A forest garden is a designed agronomic system based on trees, shrubs and
perennial plants. These are mixed in such a way as to mimic the structure of a
natural forest - the most stable and sustainable type of ecosystem in this
The primary aims for the system are:

-to be biologically sustainable, able to cope with disturbances such as climate
-it should be productive, yielding a number (often large) of different products
-it should require low maintenance.
-The crops which are produced will often include fruits, nuts, edible leaves,
spices, medicinal plant products, poles, fibres for tying, basketry materials,
honey, fuelwood, fodder, mulches, game, sap products.

Forest gardens (often called home gardens) have been used for millennial in
tropical regions, where they still often form a major part of the food producing
systems which people rely on, even if they work elsewhere for much of the
time. They may also provide useful sources of extra income. Their use is
intimately linked with prevailing socio-economic conditions. They are usually
small in area, often 0.1-1 hectares (0.25-2.5 acres).

Installing a Forest Garden

In temperate regions, forest gardens are a more recent innovation, many
inspired by Robert Hart’s efforts in Shropshire (UK) over the last 30 years. A
major limiting factor for temperate forest gardens in the amount of sunlight
available to the lower layers of the garden: in tropical regions, the strong light
conditions allow even understorey layers to receive substantial light, whereas
in temperate regions this is not usually the case. To compensate for this,
understorey layers in temperate forest gardens must be chosen very carefully -
there are plenty of plant crops which tolerate shady conditions, but many are
not well known. Many of the more common shrub or perennial crops need
bright conditions, and it may be necessary to design in more open clearings or
glades for such species.

Temperate forest gardens are also usually small in area, from tiny back garden
areas up to a hectare (2.5 acres) in size. While food production and land use
remain the concern of a minority of landowners and businesses, their use is
likely to be limited to ‘alternative’ and organic gardeners and land users.

The key features which contribute to the stability and self-sustaining nature of
this system are:

-the large number of species used, giving great diversity
-the careful inclusion of plants which increase fertility, such as nitrogen fixers
(eg. Alders [Alnus spp], Broom [Cytisus scoparius], Elaeagnus spp, and shrub
lupins [Lupinus arboreus]).
-the use of dynamic accumulators - deep rooting plants which can tap mineral
sources deep in the subsoil and raise them into the topsoil layer where they
become available to other plants, eg. Coltsfoot [Petasites spp], Comfreys
[Symphytum spp], Liquorice [Glycyrrhiza spp], Sorrel (and docks!) [Rumex
-the use of plants specially chosen for their ability to attract predators of
common pests, eg umbellifers like tansy.
-the use, where possible, of pest and disease resistant varieties, eg. apples.
the increasing role of tree cover and leaf litter which improve nutrient cycling
and drought resistance.

A forest garden is organised in up to seven ‘layers’ . Within these, the
positioning of species depends on many variables, including their requirements
for shelter, light, moisture, good/bad companions, mineral requirements,
pollination, pest-protection, etc. The layers consist of:

Canopy trees - the highest layer of trees. May include species such as
Chestnuts [Castanea spp], Persimmons [Diospyros virginiana], honey locusts
[Gleditsia triacanthos], Strawberry trees [Arbutus spp], Siberian pea trees
[Caragana arborescens] Cornelian cherries [Cornus mas], Azeroles and other
hawthorn family fruits [Crataegus spp], Quinces [Cydonia oblonga], Apples
[Malus spp], Medlars [Mespilus germanica], Mulberries [Morus spp], Plums
[Prunus domestica], Pears [Pyrus communis], highbush cranberries
[Viburnum trilobum].

Small trees and large shrubs, mostly planted between and below the canopy
trees. May includes some of the canopy species on dwarfing rootstocks, and
others such as various bamboos, Serviceberries [Amelanchier spp], Plum yews
[Cephalotaxus spp], Chinkapins [Castanea pumila], Elaeagnus spp, and
Japanese peppers [Zanthoxylum spp]. Others may be trees which will be
coppiced to keep them shrubby, like medicinal Eucalyptus spp, and beech
[Fagus sylvatica] and limes [Tilia spp] with edible leaves.

Shrubs, mostly quite shade tolerant. May include common species like currants
[Ribes spp] and berries [Rubus spp], plus others like chokeberries [Aronia
spp], barberries [Berberis spp], Chinese dogwood [Cornus kousa chinensis],
Oregon grapes [Mahonia spp], New Zealand flax [Phormium tenax] and
Japanese bitter oranges [Poncirus trifoliata].

