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Who has a forest garden?

 
Posts: 146
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Hello everyone,

I have converted my small back garden into a mini forest garden and wondered how many people might be doing the same?

Perhaps you’ve got more land and are doing something on a bigger scale?

In either case, I’d love to know more about what you’re doing, how you’re finding it.

In the meantime, here’s a photo of my garden, taken at the end of December. I’ve got very poor soil, so even the oldest tree (11 years old) is still quite small and spindly. However, after years of being in denial about the quality of the soil, I am now working on this issue.

Incidentally, having just won ‘A better world in your backyard’, I’m enjoying the read. One thing that intrigues me is that Paul insists on newspaper not being used under any circumstances. However, I have been doing a fair amount of soil building with the stuff over the last year: thick wadge of newspaper topped with manure and homemade compost. No idea yet what the outcome will be but that soil seriously needs organic matter putting into it!
38B35050-4ED6-48C0-9DF5-5B5EF7DF48B4.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 38B35050-4ED6-48C0-9DF5-5B5EF7DF48B4.jpeg]
 
master gardener
Posts: 2363
Location: Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Hi Helen,
As you know my land on Skye is gradually being converted from a sheep field.  I call it a 'productive woodland', since I'm not too sure about planning rules...Planting more shrubbery this year and propagating lots of elder.  In the front garden  I've got some interesting Korean and Chinese woodland plants ( Podophyllum pleianthum,  Sinopodophyllum hexandrum var. chinense) that I'm hoping may be edible (fruit) - they are rather gorgeous anyhow.
I gather Paul is concerned about chemicals that may be in the newspaper/cardboard.  I failed to be scared by the references I found, but as a former chemistry student maybe I'm less sensitive to being nervous of chemicals.  I gather there can be a build up of Aluminium if a very large quantity of newspapers is applied though, glossy papers contain a lot of finishing clays.  Personally I use a fair amount of corrugated cardboard and newspaper to sheet mulch prior to planting.  Partly because I have an easy supply from the shop usually, and partly because I find it very effective against most weeds I have.  I did find in the early years it is possible to put too think a layer round my trees.  We had a dry spell and the little rain we had  did not penetrate very well.
 
Helen Butt
Posts: 146
Location: Leeds, United Kingdom
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Thanks for your insights into the use of newspaper for mulching. I have heard that the dyes used in newspaper ink are plant based but I don’t know how true this is.

I’ve just seen a blackbird trying to find worms in a spot where I put down newspaper and then covered it with compost. I imagine it was disappointed, as I doubt there would be any worms there yet. In the compost bin, there have often been large numbers of worms in the newspaper, which came as a surprise, considering it hadn’t yet rotted.

Anyway, I hope your Chinese/Korean plantings do well for you. As you know, I don’t have the space for these kinds of experiments.

I hadn’t thought about planning permission - I don’t know a lot about it but I understand that the issue is whether you are putting up a permanent structure, changing the land use from agricultural to domestic?
 
Nancy Reading
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A garden can count as domestic, rather than agricultural.
The bradling worms also really love corrugated card, must be the ready made worm houses!
I'll see if I can dig out a video clip I made in my previous house.....
 
Helen Butt
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Nancy Reading wrote:
I'll see if I can dig out a video clip I made in my previous house.....



That would be interesting!
 
steward
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Location: Maine, zone 5
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Very nice forest garden Helen!  I have one as well and love it.  I still have a long way to go to bring it to where I'm imagining.  You can see pictures on the thread linked in my signature line.  I started out using cardboard, but I've become convinced that it's much better to use wet matting leaves for sheet mulching instead.  While newspaper and cardboard are mostly cellulose fibers, there are usually synthetic polymers added in the manufacturing process to aid in wet strength as well as in the strength of the final paper.  One example is polyacrylamide.  It is considered nontoxic in it's polymer form, though how it and its decomposition products behave in the environment is still being studied.  Meanwhile, tree leaves mat and make a decent barrier for smothering plants and their decomposition product is amazing soil!  To me it's worth leaving the newspaper and cardboard to recycling or burning.  
 
Helen Butt
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Thank you, Greg, for your compliment on my garden.

When you say ‘signature’, is this your bio?

Where do you get the leaves from for mulching?
 
Greg Martin
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Just the link that you see under my post that says "Pics of my Forest Garden".  

