Pocket forests can be as small as a single parking spot – would there be one in your area?
Pocket Forests is a social enterprise that helps communities grow small native forests in urban areas. Founded by Dublin-based Catherine Cleary and Ashe Conrad-Jones in 2020, to date Pocket Forests has planted 75 Pocket Forests, working with 40 different communities across the country.
But one of the most inspiring aspects of their success is that none of these social entrepreneurs come from a horticultural/botanical background. Catherine Cleary, an award-winning writer, and Ashe Conrad-Jones, co-founder of an event company, Gorilla Design, decided to take on this brand new challenge to help people make positive change.
Catherine thinks planting trees is something we can all do to help create ecosystems on our doorstep and bring beauty to our cities: “We came across a concept called Tiny Forests during lockdown, spring 2020, and we loved it. But we couldn’t find anyone to do it in Dublin.
After extensive research, Catherine and Ashe developed their own planting method, inspired by the concept of “little forests”, developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawake. Their “pocket forests” recreate a miniature version of a natural forest, complete with its three layers: a canopy of tall trees, a layer of shrubs and a ground cover.
Catherine explains that the isolated trees, with bare ground underneath, that you see all the time in parks and gardens, are not in their natural state. Trees grow in communities of plants, collaborating with each other.
“Trees need companionship. A lot of what we talk to kids about is community and that trees are not in competition with each other. They actually collaborate. It’s too hard to do this alone in a city, so they need each other as much as people.
What a beautiful metaphor for young people!
Pocket Forests is currently working with Change X on a project that will create forests in five schools in the Dublin area. They work with the children to prepare the ground by putting cardboard and woody material and mulching the ground before planting begins.
“We really try to mimic some of the conditions of a forest floor before the trees are planted. Ideally, what we’re trying to do is create an ecosystem. Obviously, this is a job that the natural world does far better than we do. But we know, from all the research, how to create beneficial conditions for trees.
Pocket Forests uses a permaculture approach to encourage microbes and earthworms to do the heavy lifting instead of humans with shovels. This means people of all abilities and ages can get involved.
The heart of a pocket forest is the involvement of the local community. Residents help with land preparation, planting and maintenance. For this reason, pocket forests maintain lasting ties with the people who helped plant them.
“Not everything needs to be clean and tidy, with grass clippings, and there are lots of places in urban areas that aren’t particularly useful to people.
“We don’t want to take up play spaces for the kids, but there are a lot of little areas that aren’t used for anything and yet someone mows them every week. So those are the perfect places to put pocket forests. , because you get so many birds, you get so many insects, even in the first growing season.
Thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Woodlands Support Fund, this bare root season will also see 20 small forests planted in communities and schools across the country.
Some pocket forests are as small as a single parking spot, and I think that’s one of the keys to the success of this idea. Planting trees or groups of trees often seems to scare people away – either because they think they will be difficult to maintain/control, or they will create too much shade, or the roots will cause damage.
Catherine explains, “I think part of it is overcoming the fear of planting trees. Our trees can be pruned if you need to keep them small, or if you have the space they can grow to full size.
Working together to plant a pocket forest reconnects communities with nature, but perhaps more importantly, these inspiring women have shown us how we can all help change the world, even if it’s one pocket at a time.
- Juanita Browne has written a number of wildlife books, including and .