Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Add to My MSN

Introducing Forest Gardening - Beautiful, Productive, Edible Gardens

6/6/2011 11:40:02 AM

Tags: forest gardening, permaculture, Robert Hart, Maddy Harland

The forest garden at the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon UK

Forests are often some of the most productive and biodiverse habitats on our planet. Traditional people the world over have studied their forests and designed sustainable agricultures based on them. These can be found in the Amercias, Asia, and Africa as well as Europe. Robert Hart (1913-2000), who first pioneered the idea of temperate forest gardening in Britain, based his ideas on the tropical forest gardens in Kerala in south-west India. These are gardens based on the principles of the native forest ecosystem, but consciously using edible and other useful plants. Robert adapted this idea by substituting their sub-tropical plants with ones that could grow in England’s climate. For him, forest gardening was both a productive and low maintenance form of horticulture and also a way of gardening that embodied a peaceful and productive cooperation between human beings and nature.   

Robert’s work was adopted by permaculturists first in Britain and it has now spread all over the world. In Britain, there are now numerous example of forest gardens, large and small. These are designed and planted to mimic the structure of our natural woodland where all the vertical as well as horizontal niches are filled with plants – trees, shrubs and mainly perennial climbers, roots and ground cover – but these gardens all differ according to soil type, topography and personal preferences. What they share is the aspiration to be: 

 ·      biologically sustainable – to not need lots of external inputs 

·       robust – to be able to withstand climate change in the shape of unusual weather extremes 

·       productive – in terms of edible foods, medicinal herbs, fibres, spices, fodder, fuel wood, poles, basketry materials, mulches, games, sap for wines and other products 

·       ideally they should also be low maintenance after the initial work of designing and planting them. 

Australian rhubarb adds a good edible feature 

 

Forest gardens do not need to be large. The idea of stacking plants and filling vertical niches can be applied to a small urban lot as well as a larger rural yard. Tim and I acquired part of a field behind our house in 1991 and started planting our forest garden almost immediately. Today, twenty years later, from a bare, windswept site, it has become alive with nature and filled with edible foods all year round. This has been a real journey for us and not without mistakes and a few failures along the way, as well as wonderful successes. 

In this blog I am going to share with you how to design and plant a forest garden, what trees, shrubs, climbers, ground cover and roots have worked for us and how to maximize space and yields. I can only speak form my experience and the perspective of a cool temperate climate but by sharing the principles and practices, I am sure we can adapt the information to suit many conditions. After all, all I had was Robert Hart’s Forest Gardening book which introduced the concept but had little hard information about plant varieties for my garden. I am also sure that many of you will be able to share your experiences and expertise on this blog and we also have some wonderful books available on the subject now. 

Forest gardening is an ideal way of applying permaculture design principles. (There is more on ‘what is permaculture’ and permaculture principles in my first two Mother blogs.) Forest gardening is organic, takes care of many of my family’s needs but, vitally for me, my garden is also a haven for a large and diverse population of invertebrates and vertebrates: animals, reptiles, birds and insects. They give me as much pleasure as the tasty fruits off the trees, the aromatics herbs and the beautiful and abundant wildflowers. All this biodiversity also means that the balance of pest/predators is healthy. This really is a way of gardening that makes you feel you are creating a little Eden. 

 Top Photo Credit: Martin Crawford's forest garden at the Agroforestry Research Trust, UK from Tim Harland 

Second photograph Credit: Australian rhubarb (Rheum australe) provides both structure and food in Martin's garden from Tim Harland

Coming next! Setting Up Your Own Forest Garden 

Maddy Harland is the editor and co-founder of Permaculture magazine. To find out more about permaculture please visit www.permaculture.co.uk 



Related Content

Editor’s Choice: 5 Great Green Gardens

In Arizona, an intrepid desert gardener harvests rainwater to grow his own food. A Missouri garden w...

Why I'm Attending the Growing Farmers Workshops

Robert White explains why he's attending the Growing Farmers workshops, and describes what he learne...

Busted: Sustainable Forestry Initiative Label is Greenwash

A ForestEthics report calls out the American Forest and Paper Association-backed Sustainable Forestr...

Strategies For Staying Motivated

Robert Maxwell shares tips on maintaining motivation.

Content Tools




Post a comment below.

 

Bryan Aldeghi
6/14/2011 12:42:13 PM
This is such a great concept. The forest is an amazing place to grow and gather food. I don't have much experience with a forest garden, but we are used to going out and collecting the bounty that naturally occurs. One of our favorite recipes is using the common, invasive plant Garlic Mustard to make pesto. Here is a recipe for that: http://www.integratedpathways.net/TheIntegratedLife/2011/04/19/super-simple-wild-pesto/ Always be sure not to collect more than 1/3 of your wild edibles from any one plant. Cheers!







Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.