Herbaceous perennials, several of which are herbs and will also contribute to
the ground cover layer by self-seeding or spreading. These may include
Bellflowers with edible leaves [Campanula spp], Comfreys [Symphytum spp],
Balm [Melissa officinalis], Mints [Mentha spp], Sage [Salvia officinalis], and
Tansy [Tanacetum vulgare].

Ground covers, mostly creeping carpeting plants which will form a living mulch
for the ‘forest floor’. Some may be herbaceous perennials (see above), others
include wild gingers [Asarum spp], cornels [Cornus canadensis], Gaultheria
spp, and carpeting brambles (eg. Rubus calycinoides & R.tricolor).

Climbers and vines. These are generally late additions to the garden, since they
obviously need sturdy trees to climb up. They may include hardy kiwis
[Actinidia spp], and grapes [Vitis spp].

The final ‘layer’ is the root zone or rhizosphere. Any design should take
account of different rooting habits and requirements of different species, even
if root crops are not grown much. Some perennials with useful roots include
liquorice [Glycyrrhiza spp] and the barberries [Berberis spp] whose roots
furnish a good dye and medicinal products. Various beneficial fungi can also be
introduced into this layer.

A long-term biologically sustainable system for growing food & other products
for a household
Once established, little work is needed to maintain

Planting out and establishment usually requires large numbers of plants and
substantial work.

As a forest garden includes many perennial plants, clean up at the end of the
season can be less of a task than in annual flower and vegetable gardens.
Rather than pulling plants up, cut them off at ground level, which disturbs the
soil less. The tops of the plants can then be incorporated into the mulch, or set
aside for compost

Plants for the Forest Garden

Common Name        Scientific Name            Uses

Beech                       Fagus grandifolia        Nuts
Butternut                 Juglans cinerea           Nuts
Shagbark Hickory     Carya ovata                Nuts
Sugar Maple             Acer saccharum          Syrup
White Oak                Quercus alba               Nuts

Persimmon                Diospyros virginiana   Fruit
Apple                        Malus pumila               Fruit, flowers
Cornelian Cherry      Cornus mas                 Fruit
Crabapple                 Malus spp.                   Fruit, flowers
Hazelnut                   Corylus spp.                Nuts
Coffee Tree              Gymnocladus dioica     N-fixer
Paw Paw                  Asimina triloba             Fruit, flowers
Pear                          Pyrus communis          Fruit, flowers
Plum                         Prunus domestica        Fruit, flowers
Serviceberry            Amelanchier spp.          Fruit, flowers
Witch Hazel              Hamamelis virginiana    Medicinal, flowers

Shrub Layer  
Blackberry               Rubus occidentalis         Fruit, flowers
Currant                   Ribes sativum                 Fruit
Elderberry              Sambucas nigra              Fruit, flowers
False indigo            Baptisia australis            N-fixer
Gooseberry             Ribes uva-crispa             Fruit
Raspberry               Rubus idaeus                 Fruit, flowers
Rose                       Rosa spp.                       Medicinal, flowers
Siberian Pea Shrub Caragana arborescens    N-fixer, flowers

Herbaceous layer  
Arugula                   Eruca vesicaria              Edible
Chamomile              Chamaemelum nobile    Tea, flowers
Chives                     Allium schoenoprasum   Edible
Comfrey                  Symphytum uplandicum Medicinal, mulch
Cornsalad                Valerianella locusta        Edible
Dill                          Anethum graveolens       Edible, insectary
Fennel                     Foeniculum vulgare        Edible, insectary
Garlic                      Allium sativum                Edible
Kale                        Brassica oleracea            Edible
Lemon balm            Melissa officinalis            Tea
Lettuce                    Latuca sativa                  Edible
Lovage                    Levisticum officinale       Edible
Mint                         Mentha spp.                  Edible
Spinach                   Tetragonia expansa       Edible
Onion                      Allium cepa                    Edible
Parsley                    Petroselinum crispum    Edible
Rhubarb                  Rheum rhabarbarum     Edible
Salad burnet            Sanguisorba minor       Edible
Sorrel                      Rumex scutatus            Edible
Spinach                   Spinacea oleracea         Edible
Stinging Nettle         Urtica dioica                  Edible, mulch

Flowering Ground Covers  
Strawberry             Fragaria spp.                Fruit, flowers
Nasturtium             Tropaeolum minus        Edible flowers
Violet                     Viola spp.                      Edible flowers

Grape                     Vitis vinifera                  Fruit
Hardy Kiwi              Actinidia arguta            Fruit, flowers
Hops                       Humulus lupulus           Medicinal
Runner Bean           Phaseolus coccineus     Edible, N-fixer, flowers
Wisteria                  Wisteria floribunda        N-fixer, flowers