What Is a Forest Garden?

Video screen capture. Permaculture Magazine

Whether it's this small British garden turned food forest or this 2000-year-old food forest in Morocco, the idea of forest gardening—meaning intentionally planted gardens that mimic the natural structure of a forest—has considerable appeal to many of us TreeHuggers.

Instead of neat rows of monoculture, forest gardens mix a diverse range of (often) food producing plants that nourish each other, use different nutrients from the soil, and make the best use of space available. Crucially, they also rarely leave the soil bare, meaning that soil carbon is preserved and underground biodiversity can thrive.

In the UK, one of the pioneers of forest gardening is Martin Crawford, whose 20-year-old forest garden started out as a a flat field in 1994. It now produces a huge amount of different fruits, nuts and other food crops, and also acts as an educational resource for others interested in forest gardening.

A new video from Permaculture Magazine—part of an upcoming series called Living With the Land—provides a fascinating tour of Crawford's forest garden, and also provides insight into the practice of forest gardening overall.

It should be noted, of course, that forest gardens are hardly a panacea to our food woes. While they may require very little in the likes of chemical or fuel inputs, they do require careful design and a long timeframe to mature. With diversity also comes complexity: harvesting is more like foraging, and what ends up on the plate may be very different to the large crop of tomatoes and cukes you might get from a traditional garden. I have met forest garden zealots who believe they can replace modern agriculture/gardening—but those folks tend to eat an awful lot of comfrey.

I personally suspect that forest gardens are one tool among many, and a great complement to a more traditional approach to sustainable agriculture and gardening. That's why I am excited to check out the rest of the Living With The Land series, which will include segments on regenerative agriculture, urban permaculture, vegan farming and organic gardening too.

And if you dig this content, and happen to like Neil Young, keep an eye out for Permaculture Magazine at Neil Young's upcoming shows. Apparently they've been invited on tour...