Forest gardens and the future of sustainable farming

source: shikigami2011

We’ve spent the best part of 5 weekends preparing an area of the wood to become a forest garden. It’s taken a lot of work and it still isn’t ready for all the plants quite yet.
The fruit trees are in but the black current and redcurrant bushes need relocating to the area along with the raspberry canes. Vegetables will be sown next month, as will the herbs.

Until I had seen an awesome documentary called ‘Farm for the Future’ while studying Countryside Management’, I didn’t fully understand the purpose and role of forest gardens. However, seeing real case studies and interviews with people who run forest gardens inspired me, as did the motive for a more sustainable way of farming. If you haven’t seen it, you can see it here. I recommend it to anyone.

The documentary tackles the issue of intensive farming and their practices that are ultimately leading to a monoculture environment that is killing biodiversity, and our future. It’s a subject close to my heart and their solution is forest gardening. Ironically, forests are also close to my heart and I am lucky to be in a position to be able to grow one.

Our long-term aim is to become more self-sufficient; growing as much of our own food as possible, keeping livestock and ultimately living off the land.  However, we are both career focused people who enjoy working in offices and the money we make. We love travelling, visiting friends and the finer things in life such as eating out and staying away.  This may be contradictory to the typical ethos of self-sufficiency living, but we aren’t the type of people to conform to expectations.  We just do what we feel is right for us. We aim to find a balance between enjoying our corporate careers while living a bit more sustainably than the average Joe.

What is a forest garden?

A forest garden is a sustainable food production system based on woodland ecosystems. Plants with yields beneficial to humans such as fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs and vegetable plants are grown alongside each other in a way that they can benefit each other in terms of pest control, pollination, maximising space and providing habitats for beneficial creatures. A layering system ensures vertical space is utilised.  The aim is to create a low-maintenance; sustainable plantation that produces food for humans, that also benefits wildlife.

Beautiful example of a forest garden
Source: London Permaculture

What will we grow?

We are still learning about and planning our forest garden so we only have initial plans. So far we have several fruit trees including pear, cherry, damson and plumb. We already have a redcurrant bush, a blackcurrant bush and have just bought several gooseberry brushes.  The raspberry canes are quite established already but we will move them to the forest garden area. There’s a good ground covering of wild strawberries next to the house that produces the tiniest fruit. Their produce can’t be classed as a yield but the plants may help other plants (need to look into this). I will take some from this area and move them to the forest garden. We may also introduce some domestic varieties of strawberry.  I would love to have a large area dedicated to a variety of herbs that will be great for cooking but also be aesthetically pleasing. The greenhouse is located in front of the forest garden and will be used to house tomatoes and peppers. As for the vegetable area, well, we will grow as many vegetable as possible!

Plants should be intermixed in a forest garden and a layering system applied (see image below). This is the bit I need to research further to ensure plants are put in the right places.  I also need to understand which plants to grow. At the moment I’m planning to throw everything in.

There are several forest gardens around the UK that have open days and work days and some even run course. I would love to visit one and learn directly from the people that take care of them.

I will be posting on the progress of the forest garden area and will be snapping pictures along the way. If you are interested in following our journey then follow this blog on Bloglovin’ here and Instagram here

Stay tuned!

By Jenni Tulip

I'm a bright-haired, hill walking, magpie whispering, skull collecting, tree hugging, money saving, bird watching, happy campervanning, ferret fanatic, woodland dweller sharing my stories and passion for the outdoors to inspire you to immerse yourself in nature.

  • People grow this type of garden here in the Appalachian forests. It isn't called a forest garden, but it's the same idea. Sometimes other people steal the produce , then the judge has to decide the value of the stolen crops so the maleficent can pay restitution. I remember one case where the people who took the crops said they didn't know it was a farm, they thought it was an abandoned garden, because it didn't look like a farm.

    Do you ever read Dani's blog, from South Africa? She is much older than you, but the two of you sound so much alike in your life view that it's eerie. They moved out onto a farm, way off the grid, and raise alpacas.


    I went and got Dani's URL because I think you two have much in common.

  • Sounds interesting. I like the idea of a forest garden and I've planted a small area of traditional coppice along with some edibles in my coppice area that I've fenced off. So hopefully some extra low effort food should be produced along with firewood and timber for other uses.