Even before we bought our cottage and piece of land four year ago, we were planning our forest garden. Forest gardens exist all over the world and their history goes back for thousands of years. It is a way of growing mostly perennial vegetables, shrubs, trees, vines and other useful plants in a way that mimic young woodland. You can read about the basic principals here. At the start of our endeavour we had a field with nothing but grass and creeping buttercups. Luckily our field had a few big ash, Scots pine, hazel, rowan and larch trees around the boundary so we did not need to plant a lot of wind breaks and shelterbelts.
There was however about 150 Leylandii cypresses planted as well around the boundary so we cut them all down as they were blocking out all the sunshine and nothing was growing in their vicinity. We used the timber to build a few structures in our garden, make plant supports and mulched all of the smaller branches and twigs to use as mulch around acid loving plants like blueberries.
Along our drive we left every third tree trunk high and put up wires to support espaliered apple trees. They are now less than four years planted but have impressive yields. It is great to be able to grow a variety of apples in a limited space.
When planning our garden we had a few different requirements. We wanted it to be a productive forest garden but also a place for wildlife to thrive, a beautiful place to relax and unwind as well as a garden full of medicinal and culinary herbs. It was not difficult to combine all of these requirements into what is our garden today.
We always strive to work with nature in any way we can. Mulching has probably been the most important part of our gardening so far. When small trees and shrubs are planted they have to compete with all the grasses and other plants around them. By adding a circle of mulch around their base, thus eliminating the competition they can grow strong and healthy surprisingly fast. Some of our trees that were planted less than four years ago are now five or six meters tall and create a lovely leaf litter each year, acting as natural mulch. At the start of a forest garden there is a need to intervene and do some weeding while the plants establish, but we can already see the natural woodland forming on our land and each year it is easier and easier to maintain a healthy ecosystem.
As we added our ponds, plants and feeding stations for the birds, our wildlife exploded in numbers, and each year we see less slug damage on our plants, probably due to our very healthy frog and newt population. It is lovely to be in the garden now because every day from early morning, you can hear the birds sing and in the spring and summer the bees are always buzzing around.
We had some design ideas early on and our garden is mainly built on circles in various sizes. All our structures are made from natural and local materials, like willow, stone and branches. We make our plant supports ourselves, and have planted bamboos, willows and dogwoods for a constant supply of young stems and canes for various projects.
Over time we have collected many ideas and skills from various sources and learnt a lot from trial and error. It is nice to share all of it here with you.