Have you ever heard of the concept of a forest garden? Forest gardens are modelled after a forest ecosystem. These types of gardens are designed to mimic the structure of a natural forest, with various layers. Think of a canopy layer, a shrub layer, a herbaceous layer and ground cover. Forest gardens boast lush ecosystems that are permanent, low-maintenance and highly productive.
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What is a Forest Garden?
A forest garden is a mix of agriculture and forest system. It combines aesthetics and sustainability while creating a multi-layered edible landscape that mimics the structure of a natural forest. Planting different layers of plants, trees, shrubs, and herbs together, creates a food system that has a similar diversity to our own natural environment.
Benefits of this type of garden gardens
There are many benefits to having this type of sustainable garden. Firstly, they require minimal maintenance compared to traditional vegetable gardens because the plants are interdependent and self-sustaining in their environment.
In theory, they provide a diverse array of edible plants that can feed you throughout the year. Furthermore, they don’t require external inputs such as fertilizers or pesticides as nature takes care of itself without any human interference. Finally, they offer incredible biodiversity while also beautifying your landscape with natural beauty!
Common plants used in these types of gardens
When creating a sustainable garden, it is important to understand which plants are suitable for your climate and will benefit the biodiversity of the space. There are a wide variety of edible and non-edible plants you can use, such as nut and fruit trees, berries, herbs and flowers. Additionally, cover crops can be added to increase soil fertility and prevent weeds from taking over. Grasses, legumes and clovers are all common cover crops used in forest gardens.
Sustainable harvesting techniques
Harvesting from a forest garden should be done sustainably and strategically to ensure the space’s ongoing health. It is important to keep track of which plants have recently been harvested and allow enough time for those plants to regrow before harvesting them again. Additionally, it is best to only harvest what you need, leaving plenty of room for the other wildlife in the forest garden to thrive.
How to build a forest garden
Building this type of garden isn’t quite as simple as just planting what you want and hoping for the best. To create a thriving, happy and productive forest garden, there are some steps that need to be taken first. Firstly, you should assess your existing growing conditions such as soil type and drainage, climate, aspect and space available for your chosen design.
Secondly, decide upon an overall design for your forest garden – do you want it to lie in blocks, crops or contoured rows? Thirdly, research the plants that will grow well in your conditions such as edible trees, bushes and perennials. Finally, add some appropriate ground cover between plants to retain moisture and reduce weeds.
Choose A Site for the Garden
Picking the right location for your forest garden is an important step in the process. Look for a site with good drainage, plenty of sunlight and protection from strong winds. Consider what kind of plants you intend to grow, as this will determine how much water and sunshine the site gets. Don’t forget to identify any existing vegetation on your land that can be used or included in your garden’s design.
Design a Plan for the Garden
Once you have picked an appropriate site for the garden and identified existing vegetation, it’s time to design a plan. This will help you envision what the forest garden will look like once planted and take into account the future growth and placement of plants.
Consider things such as trees with edible fruit, container vegetables, climber support structures, fruiting shrubs, herbs and flowers when planning your forest garden. For more inspiration on designing a forest garden, please read Designing a Forest Garden: The Seven-Layer Garden
Establish Soil Health and Structure
It’s important to create a soil structure that will enhance the growth of your forest garden. This can be done by installing compost, mulching, applying organic fertilizers, adding green manure crops and incorporating compost. In addition, consider using companion planting techniques to add nitrogen-fixing legumes like peas and beans. These techniques will help you build up fertility and increase the health of your soils over time.
Plant Trees, Shrubs and Perennials in Layers
Planting in layers is the key to creating a successful forest garden! Start from the top, adding suitable trees and tall shrubs to add canopy cover to your space. Then, add medium-sized shrubs and small trees as needed. If you’d like to add additional richness, consider planting perennial edibles and flowers.
Finally, fill in the gaps with shade-loving ground covers like clover, wood sorrel and lily of the valley for extra texture!
The Potential Downsides to Growing a Forest Garden
Can there be potential disadvantages of forest gardening that can go overlooked? From animals destroying crops to poor soil fertility, this section explores the main disadvantages and what can be done to address them.
One potential downside of cultivating a forest garden is the introduction of invasive species. This can include plants or animals that grow or reproduce rapidly, competing with native species and leading to displacement and disruption of the landscape. It’s important to know how to identify invasive species and take measures to control their spread.
Unwanted Ecosystem Changes
As an ecosystem becomes more concentrated with non-native life, there can be a shift in the balance. Unwanted changes to an existing environment may arise if certain animals become too populous or if certain plant species take over. These changes can be unpredictable and hard to control if forest gardens are not kept well-maintained. To minimize these effects, it’s important to monitor the forest garden regularly and remove any plants that might become pests.
The Risk of Pest Outbreaks
When setting up a forest garden, the risk of pest surges and outbreaks is a real possibility. The presence of multiple plant species in one small space encourages some pests to settle and breed. To address this issue, it’s important to check regularly for signs of infestations or disease, with an emphasis on methods of prevention rather than post-infestation spread control.
Plant Support Requirements and Pruning Demands
As many of the plants in a forest garden are climbing and semi-climbing in nature, they will require support structures such as trellises or poles to help them reach their desired size. This can often mean increased pruning demands too. Unsupported vines can become tangled and create further maintenance issues if left unmanaged. Also, as long vines age, they may weaken structurally over time, resulting in collapse and potential injury.
Knowing plant support requirements up front is important when planning your forest garden to ensure that you have adequate structural support available for your chosen plants.
So, there is a lot of planning that needs to go into building a forest garden. You have to consider various vegetation layers, sun requirements, the soil and harvesting. They might not be for every property, but they are an interesting concept for a low-maintenance sustainable garden!