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Volume Two Chapter Two - A Forest Garden Pattern Language

Mother Tree
Posts: 10891
Location: Portugal
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2: A Forest Garden Pattern Language

What is a Pattern Language?
Pattern Languages

A Forest Garden Pattern Language

Patterns at the Landscape Scale

Fit the forest garden site into the larger context so that it helps create these larger patterns, and these larger patterns support each forest garden site.

1. Productive Landscape Mosaic
2. Islands and Corridors

Patterns at the Site Scale

Fit the forest garden into the living, thriving, breathing, working landscape of the site so that it generates the greatest ease, health, and diversity.

3. Patterns That Arise
4. Habitat Diversity
5. Site Repair
6. Outdoor Living Rooms
7. Zones and Sectors
8. Zones of Water Use

Patterns of the Garden

Define the garden's fundamental structure using a more or less formal geometry...

9. Dynamic Patches
10. Mandalas
11. Temporary Shrublands
12. Minithickets
13. Oldfield Mosaics
14. Woodland Gardens
15. Mature-Forest Forest Gardens
16. Gaps and Clearings
17. Forest Gardens in the Woods
18. Shifting-Mosaic Forest Gardens

...or by applying forest-gardening principles to the cultural landscape, maintaining or mimicking aspects of that landscape, but transforming it at its essence.

19. Copses
20. Forest Edges
21. Microforest Gardens
22. Suburban Landscape Mimic

Patterns in the Garden

Define the landform and circulation patterns before defining vegetation patterns.

23. Pits and Mounds
24. Definite Pathways
25. Strategic Materials Depot
26. Paths and Nodes
27. Rootlike Path Geometry
28. Keyhole Beds
29. Pathway Width

Determine your establishment, reestablishment, and management patterns.

30. Patch Disturbance and Regeneration
31. Instant Succession
32. Nuclei That Merge
33. Relay Plantings
34. Disturbance and Maintenance Regimes

Define the overall structural goals that help you select the organisms, species, and varieties you want.

35. Diversity of Life Forms
36. Extraordinary Edibles Everywhere
37. Gourmet Decomposers
38. Three-Layer Minimum
39. Lumpy Texture
40. Layers of Harvest
41. Staggered Harvests, Clustered Harvests
42. Nectaries Always Flowering
43. Native Species

Define species placement patterns within the larger patterns defining the structure of the garden as a whole.

44. Polyculture Patches
45. Pockets of Production
46. Flower Petal Beds
47. Cluster Planting
48. Cross-Pollination Cluster
49. Ground-Cover Carpets
50. Drifts, Clumps, and Scatters
51. Functional Plants Throughout
52. Expansive Plant Containers

Garden Elements

Embellish and enrich the garden you have created with specific elements that bring higher diversity and functionality.

53. Living Soil
54. Habitat Elements
55. Fruitful Footpaths
56. Mulch
57. Dead Wood

Box 2.1: The Oak Beams of New College, Oxford
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Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
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A Forest Garden Pattern Language

I give this chapter 9.5 out of 10 acorns.

“It was like hiking into a Hemingway story; everything was sepia-toned and bristling with subtext.”  - Leslie What

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” - Chris Maser

If there is one thing the Aspie neurotype is good at, it's spotting patterns. There are other things too, but this is certainly one of them. In this context, a pattern is “a natural or chance configuration”: for our purposes, you find patterns in the configurations of plants, habitats and resources, so patterns are a result of the shifting actions of natural processes. We derive meaning from those patterns in the landscape as we design our forest habitat.

I've seen this done so badly so often that I think that it's likely that it takes a variant neurotype to hold all the information in hir brain, which emphasises the need to plan the whole thing on paper. This is absolutely not randomness. Some patterns will arise from your goals. Other patterns will emerge from the relationship between your goals and your site. A simple pattern might be a herb spiral (yawn), but good analysis will tell you whether a herb spiral will fit into the site, or if you might want to consider a different pattern for growing herbs.

Different designers use the term pattern in different ways. For some, patterns are just templates for solving design problems. At worst, this means the rectilinear designs of our cities and suburbs, but our herb spiral may be an example too, at least in some circumstances (is there a spot close to the house that lends itself to a circle: if so, how big is it, because perhaps a bigger circle might lend itself better to, say, a mandala pattern of one sort or another, maybe with a broader range of herbs), but patterns in forest gardening go beyond this. The goal of patterns here is to create wholeness in our environment.

