Tag Archives: redwood forest

Forest Bathing in the Redwoods

You know the feeling that you get when you are out walking slowly in the forest, stopping to admire a wildflower or mushroom that catches your fancy? You know it’s good for the mind and body, but why? It turns out that there are more benefits to being out in nature than the calmness it brings.

Sherman out on the trail ‘Forest Bathing’

Having a dog gives me a reason to be out on the trail. Being out in my garden simply enjoying the birds and flowers also promotes health and studies have shown that spending time in natural environments lowers our stress levels and improves our memory.

Apparently what we take for granted living where we do is all the rage for city dwellers with high stress lives. The idea is simple. Spending time in a natural area and walking in a relaxed way is calming, rejuvenating and restorative.

In the past several decades there have been many scientific studies that demonstrate the mechanisms behind the healing effects of simply being in natural areas. Many of the benefits from the forest actually come from the air. Trees give off phytoncides, such as alpha-pinene and d-limonene, which are volatile organic compounds or aerosols. These compounds protect the trees and plants from insects and disease, but they also benefit us.

Forest bathing is what the Japanese call it. Shinrin-yoku is their term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere.” Forest therapy has roots in many cultures throughout history. John Muir wrote that “Wilderness is a necessity.” Scientists is Japan are measuring what’s actually happening to our cells and neurons.

Trees give off organic compounds that support our immune systems and help our system fight cancer. Other scientifically proven benefits of forest bathing include reducing blood pressure, accelerating recovery from surgery or illness, improving sleep and our mood and reducing stress. Forest bathing lowers our heart rate and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Soaking in the forest air increases our NK or natural killer cells by about 50 percent.

All I know is that when Sherman and I are out in the garden or strolling in the forest we feel good. We stop to watch the progress of a banana slug. We listen for new bird calls. And as a garden designer I strive to create a space for clients that brings that feeling to them whenever they are outside.

Part of of that good feeling we get being outside has to do with the color green. Green is the color of spring, of growth, renewal and rebirth. It renews and restores depleted energy. It’s a positive color and increases our feelings of relaxation and calmness. Often I get a request for including the color green in a client’s plant palette. We tend to overlook it’s value.

If you don’t have a forest of your own bring that forest feeling to your own garden. Stroll in a relaxed way without thinking about weeds or pruning or other items on your to-do list.

Redwoods in Maui

Redwoods in Maui?  I first heard about them at the Nature Center in .  A sign there said they were grown for commercial reasons in Hawaii. So now that I’m here on the island of Maui I just had to see them for myself.

I knew that redwood from our forests was used in the early 1900’s for surfboards. They were tough and durable but also heavy so the boards were redesigned in the 1930’s combining redwood with balsa.  Balsa was hard to get in large quantities so the boards were constructed of both- with balsa at the center and the rails of tougher redwood to strengthen the board.

But how did redwoods come to be planted in Maui?  Like our area that was clear cut in the 1800’s for lumber and to fuel the lime kilns so too the forests of Maui were harvested in the 1700’s.  Sandalwood, exported to China for its fragrant aroma, became the island’s first cash crop. Millions of trees were logged from the mountain forests. The men of the farming class were forced to cut trees, first on the lower slope and then farther up into the mountains, to pay for the chief’s acquisitions of weapons, warships and European imports.  Further damage was done by livestock brought by westerners  – pigs, goats, sheep and especially cattle. 

When the watershed was destroyed, the water disappeared for sugar cane, too. Reforestation started in the 1920’s when nearly two million trees were planted annually.  Fast growing species like redwoods, cedar, sugar pines and eucalyptus were planted to increase the watershed.  While these introduced trees and shrubs prevented catastrophic destruction, they produced sparse forests with fewer species than the complex, multi-layered systems created by native forests.

Fast forward to 2007 when the area was devastated by a wildfire.  Hawaii is not an area that is renewed by fires like California. It destroyed most of the forest. The redwood trees survived however. This area must suit redwoods as it is draped in clouds and fog at 6000 feet and many of the trees planted in the 20’s and 30’s are over 100 feet tall. Now the area is replanted with native trees as well as 57.000 redwood seedlings that received a blessing at planting time.  More redwoods were replanted because they are less prone to spread fire.

So if you’re in Maui up near Haleakala crater in Polipoli State Park check out the quiet, serene Redwood Trail.  Some of the trees probably came from redwood seedlings from our area.

Big Basin State park

Spent the afternoon hiking in Big Basin State Park in search of blooming Western azaleas. There are several large specimens right at park headquarters Western Azalea but I wanted to find some out in the forest. Our hike took us up into the shaded understory of old growth redwoods and douglas firs and the largest huckleberries I’ve ever seen. The weather was perfect. Earlier in the week temps hit mid 90’s but today was barely 80 degrees and very pleasant. It really wasn’t until we hit the lower part of Dool trail that we found the elusive Western azalea growing in the sun along the stream. The scent of this plant fills the air. Wonderful. Seems this plant will get quite large and grow happily in the shade but it just won’t bloom unless it’s in the sun. I plan to search more trails in the park for this very fragrant flowering shrub.

Coast Redwood region

Mimulus in Henry Cowell state park

This May I hiked the trail in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton, Ca. I usually hike the trails from the San Lorenzo river side of the park off Hwy 9 but this time I entered from the chaparral side on Graham Hill. I was in search of the Western azalea that I heard grew along the trail.  I am planning to use the photos in my upcoming book : ‘The Mountain Gardener: 21 Tips for Successful Gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  During the first half of the day I didn’t come across any azaleas. After taking a break at the river and painting a watercolor, my friend Evan and I started back. It was on the return hike up the trail that I started to see the bright green leaves of hundreds of azalea plants. Only a few in the sun were flowering which is how I missed them on the way down. Now that I know where they are you can be sure I’ll be at that spot next spring to see the display. Hopefully, it will be a wetter winter and more of them will be flowering.