Forest gardens

For those people who live in surburbia, a trip to the Botanical gardens, or a walk along a river bank lined with trees are the closest some of us come to a natural forest system. I’ve often thought that it would be great to live (I live in Seddon), and walk out of the backyard into a forest. Until I did my PDC course with Bill Mollison and Geoff Lawton, I thought that it wasn’t possible. But in that course, I was introduced to the work of Robert Hart. Robert Hart was (he died back in 2000) a famous practitioner of forest gardens. He had a 500m2 property in England. He noticed that trying to maintain a vegie patch, an orchard and livestock is a lot of effort. One day he saw that a small bed of perennial vegetables and herbs where thriving, with little intervention. From these observations he developed, over a 30 year period, a forest garden. He observed forests and saw there were 7 natural layers in a forest.

The 7 layers are:

  • Canopy – large fruit or nut trees
  • Low tree – dwarf fruit trees
  • Shrubs – currants, berries
  • Rhizosphere – root vegetables
  • Soil surface – ground covers like strawberry
  • Vertical – climbers, vines

There are a number of benefits to such a system.  By incorporating all or most of these layers, you are creating a micro ecosystem that becomes self sustaining with little effort. The canopy layer and the low tree layer provide shade to the other layers, and help to reduce evaporation. There is a lot of natural leaf litter, which gets incorporated back into the earth by the various bugs and worms. It provides food.  It changes your backyard into a sanctuary, and provides privacy from the neighbours (something I’m in need of in my little workers cottage).

Looking to nature, you see that it has solved a lot of space problems, and it’s just a matter of looking and observing and learning how nature does it.