Miyawaki Forests – An Ecological Game Changer

Miyawaki Forests – An Ecological Game Changer


  • By Gamuda Land
  • 24 January 2023

Artist Impression

Every so often we encounter a revolutionary method that addresses the challenges of the modern world. The Miyawaki forest method is an excellent example of such revolutionary thinking. The unique forest creation method replicates how a forest would grow and thrive without human interference and obstruction. The technique results in a climate-responsive site where plants adapt to their local environment and grow at a rate 10 times faster than in conventional urban planning.

In this article, we have sought guidance from local award-winning landscape architect OCULUS, who have provided insight into what the method entails, and what is required for success. OCULUS also described the Miyawaki forest method’s positive implications for the wider community.

Origins Of The Miyawaki Forest Method

Japanese botanist Dr. Akira Miyawaki spent most of the 1950’s exploring the expertly curated grounds of the many Shinto temples scattered across his native Japan. He observed that the grounds acted as a botanical time capsule of native plants. Containing indigenous species unobtrusively grown over hundreds of years, the ecosystem of each site had layered together and created a diverse biodiversity of flora.



Miyawaki witnessed firsthand the results of phytosociology; a branch of ecology concerned with the interrelationship of plant species. He concluded that this naturally occurring anomaly could be utilised and synthesised by humans. For this to be achieved, Miyawaki designed a four-category system of plant classification (main tree species, sub-species, shrubs, and ground-covering herbs), that would be a framework to base a growing process around.



“A Miyawaki forest harnesses complex natural systems and then lets nature do the work,” said Tim Mitchell, OCULUS Senior Associate Landscape Architect.

“Essentially, you’re fast-tracking ecological succession to create a multi-story ecosystem that will increase in complexity and biodiversity over a short time. A harmonious, layered arrangement of species that grow together as one.”

The Process Explained

These four steps must be adhered to for a Miyawaki forest to thrive:

Step One: Research

The first step is identifying which native plants are most appropriate for the area. Within a natural forest, the four categories (main-tree species, sub-species, shrubs, and ground-covering herbs) of plants are layered. The Miyawaki method adheres to this layering process and each category’s seedlings are planted at varying depths. Understanding the inherent ecology of the site and selecting as many locally indigenous species as possible for each layer will help to achieve balance and maximize diversity. If local provenance plant stock can not be sourced, it can be grown from seed collected from the nearest intact bushland.

Step Two: Preparing The Soil

The actual planting of the seeds is only done once the soil has been properly analysed and prepared. In most cases, within heavily urbanised areas the soil of an area has been significantly impacted by human activity, requiring what Tim calls a “rapid restoration of the soil”. “We harness the soil-building properties of pioneer plant species, to ensure that what we do grow will do so quickly. As they grow, they foster a healthy environment below the surface where soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungi can thrive. Which in turn provides nutrients and soil structure that will support the growth of secondary and tertiary species,” said Tim.

Step Three: Planting

After the soil has been prepared comes the planting process. As a natural forest’s flora will inherently cultivate closely together, the seedlings of each respective layer are densely planted. The dense nature of a Miyawaki forest not only fosters biodiversity, it creates a higher resistance to flood and landslide, as well as increasing carbon capture and pollution filtration.

Step Four: Observe And Upkeep

The fourth and final step of the process is monitoring and care of the site. This is where conventional gardening such as watering, mulching, and ensuring adequate sunlight reaches the seedlings is instituted. Generally considered the most time-consuming process, it usually takes one to three years of maintenance for a forest to then be able to sustain itself naturally.

Benefits Of A Miyawaki Forest

The process of ecological succession moves at a slow pace, typically taking centuries for a bare patch of land to develop into a fully formed forest community. The Miyawaki method utilizes density and inter-species competition to achieve growth rates 10x faster than conventional afforestation techniques.

“This approach to urban revegetation aims to provide exponentially greater biodiversity than traditional urban horticulture and as a result have a greater impact in improving air quality by reducing pollution,” said Tim.

“A Miyawaki forest will absorb carbon from our atmosphere, mitigate noise, regulate temperature, improve the soil and increase permeability, alleviate flood risk, and provide a tranquil respite for both animals and humans.

“When you foster a resilient plant community you will be able to cope with the pressures of a changing climate. It is the type of restorative development we need to see more of in our cities, and it will have significant social and environmental benefits both in the short-term and long-term.”

Learn more about the Miyawaki Forest we are building at The Canopy, click here to find out more

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