Edible Forest Gardening

Edible Forest Gardening

Edible forest gardening is a philosophy of landscape design that was developed in Britain by a man named Robert Hart. Hart based his garden on the natural stages and levels of Britain’s native woodlands, and also took inspiration from the tropical forest gardens of Africa, Asia, and South America.

Though the idea of temperate forest gardens was developed in Britain, it is easily adapted to North America.

Forest gardens are designed to mimic a natural woodland and are planted in up to seven distinct layers:

  1. The tall tree layer consists of fruit and nut bearing trees such as chestnuts, walnuts, oaks, apples, and hickories, planted irregularly to intermix patches of sun and shade on the forest floor below.
  2. The low tree layer consists of smaller understory trees such as almonds, mulberries, dogwoods, and pawpaw, as well as dwarf fruit trees.
  3. The shrub layer includes fruiting shrubs such as blueberry, raspberry, hazelnut, serviceberry, elderberry, chokeberry, wild cherry, and more.
  4. The herb layer includes annual and perennial vegetables, flowers, culinary herbs, and other non-woody species.
  5. The ground cover layer includes a mix of low growing edible plants such as strawberries, nitrogen fixers such as clover, living mulches, and low growing flowers.
  6. The root layer includes edible roots and tubers such as garlic, onions, potatoes, and Jerusalem artichoke, as well as a type of plant known as “dynamic accumulators,” whose deep root systems draw nutrients up to the soil’s surface where they can be used by other plants.
  7. The vine layer includes climbing plants such as wild grapes, kiwifruit, honeysuckle, and annual vegetables such as cucumbers and squash.

The typical edible forest garden is designed to be both useful and beautiful, incorporating a mix of mast-producing trees and shrubs, vegetables and herbs, flowering plants, and garden workhorses such as nitrogen fixing plants, living mulches/cover crops, and dynamic accumulators. Many edible forest gardens also provided excellent habitat for birds and other wildlife.

The result is a self-sustaining, multistoried garden that produces copious food for humans and wildlife alike.

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Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karviainen/194675157/