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Forest Gardening General

Natural woodland has three basic layers: trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. A forest garden models itself on these by recreating the layers but using edible plants. It is based on the concept that using simple, natural elements that mimic the structure and function of forest ecosystems, a highly productive space can be produced.


The layers may not produce as much as they would do if they were on their own. However, if they are planted with enough space in between them, the use of the sunlight will be maximized and a lot of (different) food can be produced in a small space, making it an ideal gardening style for urban houses. A range of diverse and productive crops can be used, and the management of a forest garden, once the plants and shrubs are planted and established, requires less maintenance than conventional gardening, apart from some weeding and pruning. A primary aim of a forest garden system is also to make it biologically sustainable. Allowing natural succession to take place means that it will be able to cope with disturbances more effectively.

Plants to try

Fruit trees such as apples, and more shrubby species like Eucalyptus, can be interspersed amongst taller trees including sweet chestnut (if you have the space!). Raspberries are a shade tolerant, soft fruit species which would do well on woodland edges, and common berries and currents would also do well in this shrub layer. Mint, mushrooms, blackberries and edible shoots such as bamboo provide good ground cover. Using mulch and leaf litter (see the Organic Gardening factsheet for more information) will improve nutrient cycling, and specific plants can also increase fertility if they are nitrogen fixers, e.g. alders. Liquorice and sorrel help raise the nutrient content of the topsoil layer by rooting deeply to tap mineral resources. Experiment! As the forest garden develops try out new crops in different niches, as a larger number of plants will give greater diversity to your forest garden.

Date printed 16/08/13 0121 448 0119 The Central England Area Quaker Meeting Charities Registered Charity Number 224571

Version 1.0 F9-02 June 2011

F9 05 forest gardening