Let’s make magic. Let’s re-enchant our cities. Let’s plant Little Forests as songs, poems, love letters to the land and experience the wonder & delight of a deepening relationship with the land.
Since colonization, we’ve cut down 80% of our Indigenous Forests. And we’re witnessing the consequences in biodiversity loss, species extinction and climate breakdown. Now, in return for all the gifts Earth has given us, we must give back.
And one powerful way to give back is planting Little Forests. Forests are so much more than a collection of trees. Forests are complex multilayer plant communities. Forests are webs of relationships between plants, animals, fungi, birds, insects, bacteria and humans. Forests are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity.
In planting Little Forests we help the land remember. We invite home the many Indigenous species we’ve lost since colonization. We grow our relationships with the other-than-human world.
What are Little Forests
The forest is the root of all life; it is the womb that revives our biological instincts, that deepens our intelligence and increases our sensitivity as human beings.Akira Miyawaki
“We can’t plant trees everywhere higgledy-piggledy. That won’t work… I think taking care of rare or native tree personalizes the response with hope. It puts the first boot on the ground… If we start with something as small as an acorn and nurture it into an oak, a master tree that we have grown and protect and are the steward of, if we have that kind of thinking on a mass scale, then the planet is no longer in jeopardy from our greed.”Diana Beresford-Kroeger
Little Forests are a paradigm shift. A shift from planting trees for ornamental landscapes to planting forests as flourishing, biodiverse Indigenous ecosystems. A shift from seeing trees as objects to seeing forests as living breathing multispecies communities. A shift from scarcity to abundance. A shift from looking to technological fixes to climate breakdown to looking to restoring our relationship with Earth.
In planting Little Forests, we combine what we’re learning from Western science about rapid Indigenous forest regeneration with teachings from Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) on how to transform our relationship with trees, with forests and with the land.
Our approach to Little Forests is inspired by Dr. Akira Miyawaki. Miyawaki has overseen the planting of more than 30 million trees in over 1,600 locations around the world. If you leave land alone, it returns to forest—but that can take 150 to 200 years. Miyawaki’s method condenses those 150 years into 15-20 years.
Miyawaki’s method accelerates ecological restoration by combining an understanding of potential natural vegetation (the species that would exist at a given location if not impacted by human activities), phytosociology (ways in which plant species interact with each other) and a four-layered system of planting (layers that naturally exist in forests).
Why plant Little Forests?
We’re all—trees, humans, insects, birds, bacteria—pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationsthip.David George Haskell, The Songs of Trees
Southern Ontario has hardly any forest left (80% of our Indigenous forests are gone) and the fraction that remains is severely fragmented. Climate change has driven widespread declines in bumblebee and other native bee populations. Nearly 3 billion (29%) of birds gone since 1970. Over half of the 690 species of conservation concern in Ontario use habitat in southern Ontario forests. For healthy ecosystems, we need 50% forest cover.
- Multilayer native forests with native trees, have 25–30 times the green surface area of single layer lawns.
- Miyawaki forests absorb more carbon than standard afforestation projects because they grow more quickly, are denser and are more diverse.
- Cooperation between trees, shrubs and the soil community enhances growth (symbiotic nitrogen fixation, accelerated nutrient cycling), attracts more faunal species, creates a self-regulating microclimate that maintains humidity and temperature and leads to greater resilience against climate change and invasive species.
- Species diversity and genetic variation (inter- and intraspecific) in Miyawaki forests enhances ecological resilience, promotes biological diversity and helps forests to react to changes brought about by pests, diseases and climatic change.
- Forests are the single most important repositories of terrestrial biological diversity and Miyawaki are home to more biodiversity than neighbouring forests.
- Forests renew our spirits with a sense of connection, vibrancy, and awe.
- Forests purify the air and block sound, wind and dust.
- Trees are nature’s own air conditioners, cooling the surrounding area.
- Forests improve water quality in our watershed. They reduce the force of falling rain, slow the flow of water, enhance soil infiltration, purify water and store rain in the soil. Diversity may also make them more drought resistant.
