I recently got to visit an
extraordinary backyard. From the
street, I thought I was in an ordinary suburban neighborhood. There were a few redwood trees just beyond
the rooftops, but it was hard to imagine that I’d be standing in a cool, damp
redwood forest in a few minutes.

The idea of cultivating a redwood
tree in your backyard sounds a little crazy—and in fact, it would be crazy,
because redwood trees need to be around their own kind to thrive. They create their own microclimate, so you’d
really need three or five redwoods to make much of a difference.

But if you have a little land—these
friends of mine had just a 1/3 acre lot—you can create an incredible
wilderness. And if you live near the
ocean where coast redwoods flourish, why not?

The neighborhood my friends live in
backs up onto a greenbelt, and every house along the street has made a
different use of that space. Some are overgrown with blackberries and other
weeds, but others have been lovingly restored to beautiful forest.

Clearing out the brambles gives the
redwoods and other trees had some room to breathe, and these gardeners selected
more native plants, including elderberry, flowering currant, and native
rhododendrons. They all do well in the
cool climate the redwoods create. (In
fact, on a hot day, you can cool off just by walking across the lawn and
stepping into their small redwood forest!)

Maintenance has been surprisingly
easy. The couple goes through twice a year, once in spring and once in fall,
pulling out the dead fern fronds, limbing up the trees, and clearing away any
dead branches. It all goes through the shredder and gets recycled as mulch.

A deer fence discourages larger
forms of wildlife, and they don’t keep a compost pile because they know it
would attract raccoons, possums, and skunks. But they rejoice in the wildlife they’ve attracted to their
backyard. In the late afternoons,
they sit on a deck that overlooks the redwoods. Ospreys land in the upper branches, and swallowtail butterflies
dart in and out, proving that even a tiny bit of wilderness can be truly