Wednesday, 3 February 2016


An informative and interesting article, written by Duncan Davis

Gardening, A word that strikes fear into me (and many others), don't get me wrong, I enjoy gardening, and love being able to grow my own veggies and fruits. Its the pain and exhaustion that make me cringe, the back ache and hand cramp that occur within seconds and the complete and utter exhaustion that lasts for days if I foolishly overdo it.
But there is some positive news on the horizon, its called "Forest Gardening" a form of "Permaculture"
You are probably imagining some kind of forest with potatoes growing in, and your not on your own, its what I first thought. But its way more then that, allow me to explain:
Forest Gardening is a way of maximising production, whilst minimising effort. If you have enough land (a good sized garden right up to 3 or 4 acres) and the knowledge, and a bit of patience it is almost effortless. But unlike other ways of gardening its also cheap (in the long term, but no more costly then a conventional garden to establish)!
Although Forest Gardening is generally done on plots of half a acre upwards, the principle works on any scale, the smallest I have seen is about a 4ft oval with an Apple tree, black and red currents, herbs, salads and beneficials. The average back garden can very easily produce a lot of food, with very little effort. You can also combine a more “traditional” lawn with a FG bed (See picture 2)

Lets start at the beginning,
1: Clearing the land. The most effective way is with Pigs, but that’s a little hard for most of us, but the good news is that Chickens do almost as good a job.
You make a chicken run (or tractor as they are officially called for this technique) and put some chickens in, the size of the tractor and number of chickens is dictated by the size of the land to clear, a garden would require 2 chickens, an acre would require 10. You simply leave them on an area till its cleared, and move them on, they are very good at removing most unwanted plants, and they also feed the soil.
2: Planting, you then want to plant the area before it weeds over, its what you plant that makes forest gardening very low effort!
3: What to plant. As the name suggests there is an element of "forest" in forest gardening, in the back garden this would probably be 2 trees of a fruiting kind. With more land you can introduce more trees and include ones that benefit the land (and other plants etc), because a big part of forest gardening (henceforth to be referred to as FG) is that every plant has a use, be it producing food or benefiting the plants that grow the food stuffs.
The other part of forest gardening is its use of perennials, layers, ground cover and Mulch.
4: Perennials and self seeders, are a BIG part of FG philosophy is the use of perennials, thus removing the need to dig each year (which destroys the beneficial fungi and critters in the soil), so for example rather then go to the effort of starting leeks in the greenhouse, then planting them out etc, you just plant babington's leek(Allium ampeloprasum) and it grows away, it even has a nifty way of spreading its seed.

5: Layers are the original reason FG was first used in this country, a chap called Robert Hart who was inspired by the 5 or 6 layers of tree, shrub, vine and ground cover in the tropics.
He merged what he had seen with traditional English gardening and although his technique and planning has been greatly improved by the pioneers who followed him the idea is the same. Basically instead of having one layer of food growing, you design your garden to have a very high set of trees (i.e. Alder) a normal set of trees (Apple etc) Shrubs (currents etc) herbs (mint etc) and ground cover (wild strawberry or creeping raspberry).
By carefully designing it you can mix plants that like shade and those that don't and achieve very high yields.
6: Ground Cover and Mulch is very important to a FG, the amount of time an average gardener spends weeding is vast, and completely pointless because by simply removing the empty spaces between plants (nature abhors a vacuum after all) with ground cover or mulch depending on the situation you can virtually remove the need to weed, there will occasionally be some, but they will be easier to remove.
7: Beneficial plants is the other way FG's are low effort, rather then adding fertiliser all the time, and watering a lot in the summer you simply call on the power of nature. (If you are growing food there does need to be a input of nutrients, but considerably less then conventional, and never anything artificial, and its not dug in, simply sprinkled on the surface and the worms do the work)
The way this is achieved is by plants that fix nitrogen (legumes, Broom, Bog Myrtle, etc), potassium (Russian comfery) being planted in the FG, thus feeding the other plants.
By using these techniques its possible to have a 3 acre site and only spend part of a day or two a month doing some weeding and cutting back. If you are FG for food then you will spend a lot of time harvesting, particularly late summer and autumn, but you can plan your FG for viewing pleasure rather then eating (and viewing) pleasure, and also by their design FG's are havens for beneficial wildlife.
If you would like any further information there is a 12 part video tour of a FG in Devon about 50 mins in total)

or you can email me at
In the rough garden plan (Picture 1) I have tried to show how you can have a good looking garden with a bit of food as well, you want herbs you can use near the door, and then the rest of the garden can be arranged in roughly height order, with some shade tolerant plants behind the trees. After a few years you could well get a load of red currents under the big apple tree, or replace some of the herbs with 

What I haven’t shown is the ground cover and mulch, I would have an assortment of plants like Gaultheria japonica - (A.Gray.)Sleumer. And Coprosma brunnea - (Kirk.)Cheesem. And Mitchella undulata - Siebold.&Zucc. And then bark mulch around the plants themselves.