How does a forest garden work?

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Instructor on our Forest gardening course, Bryn Thomas, talks about the idea behind a forest garden:

Co-originator of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, was once asked if permaculture [growing] really worked, to which he replied, "Do plants grow?"

Of course, this answer was meant to be slightly facetious, because we all know that plants sometimes don't grow, or at least not the ones we want!

So our challenge is to chose the right ones, put them in the right place, and get them to grow well.

Take a look at a patch of woodland, and you will see just how productive nature can be.

Forest gardening is about creating a garden based on the same principles as a woodland, often a young open woodland, but with species that are productive for us.

Picture what we want in a forest garden, and most of us immediately start thinking about fruit and maybe nut trees, which is a good start.

But we can also think about a shrub layer, often with soft fruit.

The ground layer of herbs, perennial edible plants, and fertility building plants needs most consideration, though, as it is this layer which has the highest cost to plant and takes most maintenance.

Whatever we want to plant, we need to think carefully about the niche a plant enjoys. Figs can be planted where they get the sun, but wild garlic needs deciduous shade.

So we also need to consider how a garden will develop over time and revise our plans when it behaves differently from how we imagined.

I have planted and worked over a number of forest gardens over the last 22 years, and it has always been fascinating to watch them develop, learn from them, and work out how to interact with/manage them. The smallest I have planted is just 2m2, and the largest 500m2, but there are some in the UK extending to a few hectares.

Find out more about our Forest gardening course.