It is telling of the size of Japanese media mogul Mitsushige Hayashi’s business that when he decided to offset the carbon footprint of his national newspaper empire, Tokachi Mainichi, he had to go beyond creating a simple garden or instigating a tree planting scheme. Instead, he founded the 240-hectare Tokachi Millennium Forest on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago. Much more than just an altruistic environmental endeavour, this is a forest designed to encourage Japan’s city dewellers to escape their urban homes and to educate them in local ecology.

Designed by London-based landscape architect Dan Perason Studio and local Japanese gardener Tokachi Mainichi, the scope of the Tokachi Millennium Forest is nothing short of staggering. “The masterplan is marketed as having a sustainable vision of a thousand years,” says Dan Pearson, “and this big thinking aims to not only to make the newspaper business carbon neutral, but also to preserve and prevent the further loss of natural habitats on the island to development.”

Pearson’s signature is ‘place making’, by which he means designs that have a sense of place. On Hokkaido that means a series of rolling landforms called Earth Garden (‘quiet structure’ is another Pearson hallmark) that recall the mountainous background, an ornamental Meadow Garden that showcase native flora and an entire eco-system that does not disturb the local animal population. “There are brown bears in the forests, hardy wild Hokkaido ponies on the hillsides and the seasons are as dramatic as the mountains and rivers that push through the volcanic terrain,” remarks Pearson of the site.

While the primary forest itself might appear mature, Perason and Tokachi had to strip back and control hectares worth of a form of bamboo in order to plant swathes of larch. Even the areas of the forest that look mature are the result of re-growth from earlier deforestation. A Goat Farm, Kitchen Garden and restaurant complete the Tokachi Millennium Forest, a new forest in every sense of the phrase.

Intensive agriculture nudges the very edges of the park and the majority of the primary woodland has been felled and replaced by larch plantation. Those woods that appear to be natural are, in fact, the re-growth of white birch, oak and magnolia from earlier de-forestation.

In those areas of the woodland that have been made accessible with simple raised walkways, the spring starts with white skunk cabbage, marsh marigold and anemone. Whilst the ground is still relatively bare these are followed by sheets of trillium, candelabra primulas and astilbe. Veratrum, arisaema, giant angelicas and aruncus follow and there are pale green cardiocrinum lilies, scented daylilies, asters and iris on the woodland fringes.

Earth Garden:
What is now called the Earth Garden is an environment made from a series of dynamic waves in the grassland, which coax people into the space by playing on their curiosity. Without being aware of how far they have ventured, visitors now find themselves exploring the rivers and the woods and participating in an art trail, which includes several pieces by Yoko Ono.

Meadow Garden:
Although in some ways it felt wrong to create ornamental gardens here, I was convinced that an ornamental horticultural element was necessary to balance the wild environments and educate visitors to the links between the native flora and plants that they were used to only seeing in gardens. The Meadow Garden is comprised of an adventurous massed planting of ornamental shrubs and 35,000 perennials that are related to and emulate the waves of plants that live together during the short growing season in the forest.