I have to confess that, for a while, I was confused about the term ‘forest garden’. Is my garden, I wondered, properly a ‘forest garden’? Or is it just a vegetable patch? Gradually, by following the work of people like Anni Kelsey, I’ve come to know that the term refers to a way of gardening, and not to gardening in some sort of woodland. Jake over at Forest Garden Wales, posted this succinct summary of how the term can apply even to a small garden. I thought I’d use his five principles of a forest garden to review my own small garden.
First, Jake explains that a forest garden ‘mimics’ a forest edge, rather than being situated in a forest. My back garden certainly does a good job of mimicking a woodland edge. Sitting beneath mature trees, it both benefits from, and is limited by, their shade.
The front garden sits beside a mature hedge, and in the centre we have planted a small edible cherry (Stella) which was a gift from friends. As it grows, it too will create its own edge, casting shade, capturing water, and feeding and housing birds (and hopefully us).
The garden is productive, with a range of edible green vegetables, and fruit such as alpine strawberries, raspberries, and blackcurrants. It is also productive for wildlife (we often share the same plants, such as cabbage), with nectar rich plants grown alongside the edibles.
It is multi-layered. For example, tree cabbage and hablitzia tamnoides use vertical height, and the raspberries make the most of the heat from the back wall.
Ground cover sits beneath the taller plants, such as parsley and lambs lettuce beneath the tree cabbage, and Siberian purslane and lamium (nectar) beneath the kale.
Comfrey nestles in amongst the raspberries, providing biomass and fertility for sustainability. I also grow yarrow, lemon balm, and red clover as mineral accumulators that I can simply chop and drop on the ground as nutritious mulch.
It is lower maintenance than an annual vegetable garden, as I don’t dig the soil. This is also ‘lower maintenance’ for the wildlife and soil organisms, who are allowed to get on with what they do largely undisturbed by an interfering human. By increasing the range of edible perennials that I grow, plants are able to get their root systems established and can ride out more extreme weather conditions. I mulch with horse manure, home made compost, and leaf mould to feed the soil, trusting the worms to dig it all in for me. This all means that I can concentrate my efforts on learning how to actually harvest and cook the food that I grow, an aspect that can get forgotten.
So is my garden properly a ‘forest garden’? I think I can probably say that it is.