I am growing a forest.
It’s kind of funny to say something like that since most people, even those who own a lot of land that contains forest, typically don’t say “I am growing a forest.” Instead, they say, “I own land.” But I digress.
I am growing a forest. In my front yard.
Yep, I live in the suburbs where people say, “I own a house.” And they might say, “I planted a tree in my yard.” But they don’t grow forests. I am growing a forest.
Why? To save the world.
In Louisville, Kentucky, where I live, the city was engineered decades ago, like most cities and towns, with the thought of how to deal with rainwater. When you synthetically cover the earth with lots of concrete and asphalt, you have to account for what happens when it rains. Water on top of an impermeable surface collects and runs and floods. It causes great damage if it doesn’t have an easy way out. Most of us have seen this, over and over again, over the last ten to twenty years.
You see, when Louisville and probably your city were designed, the designers and architects assumed that the earth was a stable, even fixed, reality. Sure, there was such a thing as a 100-year flood, but it was just that—an event that only happened every 100 years or so. But flooding is on the rise (no pun intended). Why? Climate change. The air is warmer, so it can hold more water. When it rains, it pours! The infrastructure created decades ago simply cannot handle the amount of water coming down per hour. Hence, flooding is more common, and is going to get worse as the earth continues to warm.
This is where my forest comes in. It turns out that ground covered by a forest can hold up to ten times or more water than a typical lawn can. As rain falls in a forest, it hits the leaves of trees, then drops gently, only to hit another layer of understory plants and/or leaf mold covering the forest floor. The upshot is that the rainwater perks slowly into the soil. The ground acts like a sponge, not only holding the water for the tree and plants to use but filtering it of toxins. Fifty-five percent of all drinking water in the U.S. originates from forests. Forests are a natural filtration system.
My hope is that I can convince other people to grow a forest in their yard, and reduce the flooding in Louisville. I dream of a city with thousands of yard forests.
But I’m growing a forest for lots of reasons. There are at least a hundred good reasons to grow a forest. Here are some of the others:
- Trees and plants sequester carbon dioxide. Forests are the single-best nature-based solution to climate change. There is tremendous potential and power in our yards!! All over the planet, important initiatives to plant trees-millions and billions and even a trillion of them—are being executed, and with urgency. I want to be a part of that.
- If I plant a forest where the grass used to be, I don’t have to cut the grass. And if I don’t have to cut the grass, I reduce my use of gas, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. Mowing grass, I have decided, will be on the list of the 20th century’s stupidest ideas.
- If I plant native species of trees and understory plants, I create habitat for bats, birds, and insects. My yard is more interesting and more welcoming of the species that lived here before the forest was chopped down by European settlers. Watching birds is a really good way to binge.
- The trees provide shade, cool my house in the summer (reducing my dependence on air conditioning) and become part of the tree canopy that cools the city (and makes the rain less heavy).
- Planting a forest is a new gardening category. In my gardening career, I have grown vegetables, fruit, herbs, cut flowers, ornamentals and stand-alone trees. And now I am growing a yard forest. I manage the forest to maximize its health, diversity and fertility. The standards are a little different but even more interesting than any gardening I have done before. I now grow native flowers, that pop through the leaf mold in the spring, in addition to marigolds.
But the main reason I’m growing a forest in my yard is love. I believe we were birthed by love—a great love we call God—and that, at our best, the love prompts us to care for each other and all things. As climate change becomes the single biggest threat to the future of the planet and all of us on it, I want to do everything I can in the name of addressing that threat. I have a grandson whom I would like to see enjoy his life.
So, I will vote, march, write, teach, install solar panels, eat a plant-based diet, and, yes, plant a forest in my front yard. Why wouldn’t I?