Ethan Bryson, founder of Natural Urban Forests, dug into the soil at the Shoreline Historical Museum to grab a handful of earth to smell.

“Soil smells sweet when there is life,” he said. 

Bryson came to begin the process of preparing the soil for the upcoming Miyawaki Urban Forest Planting Day Celebration, which will be held on Saturday, December 9 at the Shoreline Historical Museum.

Over 100 community members of all ages will help to plant, beginning the life of a Miyawaki forest — a restorative method of re-wilding urban spaces that simulates layers of a natural forest. 

Ethan Bryon of Natural Urban Forests assessing the soil where the Miyawaki forest will be planted • Courtesy

The celebration is part of the Shoreline Historical Museum’s ongoing Miyawaki Urban Forest History Project, which began in 2022, when community members were tasked with brainstorming ways to utilize the empty field on the the museum’s grounds.

A group was formed, Miyawaki Forest Friends (MFF), to develop an incremental plan for the space that incorporated local history, the environment, and educational programming with the intent to cultivate and foster community.

Rather than pursue a traditional exhibit, MFF decided to plant a forest to “act as the walls for their museum project.” The forest will incorporate exhibits throughout.

“[The Miyawaki] method of afforestation was developed by the Japanese botanist and plant ecology expert Professor Akira Miyawaki, and draws inspiration from nature’s ecosystems to create 100% organic, dense, and diverse pioneer forests in as little as 20-30 years,” reads a blog by the SUGi Project, an environmental nonprofit. 

Volunteers with Ethan Bryson • Courtesy

“Miyawaki forests grow 10 times faster, are 30 times denser, and contain 100 times more biodiversity. Since they’re quick to establish, maintenance-free after the first two-to-three years, and can be created on sites as small as 3 square meters, Miyawaki forests are viable solutions for cities looking to rapidly build climate resilience.”

The intended planting area next to the museum has a history of its own. At one time it was an area used by the Duwamish people. Much later, it was occupied by a chicken farm. Today, the site sits as a vacant field, where, according to Bryson, the soil has degraded so much that it now has no scent.  

Soils rich in organic matter smell sweet and pleasant, while depleted soils don’t smell much at all,” reads a Gardenzine article.

“That’s because bacteria in soils survive by feeding on organic matter and some of them produce a substance responsible for that sweet smell, known as geosmin. If you can smell geosmin, you know you have a soil that is healthy and full of microscopic life and very likely, the bacteria which makes us feel good will be part of all that life.” 

An aerial view of the site of the new Miyawaki forest on the Shoreline Historical Musem’s grounds • Courtesy

With the soil samples Bryson collected, he will analyze what the soil needs. He can then bring in amendments that will allow it to have moisture, oxygen, organic matter, and minerals, all things needed for anything to grow.  

This will create an environment where bacteria can begin to work its magic to revive the museum soil back to life, providing a home for the local community to plant over 1,300 native plants and begin the life of this new Miyawaki urban forest.   

Some say that when soil is healthy, its scent can make you happy. The Shoreline Historical Museum community at the Shoreline Historical Museum believes even the anticipation of it does, too.

Funding for the Shoreline Historical Museum’s Miyawaki urban forest is provided by the SUGi Project, Rotary Foundation, Miyawaki Forest Friends, and a King Conservation District grant.  

For volunteering, email [email protected]. For more information on Miyawaki Urban Forest History Project at the Shoreline Historical Museum click here.

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