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What is forest gardening?

Forest gardening

Forest gardening replicates woodland ecosystems to grow trees, bushes, shrubs, herbs and vegetables. Crops such as beans, fruits, nuts, leaves, stalks and root vegetables may be grown for food production, and these and other produce from the forest garden can be used for the manufacture of beverages, medicines, dyes, furniture, chemicals, biofuels and other fuels, paper, rayon, fibres, resins, and even buildings and boats. The use of a layered system, where a variety of companion plants occupy the same area, can result in high productivity from a small space while the natural structure provides stability and sustainability.

In Britain, forest gardens are usually based on deciduous woodland. Perennials and self-seeding plants provide ground cover with bushes, shrubs and trees growing in layers above. As in any natural ecosystem, forest gardens can be home to fruit and vegetables, herbs, mushrooms and, of course, animals.

Why create an edible forest garden?

Most gardens would quickly revert to a wild state if left unattended. The regular maintenance that they require, the weeding, pruning and spraying, are not only time consuming but also create an environment that supports only a narrow range of flora and fauna. Thoughtfully designed forest gardens, being based on a diverse natural structure, can be largely self-maintaining while providing a healthy, high yielding ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts.  

How to start your own forest garden

All you need is a bit of space, sunlight (if you want fruits, nuts, berries, and most other products), some imagination and a bit of effort. There is a lot of good material available on line. We hope to provide links to some of this in future. Forest gardens are ideal community projects and can be an asset that many people can share, contribute to, learn from and enjoy.

How big are forest gardens?

You do not need a forest of your own! Forest gardening is not necessarily gardening in the forest, it is gardening like the forest. There is no  upper or lower limit on the size of a forest garden although to be a true “forest”, the garden should, by definition, be big enough to support the growing of trees. However, some very small trees are available!

Robert Hart

Robert Hart (1913-2000) created the first British forest garden at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire, the result of his need for more trees and desire to produce healthy food. Hart observed that a natural forest can be divided into distinct layers or ‘storeys’.  He created seven “dimensions" in an existing small orchard of apples and pears:

  • a ‘canopy’ layer consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
  • a ‘low-tree’ layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
  • a ‘shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
  • a ‘herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
  • a ‘ground cover’ layer of edible plants that spread horizontally.
  • a ‘rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
  • a vertical ‘layer’ of vines and climbers.


If you are interested in forest gardening, come along to the Bangor Forest Garden. We get together on site on the second Sunday of each month from 11.30am onwards. Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

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