Dreaming of perennial polycultures and forest gardens

I really enjoy reading other people’s blogs; in particular the regular posts on This Low Carbon Life (http://transitionnorwich.blogspot.com/) and the Social Reporter’s blog on the Transition network site (http://www.transitionnetwork.org/stories/charlotte-du-cann/2011-09/welcome-social-reporting-project). The varied posts are unfailingly inspirational, informative, moving and practical; and are permeated through and through by genuine humanity and an unrelenting focus on the transition to a globally sustainable future. I always find reading them gives much food for thought, but two posts last week made me reflect in particular on dreams. So in response to the blogs – Seeking Inspiration by Jon Curran (http://transitionnorwich.blogspot.com/2012/02/seeking-inspiration.html) and The power of visioning: Ingredient #7 by Kerry Lane (http://www.transitionnetwork.org/stories/kerry-lane/2012-02/power-visioning-ingredient-7) this is about my dreams…..

In an uncertain world I dream of taking (some) responsibility for my own food supply. I am working on bringing this dream into reality using perennial vegetables and polycultures with the aim of this being sustainable over the long term and taking a minimum amount of time and effort on my part.

The dream began in the summer of 2005 with an idle thought – that it would be brilliant if the unwanted, but productive shrubs and weeds I was clearing in the garden were in fact edible and that the garden was full of food I did not have to labour for, just to go out and pick. Quite a tall order! That evening an internet search led me to the concept of forest gardening and I was away – dreaming of edible landscapes.

Now, after much more dreaming, lots of reading, and much experimentation the dream has materialised in edible form and I am ever more excited by its’ potential. Our once very average (and quite boring) suburban garden is now home to all sorts of perennial edibles from which I can pick something to eat just about all year round. It does seem to take surprisingly little time and labour and each year the yields increase.

The garden has in effect been gradually transformed into a mini forest garden, albeit one with relatively few trees (there is a limit to what will fit in). There is fruit from two apple trees, a pear tree, a lovely old greengage tree, three blackcurrants, a gooseberry, a jostaberry, raspberry canes and wild strawberries. The perennial vegetables provide leafy greens for cooking and salad, oniony greens, and root veggies. In addition I grow beans, peas and a few other summer veggies, plus lots of other plants and flowers to help create a diverse ecosystem.

Having got this far the dream is now moving on – to see how much food can be produced this way. It is too early to be sure, but I have a feeling that polycultures of perennials may be very productive, in a sustainable and responsible way, not in an exploitative fashion. Certainly the theory behind forest gardening is that the overall yield of a polyculture is greater than the sum of the same plants grown in monocultures. This year I am weighing everything to the last gram in order to find out exactly what the yield is.

Please do not think that I am an expert grower or have a particularly blessed site. Even though I now have some experience, the magic of polycultures is not in my hands, but in nature’s. I was previously unable to grow any “normal” annual vegetables at all in this garden. It is damp and shady and slugs demolished everything I tried. I did not have time to keep on top of weeding and watering and other horticultural tasks. If I can grow food in this garden, I think that it can be done just about anywhere by anyone.

That is why my dream is now starting to expand further beyond my little patch of land and is spilling over into other people’s gardens. I dream of edible landscapes all over the place. Of many more people planting mini forest gardens and experimenting with new crops of all kinds. For people with unpromising gardens, little time or energy, people who are busy or elderly or not in the best of health and are not able to contemplate a conventional vegetable patch a small perennial polyculture could be the gateway to producing at least some of their own food. People with more energy and time would find that planning and planting a forest garden in their back garden enables them to grow food and create a beautiful environment at the same time. This is very well demonstrated by another blog I follow about a small scale forest garden: Landed – forest gardening (http://landed.weebly.com/). This is very informative and includes a well structured explanation of how the garden was planned and established.

I hope (dream!) that by writing about my experiments and experiences that other people (including you) become aware of new possibilities and feel inspired to have a go too. If I can help towards your dream in any way do let me know either by commenting below or email me (annisveggies at hotmail dot co dot uk).

The photo below is of one of the perennial polycultures last July and includes Jerusalem artichoke, kale, skirret, clover, chicory, oca, gooseberry, apple and more!

About Anni Kelsey

I love forest gardens and forest gardening, nature, reading and everything good about being alive. I have written two books - the garden of equal delights (2020) - about the principles and practice of forest gardening; and Edible Perennial Gardening (2014) - about growing perennial vegetables in polycultures, which is basically forest gardening concentrating on the lower layers.
This entry was posted in Forest Gardening, perennial greens, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures, roots and tubers, Telford Garden and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dreaming of perennial polycultures and forest gardens

  1. annisveggies says:

    Hi Stevie
    I have some Welsh onion seeds just collected a few weeks ago from the garden. I have already sown some which have come up so I know they are viable! If you would like some just email me your address to annisveggies at hotmail dot co dot uk.
    Best wishes


  2. I’ve just discovered your site as I’m reading up on perennials – what a lucky find! I’ll be following your blog and most likely asking you a lot of questions. I’m just trying to source welsh onions at the moment so that might be a first to ask you!
    Great blog, great to find someone trying the things I’m about to embark on. It’s my 2nd year of allotmenteering so I’m still very much finding my way. 🙂


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