What is a Forest Garden?

Forest gardens are food-producing systems which seek to emulate natural woodland ecosystems as closely as possible. They consist of mainly perennial plants which are agriculturally productive or useful, growing as they would in the wild.

In a forest garden plants are stacked as in a natural forest or woodland. While this structure is universal, each forest or woodland is uniquely composed of species that are specific to its climate and location.

Most temperate forests consist of between four and seven layers of plants (see Graham Burnett's helpful illustration below), while some successionally-advanced tropical forests may feature up to thirteen layers.

Layers of forest garden

The most common seven plant layers are as follows (with examples for forest gardens in temperate climates):

  1. Upper canopy (sweet chestnut, cherry, pear, apple, Victoria plum)
  2. Lower canopy or sub-canopy  (hazel, crab apple, fig, medlar and dwarfing trees)
  3. Shrubs, and understorey bushes (blackcurrant, gooseberry, raspberry)
  4. Herbaceous perennials and annuals (mint, chives, fennel, rhubarb)
  5. Ground cover (strawberries, clover, ramsons)
  6. Roots and rhizosphere (Welsh onion, ground nut, garlic and chives, Jerusalem artichoke, fungi and mycorrhiza)
  7. Vines and climbers (kiwi, grape, passion fruit, runner beans)

A well-managed forest garden will yield nuts, fruits, herbs and annual crops. Once a forest garden becomes established, it requires little or no input and minimal labour, while continuing to produce harvestable yields.

What can i grow in a Forest Garden?

Graham Burnett has listed some common products of an English forest garden. Every forest garden is different, but this gives an idea of the huge range and variety of yields possible.

Edible yields: fruit (apples, cherries, currants, gooseberries, grapes, medlars, pears, plums, raspberries), vegetables (Good King Henry, hops, horseradish, Jerusalem artichokes, perennial onions, Turkish rocket), herbs and salads (lemon balm, lovage, mints, ramsons, sorrel, young tree leaves such as lime), nuts and seeds (almonds, hazels, sweet chestnut), mushrooms (lion’s mane, oyster, shitake), beverages (birch sap wine, cider, elderflower cordial, nettle beer).

Non-edible yields: medicinal plants (balms, eucalyptus, periwinkle, St John’s wort, woundwort), fibres (nettles, New Zealand flax), craft and basketry materials (bamboo, coppiced hazel, willow charcoal), building materials, firewood.

Other yields: education, income stream, research data, wildlife, venue for parties, relaxation space, aesthetic and spiritual yields, the list is endless …

hawthorn berries
small curve

Forest Gardens in Action

Explore our Forest Garden case studies to see the range of ways your can grow a food forest, at home or at scale. 

Dense green undergrowth in a forest garden

Take a virtual tour round a Forest Garden

forest garden

Case studies from 10 year Forest Garden research

small curve

Forest Gardens Resourses




Pippa's book

Plant Lover’s Backyard Forest Garden

alan's book

Food Forest in your Garden