Forest gardens

Forest gardens are food-producing and seek to emulate natural woodland ecosystems as closely as possible.

A forest garden is made-up of mainly perennial plants which are productive or useful and - as its name suggests - plants are stacked or assembled as they may be found in a forest or woodland. There is a universal recognised system of forest planting, but each forest or woodland is uniquely composed of species specific to climate and location.

Most temperate forests consist of seven layers of plants, whilst some successionally-advanced tropical forests may feature up to thirteen layers.

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

  1. Upper Canopy (Sweet Chestnut)
  2. Lower Canopy or Sub-Canopy (Crab Apple)
  3. Vines and Climbers (Grape)
  4. Shrubs, and understorey bushes (Blackcurrant)
  5. Herbaceous perennials and annuals (Mint)
  6. Ground Cover (Strawberries)
  7. Roots and Rhizosphere (Ground Nut)<

A well-managed garden will yield nuts, fruits, herbs and annual crops. Once a forest garden becomes established, it requires little or no extra energy input and minimal labour, whilst continuing to produce harvestable yields. It is essentially a multi-layered foraging garden, sometimes referred to as a wild or outdoor pantry.  

Forest gardens also create a natural habitat for animals and insects and plants with greater pest resilience, producing continual food without annual tilling, pesticides, fertilisers or other high inputs of chemicals or energy.  

Forest gardens are part of the wider approach of agroforestry.

The 52 Climate Actions website has more advice for anyone wanting to Plant an Edible Forest Garden.

Dense green undergrowth in a forest garden

Related resources...

Scotswood Natural Community Garden (Newcastle Upon Tyne)
Warland Ecogrowing
Wyld Edges Community Interest Company
Carraig Dúlra Permaculture Small-Holding, Wicklow, EIRE
Karuna LAND Project Centre
Social Farms and Gardens (Previously FCFCG)
Agroforestry Research Trust
A Forest Garden Farm - croft & small farm agroforestry
JEROME OSENTOWSKY Indoor Forest Gardens using Climate Battery IPC11 Cuba
Forest Man
Indoor Forest Gardens Using Low Energy Climate Battery Technology
Up Front with Commissioner Jill Ryan - Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute
Living With The Land | Part 7 | Off-grid Living
Permaculture Guilds with Toby Hemenway
CRMPI forest garden
perennial polyculture guidelines
Living With The Land | Part 1 | Forest Gardening
A Forest Garden Year
Forest Gardening with Robert Hart
Oldest Food Forest in Britain
Creating a Food Forest – Step by Step Guide
A forest garden with 500 edible plants could lead to a sustainable future
JOURNAL ARTICLE : The legacy of 4,500 years of polyculture agroforestry in the eastern Amazon - Nature Journal
Edible Forest Gardens: an Invitation to Adventure
Designing a Forest Garden: The Seven-Layer Garden - Chelsea Green Blog
Transition Town PermaGarden - Forest Gardens
ARTICLE : Introducing Nitrogen Fixing Trees: Nature's Solution to Curing N2 Deficiency -
ARTICLE : 8 Simple But Sure Steps To Miracle Farms:How You Make a Living From a 4 Acre Permaculture Orchard (photo & video) -
ARTICLE : Nitrogen Fixing Species for Agroforestry Systems - (USA) Web resources
ARTICLE : Make a Living from Growing Mushrooms - Permaculture Magazine
Article : The Picasso Food Forest, Parma - Italy
Food Forests webpage (USA) - Sacred Ecology Design
Food Forest Resources from Sacred Ecology
ARTICLE : Living With The Land Part 1 - Forest Gardening
Pennerley Permaculture and Forest Garden Plot
Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens
Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops
Midwest Permaculture Presents: Plant Guilds
Forest Garden Baseline survey UK 2013
Edible Forest Gardens Volume 2 - Ecological Design and Practice for Temperate Climate Permaculture
Edible Forest Gardens Volume 1 - Ecological Vision and Theory for Temperate Climate Permaculture
Manual for Creating a Community Food Forest on Public Land
Culinary Herbs
Forest Gardening - Rediscovering Nature & Community in a Post-Industrial Age
Plants for a Future - Edible and Useful Plants For A Healthier World
How To Make A Forest Garden
Creating a Forest Garden