I'm lucky that it's very easy for me to get leaves as I live in an opening in a native forest and I have to move large piles of leaves each fall in order to maintain my small lawn....it gets buried!  Sometimes I also bring home leaves from our transfer station, though generally I have plenty from my lawn.  My leaves are mostly oak and maple so they stick together in lovely mats.  
 
pollinator
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Forest gardens for the WIN!  Helen yours looks  glorious.  The trees being "scraggly" almost has a better sense of proportion than overbearing large trees.  The pond is nice too, how did you create it?  

My forest garden is coming into its third year now, I cant imagine 11 years in.  Eating into the lawn each year, I have some experience with cardboard mulch.  My primary goal when I use cardboard is to smother tenacious bindweed/burdock/grass.  I only use brown unbleached cardboard with no glossy finish.  On top I throw any yard waste I have as the year goes on.   It works GREAT as a smothering mulch that allows undreneath it for living critters to make a bustling city of worms and mice and whatnot.  After a full year outside I can rip holes in the, now much more brittle and thin, cardboard to sow seeds.  Its 90% gone by the second spring.

The other soil building and weed control method I use is Daikon Radish.  A 20# sac of seed lasted all year.  For existing lawn, I would turn the sod upside down very sloppily and lumpy with a shovel.  And then sprinkle a thick layer of seeds into the area.  The thick mat of leaves is too fast and tall for the traumatized grass to regrow more than a wispy blade here or there.


Do you have a drawn plan for your layout?  Here is mine.  The purple labeled plants are in the ground right now.  The pencil only plants I have already purchased (bare root), and have decided where they will go.  




And the IRL results, the vantage point is upside down and reversed to the plans orientation. :)





An ending thought on forest gardening . . . . .Patience is the hardest, yet most powerful tool.  
 
Helen Butt
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Greg Martin wrote:Just the link that you see under my post that says "Pics of my Forest Garden".



Thanks, Greg. Looks like you’ve got a good and interesting range of plants in your forest garden. I’ve not heard of some of them.
 
Helen Butt
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Thanks for showing us the plan and photos of your forest garden, Brian.

I’m glad you like my pond. It was made by simply digging out the soil which I rehoused elsewhere (eg in a raised bed). My dad had spare pond liner and I got the stones for the edging through Freegle (U.K. equivalent to Craigslist).

I did have a plan years ago but my ideas have developed considerably since I drew this up. The structure of the garden is as follows:

Right at the back (most southerly point), there is a cooking apple tree. Then moving north from east to west:
-Red currant bush and blueberry bush
-Hazel and blackcurrant bush
-Yew and crab apple tree
-Unnamed pine (moving in present from a friend), hazel and another blackcurrant bush
-Two eating apple trees and a raspberry cane
-Bay tree outside the kitchen.

I’ve got a raised bed in front of the bay, which is the sunniest part of the garden. There is rhubarb next to the raised bed and I plan to put another at the bottom of the garden.

Most of the ground cover has been strawberries so far but the wild is coming in or is allowed to remain (eg nettles and dandelions). I’ve also got herbs near the kitchen and around the garden and have my first perennial vegetable: Nine-star broccoli.

 
pollinator
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Hi Helen. I have small gardens front and back (each about 8 x 8 meters). In the front yard I do my best to grow a 'miniature permaculture food forest'. I started it in 2015. At the side where they won't cast shadows on the garden I put a line of different (small) fruit trees. There are different berry bushes too, and several perennials (herbs, rhubarb, a.o.).
Now, since about two weeks, I rent an allotment garden. The former renters already started permaculture in it, so there are trees and bushes and perennials all over. So that will become my second 'small food forest'.

 
Helen Butt
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Great that you will have all the extra space with your allotment, Inge, and that the previous allotmenteer was even into Permaculture 😊
 
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So this thread prompted me to draw up a plan of my garden, I am not sure it really qualifies as a forest garden but I am trying to build up more bushes and trees.
I have only been actually gardening this plot for about 18months, because before covid I was never around in the summer, but it has a number of mature fruit trees and shrubs in it.

Incase my handwriting isn't readable in the image the labels are as follows, from top left corner of the boundary which is the Norther corner:
Elder, Meribel ? (an unknown small yellow plum), Apple ? (unknown small apple, probably a seedling from the ex apple tree nearby), Bamboo, Hazel
Rowan, Apple (V large tree with cooking apples that I can eat raw), with currant bushes under the canopy, Plum, Almond ? (possibly but has never set fruit)
Quince (ornamental/flowering variety), Grapevines, Amelanchier, The other tree next to the Amelanchier is an unknown variety atm.
Fruit cage contains, Summer and autumn fruiting raspberries, Gooseberry, and red and black currants.

