A short introduction to forest gardening

A short introduction to forest gardening

Forest gardening is an increasingly popular way of approaching growing. Here we answer ‘what’s it all about?’ introducing you to the approach, and linking to places where you can find out more.

Mimicking a natural forest, at any scale

You don’t have to have acres of land in order to forest garden; you don’t have to grow a forest either! You can take this approach in pots on your patio, on an allotment, or indeed across a forest (and at all scales in between).

Robert Hart is considered a pioneer of forest gardening. He examined the interactions and relationships that take place between plants in natural systems, such as in a woodland, the climax eco-system of a cool temperate region such as Britain. He observed that the natural forest can be divided into distinct layers.


The 7 layers of a forest garden. Credit: Graham Burnett. www.spiralseed.co.uk

Growing in all available vertical space means production is really high. Once established, it’s easy to maintain too. Fruit can be grown to eat fresh, cook in desserts, preserve in jams, fermented into wines; herbs can be grown for edible and medicinal value; flowering plants provide food for pollinators; wood can be harvested for  heating the house in a woodstove. A garden grown in this way can provide many functions, as well as looking beautfiul.

“Obviously, few of us are in a position to restore the forests… But tens of millions of us have gardens, or access to open spaces such as industrial wastelands, where trees can be planted. and if full advantage can be taken of the potentialities that are available even in heavily built up areas, new ‘city forests’ can arise…” (Robert A.de J.Hart, 1 April 1913 – 7 March 2000).

This video shows Martin Crawford’s forest garden in Devon, introduced by Tim Smit. “What once stood as a flat field in 1994, is today a multi layered, ecosystem of trees, shrubs and ground covers, producing fruits, nuts, and medicinal products.”

Getting started

The best advice we can give if you’re interested is give it a go! Get growing. Whether you’re starting with a lawn or existing woodland you can apply forest gardening concepts.

This step by step guide should help you along.

You may also be interested in our post on propagating plants – creating a garden from scratch can require a lot of plants, but needn’t be costly.

See forest gardens in Cornwall

There are many more than those listed here, but hopefully this will provide you with a good starter to explore.

Naturally Vegan Plot in the Tamar valley. 3.5 acres field transitioning to become a centre for research, demonstration, and dissemination of information. Also host courses on forest gardening, permaculture and other topics. Sell hedging, fruit and nut trees. www.the-naturally-vegan-plot.co.uk

Newquay Community Orchard started an orchard site in 2014, with a forest garden approach in some areas. Also a permaculture LAND (Learning And Network Demonstration) Learner site. www.newquayorchard.co.uk

Towans Forest Garden “Started in 1982, the project follows the principles of permaculture and uses the techniques of agroforestry to intensify the production of food on the land.”  www.towansforestgarden.co.uk

Tamasin of Perennial Harvest has started a forest garden near St Ewe. perennial-harvest.co.uk

…and further afield:

East Devon Forest Garden 

Red Shed , Coldstream, Scottish Borders



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