Forest Garden Tips

The apple harvest now approaches, but the tree looked rather different earlier this year. Saplings cast little shade, but a mature apple tree like this one has a much larger impact on its surroundings. Use and embrace change.

If you are familiar with my work, you will no doubt have noticed that I am passionate about forest gardens. This form of food production can provide generous yields for remarkably little effort once established. And of course there are many other benefits to forest gardening too – for our households, communities and the wider world.

But forest gardening does involve some work – especially during the planning and initial implementation stages. So I thought I would put together a few tips based on my own experiences to help you establish your own:

Design for Your Location

It is the most obvious and basic thing – but you would be surprised how often people simply follow generic advice and don’t plan and plant for place. A forest garden can look very different depending on where it is located. Tropical forest gardens, for example, will be much more densely planted, in general, than those in more temperate climes.

I once had a conversation with an organic farmer in Orkney (a notoriously windy location) who said that ‘permaculture doesn’t work there because of the winds’. This was a fundamental misunderstanding of what permaculture actually is. The fact of the matter is that it would be perfectly possible to establish a forest garden even on the windiest of sites. Though wind break/ shelter belt planting and other careful planning would be essential to protect a new plantation.

Keep Your Own Specific Needs and Desires in Mind

Another key tip is to design for people as well as place. Again, this may sound obvious. But I have seen people plant all sorts of beneficial plants but let their yields go to waste because they don’t actually like/ have use for what they produce. Don’t include certain fruit trees just because they will work well in a particular location – plant with your own preferences and needs in mind.

Create Open Glades and Plenty of Edge Habitat in Temperate Climates

In a tropical food forest, trees are often placed to create a dense canopy. But in most temperate climes, food forest planting will not necessarily create complete, dense canopy cover. In fact, the most productive forest gardens can often be those with plenty of open glades, which maximise edge habitats. Maximising edge is, of course, a key permaculture design principle.

Understand Natural Cycles and How To Keep Them Turning

In a forest garden, we are often finding shortcuts in natural cycles. We are intervening in low impact ways to make systems which mimic nature, but are designed to meet our own needs. Understanding natural cycles is key to keeping a forest garden functioning well over time. So make sure you know before you grow.

Evolve As Your Garden Evolves

Most of those who embark on creating a forest garden understand the necessity of working from patterns to details. But it is important to remember to look at the patterns that continue over time. As a forest garden evolves, you should evolve too. Be aware of the changes that occur over time, and use them to your advantage. Respond to that change and don’t be too static in your thinking.

These are just a few simple tips to help you establish your forest garden and keep it going over time. If you would like a forest garden design for where you live, please do get in touch.

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