Have Your Forest and Eat it Too

I don’t know much about gardening. I like eating from them and had a nice vegetable garden one summer, in Toronto, and blame it all on the sun, soil, heat and humidity. Everything thrived, but not because I knew what I was doing. Remove one of those elements from the above equation and I don’t know how to solve the problem.  

But a couple of months ago, I was in Devon,

looking at a different kind of garden: one that makes a whole lot more sense. It was called a forest garden, and if you were standing in the middle of one, you probably wouldn’t know it.

You’d think you were standing in a wild-ish kind of space, but you wouldn’t – unless you were a forest gardener yourself – realize that everything in the garden – from bamboo

to sweet cicely to szechuan pepper – was there for a reason, a great deal of it edible. But there are no lines of neatly planted vegetables. Things are planted here and there, then left to run wild.

Forest gardens, as flexible as they can be, need to be planned. The secret’s in the layering. So you might have an apple or a nut tree, and under that some lemonbalm and wild fennel, and under that some wild strawberries. They all feed each other somehow, and the layering means you can cram a lot into a very small space, and it also means very little maintenance. Perfect, right?

So why aren’t these more popular? Who knows... But if you’ve haven’t seen one yet, I urge you to go out and find one. They’re lovely, but they also make sense. When I was in the middle of Martin Crawford’s forest garden, I kept thinking, yes, this is it. I saw solutions everywhere to problems where my other gardens had failed. And this is coming from someone with a very un-green thumb.