I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago shortly before the coronavirus outbreak took such a tight grip.
Forest gardens are not solely for their ‘owners’ and gardeners, really they are not even primarily for people – forest gardens are for life.
We are living in a time of environmental collapse and ecological disaster – brought about by human activity over centuries, but rapidly accelerated in our own lifetimes.
If we want our forest gardens to be solely or primarily for ourselves and we therefore set out to take as much from them as possible, with scant regard for the rest of the living ecosystem that is needed to support that taking – we will not actually be able to get what we want, because forest gardens – like the larger ecosystems in which they are embedded – require cyclical, reciprocal processes that support and enhance life, not linear extractive ones.
As a species we habitually behave as though we have no need to consider and co-operate with other living beings – rather we take for granted that we can have and take what we want, failing to see that we are fundamentally and totally interdependent with the rest of the living world. (If only out of self interest) we need to start living and behaving very differently – though I would sincerely hope that we can muster much more appropriate intentions than that.
I think that there may be two very different (unhelpful) misconceptions about forest gardens and forest gardening around:
* firstly that you can plant a forest garden, step back and do absolutely nothing and then reap abundant harvests;
* or secondly that you can plant a forest garden and then garden it the same way as you would any other garden.
These misconceptions are both utterly off course – because their motivation and management rests on the human wants and behaviours that are at the root of the environmental and ecological trouble our planet is in.
Forest gardens are a co-creative venture with life in all the fulness that can be manifest in that place. When they plan and plant the garden the forest gardener makes the first move – and from then on what happens is largely, but not entirely down to nature. The difference between this and just letting things be is that the forest gardener seeks to integrate themselves into the forest garden ecosystem and to then see what is happening systemically and with regard for all of life. This changes their understanding, their perspective and their activity.
It is a very different way of gardening – a way that I have been discovering for over ten years. It is both subtle and powerful, inspiring and humbling. A lifetime is nowhere near sufficient to learn what can potentially be learned. Over those years I have taken everything in, watching and learning, gradually gathering understanding and insight. All that I can express of this precious journey is in my forthcoming book which due to unforesteen circumstances is now due for publication in May – although given the current coronavirus crisis I guess there are no certainties at the moment.
Life – as we are being shown – is fragile and precious and we need to treat the rest of life with appropriate care and love.
It is less than two weeks since I wrote this and our lives have already changed for ever. May this be a time in which we can all take heed and take heart and learn to find our own niche in our gardens and in the wider world and society – a place where we are supported and from which we can give our love and support for all of life.
principle: everything the forest gardener does takes full account of the whole of the forest garden ecosystem – what has happened, what is happening and what they intend for the future.
Although I do not engage in forest gardening, I have been very pleased with what the forest has been providing as I prefer to avoid the supermarket. By the time all the cole greens and nettles dry up, the newly cleared vegetable (refined) garden will be providing. Even then, there will be something else to graze on from the forest. Even though most is exotic, it is appreciated.
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It truly is a time to really appreciate what (and who) is around us. Best wishes, Anni
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I like your thinking Anni, we certainly need to get back to working with nature. I have been playing with my garden for a couple of years, mainly focussing on getting the ground covered and having living plants in the ground for soil improvement. With less grass and more trees, shrubs and perennials I see much more life. Harvests are usually modest but occasionally some plants boom and I am left wondering why. Nature is obviously trying to teach me something, and it is fun trying to learn. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this type of gardening. We are living in interesting times, all the best in your part of the world.
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Thank you for your comment Chris. I too find that plants fare differently / differentially from year to year. Yes, nature is trying to teach us something, something very complex, yet also paradoxically simple. There is much to learn and the additional time many of us have right now gives us an opportunity to tune in to what is happening in front of our eyes. All the best to you and your garden. Anni