A Man Planted A Forest For His Late Wife, But It Took 17 Years For Its Secret To Be Discovered

Winston Howes was devastated by the sudden loss of his wife, Janet, after 33 years of marriage. Yet through his grief, he came up with a touching way to honor her life – but no one noticed his extravagant tribute for 17 years.

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Winston and Janet married in 1962 in Stroud, England, before they settled down in Wickwar. There, Winston cultivated the land through his career as a farmer. Janet was a housewife and kept the Howes’ home in order for 33 years.

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But tragedy struck in 1995 when Janet, then 50, suffered from heart failure. When detected early, certain treatments can help victims of heart failure to manage their condition. But unfortunately, Winston’s wife passed away from the condition.

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Suddenly, Winston was without Janet on their sprawling 112-acre farm. And so, just months after losing his wife, he thought up with a special way to honor her memory. And then he got started on with the task of making it a reality.

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Winston began by delineating the perfect space for a natural tribute he had envisioned. He chose a six-acre field, next to the farmhouse he once shared with his beloved Janet. Then, he brought in the plants.

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He would need approximately 6,000 oak trees, as well as some daffodils, which would bloom in spring. Of course, planting all of that on his own would take a lifetime. And so he recruited some outsiders to help.

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But Winston wasn’t planning on simply planting a forest of trees in Janet’s honor. He wanted all of the greenery and the flowers to work together to create a shape. “We planted large oak trees around the edge,” he later explained to The Telegraph.

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Then, he said, he “decided to put a hedge around it, too.” The well-pruned shrubbery would further define the shape of his special tribute. But what made the project even more spectacular was the fact that no one else could really see what the point of it was.

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The lot’s final look was not something passersby could discern from the road by Winston’s farm. In fact, it would take 17 years for someone to be able to figure out what he had been up to.

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It was hot air balloonist Andy Collett who was first to notice the spectacular display. As he floated above the forest in 2012, Collett noticed the the clearing in the center had a definitive shape. It was a heart.

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“I have my own balloon and am quite a regular flyer – but this was the most amazing sight I have ever seen from the sky,” Collett recalled for The Telegraph. “It was a perfect heart hidden away from view – you would not know it was there.”

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Awestruck by what he saw, Collett snapped a photo and shared it with the world. He added that he could tell just how much Janet had meant to Winston. “You can just imagine the love story,” he said.

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Once the heart-shaped field made its press rounds, Winston shared more about how he came up with the idea. He also divulged some of the more subtle symbolism hidden within the lovey heart.

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“I came up with the idea of creating a heart in the clearing of the field after Janet died. I thought it was a great idea – it was a flash of inspiration,” Winston told The Telegraph. He then revealed that the heart’s positioning highlights a special location from Janet’s life.

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“The heart points towards Wotton Hill, where Janet is from,” Winston explained. He went on to explain that he himself was sure that the project had turned out as he had envisioned it – because he too had flown over the site about five years before Collett had.

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Before the media coverage of his forest began, Winston had spent nearly 20 years enjoying his handiwork all on his own. He added a seat to the meadow, where he could admire the daffodils that bloomed in the heart-shaped clearing each spring.

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Winston spent plenty of time in his meadow, which looked out on the hill where Janet once lived. “I sometimes go down there, just to sit and think about things,” the farmer, who was 70 when he recited his tale for The Telegraph, said.

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Most importantly, though, Winston knew that his forest would not be an ephemeral memorial. Instead, he said, “It is a lovely and lasting tribute to [Janet] which will be here for years.” And those who saw his handiwork could only agree.

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One Facebook user said she grieved the loss of her partner in a similar way. “How lovely a tribute to your beloved wife, I have heart decor most places of our home and my partner’s resting place. He too passed away suddenly with heart disease, and [I] would love a place like this to visit,” she wrote.

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Several others chimed in to call the forest an “absolutely beautiful gesture” and a “wonderful tribute to a loved one.” But the most-liked comment of all said that the trees likely meant a lot to Winston’s wife, too. It read, “What a unique and beautiful tribute for Janet to look down on.”

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