I now need to spend a while trying to work out what other plants will work well with these trees in a forest garden setting.
Garden-Plan-With-Trees-just-18-Anotated.jpg
Basic plan of my plot
Basic plan of my plot
 
pollinator
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I've been piecemealing my forest garden on my urban lot. I started with a walnut tree surrounded by grass, killed off the grass and covered it with woodchips. Eventually the walnut will go away as well. Right now it's something of a "nurse" tree.

I then planted fruit tree seeds, and not surprisingly most have grown in the western shade of the walnut. So back there I have three apple seedlings, two almond seedlings, and a peach seedling as well as one purchased 5 variety apple which is currently 3 varieties because the yellow delicious and red delicious branches died. I bought it primarily to graft in branches of my seedlings so I can figure out what fruit they have before the trees are mature enough. Last year I put the mush from processing pears in three holes and we'll see what comes up. I also scattered the rest of my almond, peach, nectarine, plum and cherry seeds.

I live in a drought-prone urban desert, so most of the understory is drought tolerant herbs like feverfew, thyme, sage, and so on. The horseradish has done surprisingly well.

Once I get the pistachios in, the main trees will be done. This year I'll be focusing on the pollinator garden and groundcover layer. I seeded the area with drought tolerant flowers last fall and I've currently got more of each kind in the greenhouse to transplant when it's warm enough.
 
Helen Butt
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Pippa, I’ve not heard of Amelanchier before. Will have to look it up!

Anyway, it sounds like to have the skeleton of a forest garden. And from you plan it seems like you have a reasonable amount of space.
 
Helen Butt
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Lauren, it sounds like you have a harsh environment to grow in. I would live to be able to grow pistachios, though 😊
 
Lauren Ritz
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Helen Butt wrote:Lauren, it sounds like you have a harsh environment to grow in. I would live to be able to grow pistachios, though 😊

Pistachios need a long hot summer, do very well with minimal water, and also need a cold winter for fruit set. Perfect for my area!
 
Nancy Reading
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Pippa, you've got a nice variety of trees and shrubs.  Post some pics of the unknown tree when it shows leaves and flowers, there's some pretty knowledgable people on here.  
Which way is South, right or bottom of picture?  If the quince is chaenomeles japonica, then the fruit are edible.  They make a nice jelly, and I think you can use them as lemon flavouring as well....
 
Pippa Knight
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Helen Butt wrote:Pippa, I’ve not heard of Amelanchier before. Will have to look it up!

Anyway, it sounds like to have the skeleton of a forest garden. And from you plan it seems like you have a reasonable amount of space.



I could never have told you what an Amelanchier was before last summer but had def seen it around. My mother was with me for most of the covid time and was quite a good source of info about what the trees in mine and my grandmother's gardens were.

It's considerably larger than the postage stamp garden my sister and I had(/have) in Southampton but it's not *large*, I should try and get some dimensions to add to my diagram to help with the planning. But it is large enough that when I was only living here full time in the winter and just popping back infrequently during the season any form of maintenance on it seemed really daunting.
 
Pippa Knight
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Nancy Reading wrote:Pippa, you've got a nice variety of trees and shrubs.  Post some pics of the unknown tree when it shows leaves and flowers, there's some pretty knowledgable people on here.  
Which way is South, right or bottom of picture?  If the quince is chaenomeles japonica, then the fruit are edible.  They make a nice jelly, and I think you can use them as lemon flavouring as well....



That sounds like a great idea if I can't identify it myself once it comes out into flower. Ideally I would like to take it out as it is competing with the Amelanchier and shades the grape vines when it's in leaf. But I need to ID it before I make that descision.

Yes it does produce edible quinces and between this bush, the one in my grandmother's garden and all the quinces that my father dumps on me from their quince bush I normally end up with more quinces than I know what to do with. lol... but I had an idea that it might produce some half-decent chutney so might try that with some of the fruit I have bottled.

South is Bottom Right of the image. I do need to add a compass indicator to the plan as well. North-South runs from the Top Left corner to the Bottom Right corner, which is quite nice as there is road on both the right and bottom of the plot and the land slopes from left to right and from top to bottom too. The whole garden is in shade in the evening from the neighbours hedge which isn't so great from the using the garden socially point of view but for the getting the most from the sunlight for the plants its great.
 
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