FOREST Gardens: Working in Harmony with Nature.

A forest garden is a wonderful place to be, surrounded by trees and shrubs, listening to birds singing and insects buzzing, with open spaces to feel the sun on your face.

But what makes this different from your average park or garden, is almost all the plants chosen will have a practical use for humans, providing food, herbs, or even basketry materials and natural dyes – and often more than one of the above.

Forest gardens are designed to make full use of the sunlight. Rather than being flat like a field of wheat, they are layered like a natural woodland’s edge, with taller, canopy trees, understorey shrubs and ground cover with very little bare earth.

The perennial plants provide a rich natural habitat for hedgehogs, slow worms, birds, bats and carnivorous insects all of whom help in pest control, eliminating the need for pesticides.

We can look at how nature already works, and work in harmony with it, aiming for minimal extra inputs, and low on-going maintenance.

Like a natural ecosystem, many different types of plants are mixed up together. Some plants fix nitrogen and improve the soil for others.

As an example, fruit trees require potash and nitrogen to continually produce a good crop, so you can sow dwarf comfrey and clover around the base to provide those nutrients naturally.

Other companion plants might be chosen to attract pollinators. A flowering ground cover layer will not only help suppress weeds, but their flowers attract bees – who will, in turn, pollinate our fruit crops.

A forest garden can take on different forms depending on where it is. In some places, perennial vegetables such as Taunton kale could be grown, or rhubarb if the soil is damp.

A variety of harvests will provide resilience in cases of extreme or variable weather; a valuable resource in the face of climate change.

Growing edible crops like this is not a new idea, but can be traced back to many pre-Roman cultures and right back to the Mesolithic period, when humans brought hazel with them to new places.

Taking lessons from the past and learning from other cultures can help us make the world around us richer in wildlife, provide plentiful and more nutritious crops and create beautiful green spaces for us all to enjoy.

Transition Town Wellington