Recently I have published number of posts on topics such as ‘polyculture eyes’, trust, and welcoming the wild. However that is not to say that forest gardening is all or only about allowing nature to have a free for all in the garden, nor that there is nothing for the forest gardener to actually do, or no other knowledge to gain in support of the whole venture.
Because alongside developing a relaxed and trusting relationship with the forest garden the forest gardener also needs to learn a great deal of conventional information as well. This includes elements of botany, soil science, ecology, forestry, herbalism, foraging, mycology, traditional cookery and food preservation skills, and potentially much more besides. These things are important because they provide the foundations upon which to form a mature understanding of how the ecosystem as a whole is functioning and of how effectively you as the forest gardener are learning to integrate within that ecosystem.
Had we been born as indigenous peoples living in a remote and wild place, we would from earliest childhood have learned from our family and community everything about the wild nature that surrounded us. Having been inextricably interwoven with our environment from the outset we would know what was edible and how to eat it, what could heal and what could harm. We would understand the meaning of different cloud formations, know the calls of animals and birds, and so much more besides. However as 21st century modern humans we lack vast amounts of knowledge and need to learn it if we are to learn to actualise the enormous potential of forest gardening.
As well as learning factual information from books, online resources, family, and community a forest gardener also needs to develop a quantitative (measurable) understanding of what is happening in their garden. Knowing (as opposed to guessing) things like:
- How many plants are performing what ecosystem functions and where there are gaps
- Which plants are thriving and which are not
- How much produce the garden is yielding
- The weather and its impact
- What insects, amphibians, mammals and other creatures are visiting or living in the garden
- Which new (or newly available) plants, trees or seeds could be integrated into the garden
- And probably more ….!
A forest gardener who is learning both the underpinning science and closely observing their garden is the forest gardener who is well prepared to interpret what these things mean in this context and to make their own informed decisions about what to do (or not to do) next.
I know this all sounds like a tall order, but don’t let it daunt you. There is no hurry, polyculture learning is slow learning and there is all the time in the world. And remember that the old absolutes no longer apply, each forest gardener and forest garden are unique and every decision to be made depends on the context not on a rule book.
“Forest gardening is immersion in how nature operates, immersion in nature itself to learn from personal experience. The forest gardener becomes increasingly adept at seeing the garden as a whole and also of weighing up the different roles and contributions of each part. The nitty-gritty of making decisions rests on these abilities.”
“Nothing is set in stone and the forest gardener decides in a deeply reflective and respectful manner. Every gardener will make their own decisions. This is as it should be; it is how things work in this different world. There is no right and no wrong, just things as they are and the way forward opening up afresh all the time.”
The garden of equal delights page 78
As I was reading this post, I pictured myself in my own forest garden. It is true: we are one of many components and we are learning all the time. It’s such a fascinating role as a gardener.
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