IN 1990, MITSUSHIGE HAYASHI, a Japanese media entrepreneur, purchased a plot of forestland on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, to be managed to offset the carbon footprint of his national newspaper.
However, preserving the land and preventing further loss of habitat to development and agriculture were only the beginnings. Hayashi’s “big idea” was to create a public park that would be sustainable for 1,000 years, a time frame well beyond the control of our lifetime. In a country where most of the population lives in densely populated urban centers, far removed from a natural environment, the goal was to design a charismatic landscape that would make people feel connected with the land, so much so that their experience would engender stewardship and ensure that the responsibility for its tending would be handed down from one generation to another.
The Tokachi Millennium Forest is evidence of that colossal dream. “Tokachi Millennium Forest: Pioneering a New Way of Gardening with Nature,” by Dan Pearson with Midori Shintani, is the story of how a diverse team of forestry, landscape and horticultural professionals is bringing this visionary landscape to fruition.
The book is beautiful and generously illustrated with photos that capture the impressive terrain as well as detailed close-ups depicting wildlife and people engaging with plants in the landscape. Opening chapters explore the origins of the project, the creation of a masterplan by Takano Landscape Planning and the challenge of working on a northern site where the scale is majestic and winter is the dominant season.
Author Pearson is a British landscape designer whose work is grounded in a deep understanding of natural landscapes, plant ecology and how people interact with outdoor spaces. Pearson was brought on to the Millennium Forest project team to create a layer of intimacy within the park’s nearly 1,000 acres and to help people accustomed to the ease of urban living feel comfortable exploring the naturalistic environment.
In “The Forest” and “The Earth Garden,” Pearson shares the process of restoring a “gently managed” woodland and cultivating a transitional landscape between the near forest and the distant mountains. The designer’s solution was to undertake an ambitious earth-forming project, sculpting a flat 2½-acre site, formerly given over to agriculture, into a series of dynamic landforms that echo the neighboring terrain while creating areas of shelter and discovery. “I wanted to bring the mountains closer,” Pearson writes.
The Millennium Forest is about people as much as it is about the landscape. Winding pathways and trails run through every aspect of the park. A boardwalk leads visitors deep into the woods; mown swards direct footsteps up, over and through the Earth Garden; and steppingstone boulders navigate a stream. A working kitchen garden, orchards and a goat farm reference the agricultural history of the land, while sweeping beds of flowering perennials and ornamental grasses in the Meadow Garden introduce a familiar horticultural touchstone and prompt further exploration and acceptance of the “wilder” aspects of naturalistic landscape.
Gardens are powerful spaces for creating positive change. The Tokachi Millennium Forest offers a glimpse of what is possible. It’s an exciting direction, even if your journey is simply between the covers of this book.