The three forest gardening essentials are biodiversity, biomass and perenniality – because:
- biodiversity strongly supports a healthy and resilient ecosystem
- biomass strongly supports soil fertility
- perennial trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants support the living food web in the soil
- together these three fundamental facets of forest gardens encourage all kinds of abundance for people and other living creatures[i]
However of the three carefully chosen biodiversity can encompass both biomass and perenniality.
A forest garden can be likened to a stage that is being designed and constructed for a play – the forest gardener is akin to the theatre designer and the stage manager – getting the right scenery and props assembled in the right place at the right time to facilitate the best possible performance. However although they may be seen scurrying around in the darkness behind a curtain shifting scenery their role is not to actually appear in the play – that is for the cast of actors. And in this analogy the cast is all the members of the natural world who can find some food, make a home or just spend a bit of time hanging around in the forest garden before becoming dinner for someone else.
This is not an exact parallel, but I hope it sets the scene (as it were) for the understanding that nature is far more important than the gardener for everything that happens in the forest garden and that including as much diversity as possible gives nature the greatest scope to bring on the real stars of the show, that enliven and invigorate everything about the fledgling ecosystem.
Now – as the days begin to lengthen, as the first bulbs are peeking above ground and the snowdrops will soon be out – this is the time for planning and for starting some of the planting. It is the ideal time to consider how much and what kind of biodiversity to incorporate into a forest garden design or to add to an existing garden.
There is diversity of size and shape – both above and below ground, of purpose and of function, of plant family and variety and of growth and flowering and harvesting time – and thinking about all these things can start to make your head spin. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be all done at once and making a gentle start with incremental additions to a forest garden is just as valid as trying to get everything going all at once. I think it is a matter of personal style and preference (and it can also be a financial consideration as plants are not cheap).
Right now, whilst they are dormant, this is the time to choose and plant bare root fruit trees and bushes. I already have quite a lot of fruit trees but every year I seem to find out that there is room for more! I haven’t decided on everything I am going to plant yet and I would really like to try some unusual fruits that I have been yearning for. I always find that browsing website provides plenty of food for thought and opportunities to consider plants and trees I may not have been aware of and here are a few I have been looking at lately:
- Bernwode Plants for rare and heritage fruit trees
- Ian Sturrock for Welsh heritage fruit trees
- Tom the Apple Man for heritage varieties of fruit trees from the borderlands of England and Wales
- Jurassic Plants for some unusual edibles
- Cool Temperate Nursery for lots of useful forest garden plants
- Edulis for rare and unusual plants from around the world
- Walcot Nursery sells organically grown fruit trees and I have already bought a crab apple, damson and chuckleberry from them before Christmas!
[i] For further details / explanation of how and why see Jacke and Toensmeier volume 1, my book Edible Perennial Gardening or my forthcoming book the garden of equal delights.