Planting a forest garden is in part a statement of intent and also in part a question. The intent is to facilitate and support the development and growth of a healthy edible ecosystem. The question is ‘what will happen next’?
These are two interlinking aspects that guide the forest gardener into the future because the intention of supporting an ecosystem – is fulfilled by attending to the question of what happens next. And paradoxically the first thing to do – is nothing.
“The forest garden is planted, everything is in place – what is the first thing the forest gardener needs to do? It is to stop! Go and make a cup of tea or meet up with friends for coffee*. Go out for the day. Go on holiday. Read a book, watch a film, visit an elderly neighbour. Go and do nothing or do something, but whatever you do leave the garden alone. This is important. You have done your bit for now. It is time for the garden to start to do its own thing in its own way. The garden needs time and space – freedom from human interference. So, off you go – and do something else for a bit.” the garden of equal delights p39
* When I wrote this there was no coronavirus and you could meet up with friends for coffee and go out and about. One day we will be able to do these things again but until then there is more time to devote to watching what is happening in the garden.
Stop – watch – wait. It is that simple. By doing this you can develop your trust in nature as the senior partner in this venture.
In any garden there are always gaps – places for nature to insert new plants and wildlife. In ecology these are known as ‘niches’. A newly arrived plant or animal is usually called either a ‘weed’ or a ‘pest’ by a conventional gardener. However in a forest garden the ‘weed’ is a wild flower and is a vital source of habitat and sustenance for local, native wildlife. The newly arrived ‘pest’ (be it a slug or an aphid or a caterpillar) is food for another creature and forms part of the foundation of the food chain.
Continuing to stop – watch – wait – allows nature to fill in more niches and thereby to connect up these disparate parts with the first fine threads of the ecosystem. This is the very beginning of the forest gardener learning to allow nature to take up her own story in this place. There is much to learn and it all takes time. The full suite of forest garden principles hold the gardener’s hand and guide them on the journey so that eventually:
“No longer does nature have to struggle against an alien controller, but it can just be in harmony with a deeply empathetic and understanding gardener.”
“The forest gardener can see nature healing in overgrown places and its wild weeds as its sign of forgiveness. Formerly the threads of nature were as fine filaments blowing in the wind, fragile and easily torn apart. Here they have been re-woven into a stronger and more resilient fabric and this place is being healed. Importantly the support offered by the forest gardener has facilitated and speeded that healing.” The garden of equal delights p142
Principle of forest gardening: first stop; don’t do anything until you need to and, in that prolonged pause, let go.