A pattern language, then, uses a vocabulary and syntax to create a coherent wholeness. You can create the pattern equivalent of “The cat sat on the mat”, or you can create the equivalent of a Shakespearean sonnet. A herb spiral might be equated to the cat – but is it a tabby on the doorstep, Eliot's Macavity, an untameable wildcat, or Blake's Tiger, complete with “fearful symmetry”? Most of the time, they are declawed tabbies. Good patterns live, solve problems in the landscape, resolve conflicting forces, and manifest uniquely, because each habitat is unique. Some patterns exist within the landscape: others are created in response to it. We need to create patterns that allow the landscape to manifest in a healthy way – to give good yields in a self-renewing landscape.

There is an argument that such patterns are inherent in human culture but most of these patterns seem to me to have been oversimplified to allow most humans to be comfortable with the familiar (the cat on the mat: see the nearest shopping centre) – which is not my objective. I want to live in the pattern equivalent of a sonnet, not some childish doggerel. The authors have selected patterns, and these need to be utilised in the context of the understanding of ecology outlined in volume 1, or possibly a more sophisticated one, but the creative designer will be looking for the opportunity for pattern language neologisms, especially where the environment demands it.

Thus the use of the pattern language involves the definition of a field of relationships that can be applied to specific circumstances. The authors admit they are only creating the beginnings of a pattern language for forest gardening – it's a college dictionary and foreign-language grammar, not the OED. It can't be anything else, but it is a very good college dictionary.

The patterns described apply to the landscape, site, garden or element levels of design. You start with creating a productive mosaic, linked by wildlife corridors. Other patterns will arise from this, in terms of the creation of diversity, but also places to live. This is as much your habitat as it is habitat for the other organisms that live there (but it's important to remember you are a partner in this process, not its master).

It's possible to define your forest garden formally, or by mimicking natural ecosystems (my own preference) or by applying the principles of forest gardening to the landscape, or presumably some combination of the above. The chapter covers all of these. I think one important point is that western gardens use rectilinear patterns, making harvest easier, but maximising the ratio of path to growing space. Nature simply doesn't work that way, but works in more irregular forms (which can be great for creating microclimates). Some of these use very long-term patterns, beyond human lifespans; others take into account the fact that different plants have different lifespans. Both flowering and harvesting need to be staggered.

I found this chapter to be particularly inspiring. It's the way to bridge the concept of the garden with the concept of the semi-natural habitat.

It falls down somewhat on the question of climate-change resilience, and a good planner really needs to be thinking about this – how to, for example, create internal windbreaks that will slow down the wind whatever direction it's coming from. How will it manage drought or flood? It also doesn't go far enough (although, to be fair, this book is already a brick, and more philosophy is probably more than many readers will want). In this sense it is weak on how pattern language relates to verbal language.

If you haven't already, stop thinking about your garden as a “property” and start thinking about it as habitat in a landscape. Give things names that describe them. Are parts of your habitat barren or lush, soft or hard, dry or wet? Some places will be rich with decomposition, or ripe with fecundity. How do energy and nutrients flow from one to another? Yes, the allusions are quite deliberate. Name the places accordingly. If you take the above into account, this becomes the intersection of gardening and poetry.

I think my advice here is to break the whole thing down on paper, so you can see how the relationships between physical landscape, soil, water, the natural places for paths to run, sunlight angles and so on interrelate. The patterns described here, and hopefully many more that you can come up with, can then be implemented in your forest garden. I'm just frustrated that I'm not in a position to get on with it.
Neil Layton
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Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
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I thought about adding some Coleridge here, but couldn't find the right excerpt. This is how you design a forest garden: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173247

It's a big site, though.
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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I'm still only halfway through reading this chapter, but I just want to pop in and share a few links to related threads, webpages, downloads and things.

Here are a few permies threads, which should also be showing up in the list of related threads at the very bottom of this page -
Permaculture: A Designers' Manual - Chapter 4 PATTERN UNDERSTANDING
Gaia's Patterns
pattern recognition skills

This is the wikki page about pattern language.

Here's a useful graphic summarising all the patterns discussed in this chapter.

Here's the link to the full sized version.

I found the graphic on this webpage - Forest Gardening: Vision & Pattern Language which also has a link to a 12 page downloadable 'cheat sheet' to the 57 patterns discussed in this chapter.

OK, I have some reading to get on with. I'll be back!
master pollinator
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Those links are very helpful, Burra.

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"A herb spiral might be equated to the cat – but is it a tabby on the doorstep, Eliot's Macavity, an untameable wildcat, or Blake's Tiger, complete with “fearful symmetry”? Most of the time, they are declawed tabbies."

Thanks, Neil, that was fun to read.

I remember talk (from Bucky Fuller?) about how we humans are like a knot in a rope; one can tape another rope to the first, slide the knot over the taped spot, and it's still the same knot, even though it's on a separate rope now. As we munch our way through our lives, we pass most of the matter that entered us, yet we remain. (It was better when they explained it).
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