Encouraging diversity by design
A landscape is a multispecies gathering in the making.Kenneth Olwig
As we design and plant Little Forests, we’ll be learning how to best adapt the method to the 1000 Islands. Here’s how we’re planting our first Little Forests, based on what we’ve learned about the Miyawaki method.
- Understand the land (topography, geology, drainage, land use, soil test).
- Choose a forest community suited to the land (a forest community Indigenous to the 1000 Islands). Choose intermediate and late successional tree and shrub species (30-50 different species) appropriate for a four layer forest community. Choose five species (40-50% of the total saplings) to be the dominant forest species. Diversity the forest by choosing common supporting species (25-40% of the total saplings) and rare species for the rest. Ensure the saplings are biologically and genetically diverse. With rapid climate change, questions about whether sourcing saplings from local seed sources is still the best approach. Ours are sourced from multiple seeds zones within Ontario (based on climate) to assist with migration.
- Amend the soil with local organic matter, microbiology and mycorrhizae. If soil testing reveals the topsoil is degraded, regenerate the topsoil to a depth of 20–30 cm (can mix in 3–4 kg of straw, leaves or other organic matter per square metre to replace the surface humus and leaf litter found in forests). We’re preparing the land with a thick layer of arborist woodchips (25-30cm) and introducing forest soil life by cultivating Indigenous microorganisms.
- Randomly plant 30-80cm saplings very densely (3 per square metre) similiar to how trees are distributed at the edge of a natural forest, trying to plant them at least 60cm apart and avoiding planting two saplings from the same species or layer next to one another. Dip each sapling in a compost tea of symbiotic bacteria and mycorrhizae.
- Care for Little Forests until they’re self-sufficient (2-3 years) by mulching, watering, weeding and protecting from predators and invasive species.
- Observe as over 15-20 years, the forest self-organizes through natural selection—cooperation (phytosociological relations) and competition—into an ecologically dense, mixed multi-layered forest (above and below ground) with the diversity of a mature forest.
- Delight in the diversity of species that return to the land. Learn about the birds, the plants, the insects, the bees, the butterflies who come to visit. Mutual learning between people and the land deepens relationships.
- Develop keen eyes, learning to listen to the forest and becoming aware of the strands of relationship that surround us
- Use iNaturalist to learn and to track changes.
- Observe relationships through the seasons, learning creature languages (phenology)
- Celebrate the gifts of the forest with attention, rituals, ceremonies and love
- Little Forests mature into mother forests, gifting their seeds to naturally regenerate future forests.
Little Forests in Yards and in Community
[T]he forest is far more than a source of timber. It is our collective medicine cabinet. It is our lungs. It is the regulatory system for our climate and our oceans. It is the mantle of our planet. It is the health and well-being of our children and grandchildren. It is our sacred home. It is our salvation.Diana Beresford-Kroeger, To Speak for the Trees
1000 Islands Master Gardeners are partnering with Little Forests Kingston – to date have planted five Little Forests in October 2021 and four in 2022. Here is the a spreadsheet tracking the species for each Little Forest. Do you live near a grass desert? Perhaps a park or a strip of neglected public land? If so, gather together neighbours to build a community to plant a Little Forest.
Forget everything you thought a garden was. And everything you thought a gardener was supposed to do. Your job in the Planthroposcene is to stage plant/people conspiracies to keep this planet liveable and breathable.Natasha Myers, How to grow liveable worlds
Do you have a lawn with one or two lonely tree or shrubs surrounded by a sea of grass? 1000 Islands Master Gardeners are building up species lists and landscape designs for replacing lawns with front yard Little Forests. We’ve created a speadhseet to help you identify species for your front yard Little Forest.
