been in close fellowship.”

Frederick Marryat, British Writer, 1840s. Quoted by Ethan Shaw in Atlas Obscura

In reading the forested landscape, I learned the phrase Wolf Trees. Forests were cut down across much of the land in this area during colonization. Often the odd tree was left in cleared fields to provide shade for farm animals. When these fields were later abandoned, they grew back into forest and these old pasture trees were slowly surrounded by younger forest trees. creating the scene that helps us identify these elders of the Eastern Forest.

With the end of pastures we mark the beginning of wolf trees. As the art and science of forestry grew with the emerging forest, early foresters saw old shade trees as hindering, not helping, their bottom line. They suggested, as so many forestry books do, the spreading trees were like wolves, preying on forest resources and preventing the growth of smaller, marketable timber trees. Like wolves, they advised, pasture trees in the forest should be culled. Foresters preferred tidy, well-managed timberlands and loathed the gnarled, snaking wolf trees for their unmarketable form. Charles Elliott summarizes this sentiment, writing that all the forestry books of the day treat the wolf tree as “a forest ulcer,” whose “elimination is a strict principle of forest management.”   Because of this, ecologists consider such trees keystone structures; that is, their effect on the landscape is disproportionate to their abundance. 

What percent of conifers in a Little Forest?

Kingston and area is on the border between the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest and Deciduous Forest regions in Ecoregion 6E-15. This region contains a number of different forest communities, but most contain no more than 25% coniferous species. Forest Gene Conservation Association (FGRA) maintains a species list for 6E-15 as well as a Species Information Table which allows you to check preferred soil conditions, shade tolerance and eventual height of different species.

Is a cluster of 5 cedars a Little Forest?

If the system becomes overly homogenized or a disturbance shifts its balance, it becomes dangerously vulnerable.

~Tom Wessels, Beyond the Forest

Any planting that only includes one species is a plantation. Plantations are more susceptible to disease, pests and storm damage. Because a single species plantation also lacks the layers of a Little Forest, they’re less attractive to a diversity of birds and wildlife.

Do I have to prepare the soil?

Yes. We’ll be offering a soil workshop this summer.

One comment

  1. Joyce I am refreshed and excited about the upcoming spring again, thanks to your wondrous talk at the Oakville Horticultural Society this evening. I very much view gardening as a chance to observe all creatures in nature, both visually and aurally. This pleasure had been dulled after the death of my sweet bichon who used to spend whole days in the garden with me. I will be in Kingston May-August this summer and very much hope to meet you in person and observe your garden, if possible! Thank you so very much! cheers, Sue

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