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Forest Gardening

February 11, 2012
I first became aware of forest gardening in a television programme  last autumn.  Alys Fowler in her own terraced garden had planted edible annual vegetables such as garlic, onions, leeks, broad beans, French beans, Swiss chard and curly kale in and around  fruit bushes, trees and flowering shrubs and roses. Sun-loving herbs edged the paths and within a relatively small sloping garden Alys demonstrated the advantages of combining edible plants with more traditional planting.
Further research took me to the originator of forest gardening- Robert Hart (1913-2000). Hart spent more than 30 years creating an ecosystem similar to that of native woodlands but made up primarily of edible plants. His Wenlock Edge garden in Shropshire became a pilgrimage for permaculture enthusiasts and he strongly believed that the practice would work in urban and suburban gardens as much as in the wider countryside.
 Inspired by the forest gardens cultivated in many parts of the tropics  his temperate garden plan was made up of seven layers of vegetation suitable for the UK climate.

1.The top layer, the canopy, would be made up of fruit and nut cultivars such as apple, pear, plum, sweet chestnut and walnut.

2.The next layer, a low tree layer,  would contain certain fruits of the canopy layer but grafted onto dwarfing root stocks as well as medium height trees such as hawthorn, elder, medlar and fig.

3.The shrub layer contained fruit bushes of black, red and white currant, gooseberry, quince and Rosa rugosa for edible  hips and rose petals.

4.The herbaceous layer contained globe artichoke, chard, leek, sorrel, lovage. Shade tolerant herbs -lemon balm, mint, chives, sage, and comfrey mingled near the middle. At the edges were sun-loving herbs -marjoram, thyme, rosemary, lavender and fennel.

5.The ground cover layer was made up of creeping Rubus such as the Arctic raspberry and the Oregan thornless blackberry.

6.The rhizo-sphere layer was planted with root crops such as radish ‘Black Spanish’, Hamburg parsley, and salsify.

7.  A vertical layer of climbing French and runner beans, vines (especially Vitus ‘Brandt’ ) and nasturtiums were supported on the trees and shrubs.

A friend recently moved to the country where her garden has five large and productive apple trees down one side. Planting fruit bushes under and around the canopy and following much of Hart’s seven layer plan would make brilliant use of the space without making a time-consuming vegetable patch. She’s considering red and black currant and gooseberry fruit bushes as a start. Once those are in I plan to arrive with a tray of seedling Swiss chard and broad beans.

Further reading: Creating  a Forest Garden. Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops

I am not good with house plants mainly because I have very few sunny windows with sills convenient to put them on.  However I have managed to keep this orchid going for a good few months possibly because it doesn’t mind shade. There’s very little to pick in the garden for week  15 and  I am very grateful for the orchid.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2012 6:10 pm

    I always have orchids here too. My son works Saturdays in a shop that sells them and can you believe they have sell-by dates! I get the out of date ones which often still have masses of buds. And I can usually get them to flower a second time. I didn’t think to include them in the challenge, silly me!

    Liking the forest gardening concept 😀

    • February 13, 2012 8:44 am

      Yes forest gardening could provide a lot of growing space for fruit especially. And it’s always very satisfying cooking something you’ve grown in the garden.

  2. February 11, 2012 11:58 pm

    Gorgeous orchid…our garden is still under snow at the moment & looking at the temps (-10 at the moment!), I think it may be a while before I venture out to pick a thrifty posy…

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