Forest species Indigenous to the 1000 Islands
Knowledge of the combinations of flora that naturally occur around here should take your wildscaping aspirations to the next level. Think of the Ecological Land Classification system as a cookbook and pick a “recipe” based on local site conditions. Which tasty dish(es) would you like to serve the next generation?Oliver Reichl, Consulting Arborist-Ecologist
According to the Urban Forest Management Plan for the City of Kingston, our urban forest is in the Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe Ecoregion of the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone. 200 years ago this land was 90% forest. The Mixedwood Plains supported a greater diversity of trees and plants than any other part of Canada. Now only 17-20% of Indigenous forests remain, mostly in wetlands. For healthy ecosystems, we need at least 50% forest cover.
On the Forest Gene Conservation Association (FGRA) website you can click on a map to locate your EcoDistrict and download the local tree shrub native species list. In Kingston, we’re Ecodistrict 6E-15. In the 1000 Islands other possibilities include 6E-9 (Madoc/Havelock) and 6E-10 (Charleston Lake).
We’re in the Eastern Canadian Temperate Deciduous Forest Canadian National Vegetation Classification (CNVC). Includes lists of dominant species in the layers of a forest ecosystem.
- Ecological Land Classification (ELC) 101, Statistics Canada
- Ecosystems of Ontario Part 1: Ecozones and Ecoregions (pdf), Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
- The Ecosystems of Ontario Part 2: Ecodistricts (pdf), Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
- Presettlement Forest in Southern Ontario: Ecosystems Measured Through a Cultural Prism, Roger Suffling et. al.
- American Wildlife and Plants, A. C. Martin (which plants attract what wildlife)
- Natural Heritage Review of the 1000 Islands, Oliver Reichl
- Species lists for the 1000 islands (will be great for when we do our bioblitz), Oliver Reichl
- Adapting Forests Regions for Climate Change (pdf), Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority
- Southern Ontario’s Disappearing Forests, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
- A land manager’s guide to conserving habitat for forest birds in southern Ontario, Science and Information Resources Division and Trent University
Let’s become good ancestors
Ecological restoration can be viewed as an act of reciprocity, where humans exercise their caregiving responsibility for ecosystems… Reciprocal restoration also offers the opportunity for an immigrant culture to start becoming “indigenous to place” by healing relationships with land and history. This does not mean appropriating the culture of Indigenous people, but generating an authentic new relationship. It means throwing off the mindset of the immigrant, including the frontier mindset of “take what you can get and move on.” It means becoming involved with the “language” and dynamics of the place you live—learning its land-forms, weather patterns, animals, plants, waterways, and seasons. Being indigenous to place means to live as if we’ll be here for the long haul, as if our children’s future mattered. It means taking care of the land as if our lives, both spiritual and material, depended on it. It involves entering into a covenant of reciprocity with the land, which includes restoration. That’s what it means to become indigenous to place.Robin Wall Kimmerer, Restoration and Reciprocity: The Contributions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge
- Akira Miyawaki’s Method & Condition For Success Of Miyawaki Forests
- Akira Miyawaki’s Results
- Restoration of living environment based on vegetation ecology: Theory and practice, Akira Miyawaki
- Restoration of urban green environments based on the theories of vegetation ecology, Akira Miyawaki
- Effectiveness of the Miyawaki method in Mediterranean forest restoration programs, Bartolomeo Schirone et. al.
- Urban Forests report – The Miyawaki method – Data & concepts
- Citizen science and determining biodiversity in Tiny Forest Zaanstad
- Forest Resilience, Biodiversity, and Climate Change: A Synthesis of the Biodiversity/Resilience/Stability Relationship in Forest Ecosystems, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
- The Miyawaki Method: Data & Concepts, Urban Forests Company
- Multiple Approach for Plant Biodiversity Conservation in Restoring Forests, Federico Vessella
- Blue Planet Winner 2006, Miyawaki speech https://www.for.gov.bc.ca/hfd/library/documents/bib97382.pdf
- Ten golden rules for reforestation to optimize carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits by Alice Di Sacco et. al.
- Mainstreaming Native Species-Based Forest Restoration, Conference Proceedings
- The Framework Species Method of Forest Restoration
- From Farm to Forest: Miyawaki Method and Framework Species Method for Restoring Native Forests by Sylvia Ramos
- Little Forests Kingston main website