The Forest Garden
By Claudia Fugate
Ohio Certified Nursery Technician/Garden Center and Ohio Certified Nursery Technician/Grower
(Claudia gives PowerPoint presentations on Organic gardening to groups and organinizations interested in this subject. E-mail contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)
As I ventured into my expanding vocabulary and the study of the soil food web, and permaculture, the forest garden seemed to be the next step. The concept of layering our gardens as the ecosystem does in nature is the basis of this idea. Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier wrote in EDIBLE FOREST GARDENS that ‘once the garden is in the ground, the longest and most satisfying phase of forest gardening begins; management, harvest, and co evolution.”
Each layer of the forest has a different dynamic. The trees get the sun and the shrubs have learned to live in partial sun and light shade. Vines can reach for the sun from a shady base, and ground covers generally are shade-loving.
When these elements are translated into an edible forest, we can plant to have food. Mature and maturing trees can take advantage of the high canopy for fruit and nut trees such as pears, apples, chestnuts or pecan. The shrubs which fill in the gaps of the trees can produce blueberries or hazelnuts. Vines that can sneak up through this growth can produce grapes, hardy kiwi, or passionflower fruit. Ground covers such as comfrey or herbs add to the layering of this forest.
As these plants indicate, the difference between the forest garden and a ‘regular’ food garden is that these plants are perennials. With little disruption on the planting beds the soil food web thrives and the root systems of these plants benefit the other root systems in the area. Leaves left on the forest floor mimic nature and increase this ecosystem’s efficiency. This self-maintaining co-existence is the ultimate is sustainability.
A small urban lot, and old orchard, or a yard in the ‘burbs can be the backdrop for a forest garden. The forest garden merges the cultivated and the wild. Planning and studying plant requirements can make for a rewarding journey.