forest gardening text

Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. The design principles can be replicated in even the smallest of urban gardens – find out how, and learn how to implement this abundant system in your own garden or community space today!

The forest garden concept was pioneered in the UK by Robert Hart, who examined the interactions and relationships that take place between plants in natural systems, particularly in woodland, the climax eco-system of a cool temperate region such as the British Isles, as well as the abundant food producing ‘home gardens’ of Kerala. This led him to evolve the concept of the ‘Forest Garden’: Based on the observation that the natural forest can be divided into distinct layers or ‘storeys’, he developed an existing small orchard of apples and pears into an edible landscape consisting of seven dimensions;

I) A ‘canopy’ layer consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
2) A ‘low-tree’ layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
3) A ‘shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
4) A ‘herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
5) A ‘ground cover’ layer of edible plants that spread horizontally.
6) A ‘rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
7) A vertical ‘layer’ of vines and climbers.

forest garden abundance

Stepping into the Forest Garden is like entering another world. All around is lushness and abundance, a sharp contrast to the dust bowl aridity of the surrounding prairie farmed fields and farmlands. At first the sheer profusion of growth is bewildering, like entering a wild wood. We’re not used to productive landscapes appearing so disorderly. But it doesn’t take long for the true harmony of nature’s systems to reveal themselves, and the realisation sinks in that in fact it is the Agribiz monocultures, with their heavy machinery, genetic manipulation, erosion, high water inputs, pesticides and fertilisers which are in a total state of maintained chaos. Whereas hectares of land may produce bushel after bushel of but one crop, genetically degraded and totally vulnerable to ever more virulent strains of pest and disease without the dubious protection of massive chemical inputs, just an eighth of an acre of a garden such as Robert’s can output a tremendous variety of yields.

Inspired by the example of Robert, and more recently the work of Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust and others who have learned lessons from both Robert’s successes as well as those things that did not work so well, forest gardening has now become an international movement. Literally thousands have been created in community spaces, private gardens and school grounds both in the UK and around the world:

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)

Course content includes;

  • What is forest gardening?
  • The history of forest gardening
  • Annuals vs perennials and tree crops – food for a future!
  • Principles of forest gardening
  • Forest garden design step by step
  • What do you want from your forest garden?
  • Selecting appropriate species for your forest garden
  • Urban forest gardening for small gardens and community projects
  • Creating plant guilds
  • Trees and their energy transactions
  • The living soil
  • Site mapping and surveying skills
  • The Mycorrhizal network – natures own internet!
  • Propagation, pruning and grafting
  • Practical hands on activities
  • Being part of creating a productive living forest garden, and more…



Learn more about forest gardening and food forests

Creating Your Forest Garden Step By Step

Despite the name, which perhaps implies that they require large amounts of space, forest gardens can be a way of incorporating edible and useful trees and bushes into our home gardens, even in an urban situation. Indeed even those with no gardens at all can adapt the basic principles of forest gardening.

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A visit to Robert Hart’s Forest Garden

To me Robert was a true 20th Century hero, whose contribution to our sense of possibility far, far outstripped the sad, small values my generation have been encouraged to see as aspirational. I hope to do the best I can to carry forward the vision that he had of productive city forests and edible landscapes.

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Forest Gardening in the City

“What has touched me deeply in my work with Forest Gardens is much more than the fruits. It’s all the children, women and men who have carried out this pioneering work over the years, and made forest gardening a reality in this capital city”

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