The forest garden in Devon ‘with an air of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory’

Mark Diacono on Martin Crawford, the man who has encouraged him for many years.

Twenty years in the past, an acquaintance explained I could be fascinated in ‘this chap who’s planting like a forest, only it’s food’. I scoured the online, I tracked him down, and persuaded him to allow me take a look at. The subsequent working day I put in with Martin Crawford induced a full turn in my kitchen area-backyard way of thinking.

This, he explained, was a forest backyard garden. Rather than adhere to the common kitchen-backyard method with yearly vegetables planted in traces and developed virtually in two-dimensional format, a forest garden is made to mimic a pure woodland, planned and planted in integrated tiers, setting up with the cover, beneath which smaller sized trees, shrubs and herbaceous levels flourished, with each other with ground-address and subterranean harvests, every linked by climbers.

The emphasis on perennial plants brings resilience and a prolonged successful season: after year one, the perennials’ deep root program indicates they are much less inclined to drought or floods than annuals and several turn out to be effective early in the yr.

Building in vegetation that enrich the soil and feed the productive vegetation is integral to the tactic: mineral accumulators, these kinds of as comfrey, root deeply, drawing up vitamins and other trace elements from lower in the soil profile to develop into readily available in the topsoil when their leaves are slice nitrogen fixers these as clover and autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) take nitrogen from the air and make it accessible to neighbouring crops by their root method or leaf drop. This maintains fertility normally. Lots of also draw in pollinators and other valuable insects to assist maintain an ecological stability.

With all this chat of productiveness, let us not fail to remember that forest-back garden layout has a lot of of the sensibilities of classic ornamental-back garden design and style — planting for visual attractiveness seasonal curiosity sensitivity to part, soil variety and so on — generally maximising flavour, range, wildlife worth and incorporating plants that greatly enhance the wellbeing of the soil.

Despite the fact that we were going for walks close to a new venture — mostly younger plants a number of decades at most in the floor — I knew this was how I needed to mature and I planted a quarter-acre forest backyard at my outdated smallholding, Otter Farm.

It included walnuts between the canopy trees, Asian pears and medlars beneath, Sichuan pepper and jostaberries element of the shrub layer, rhubarb and artichokes amid the herbaceous crops, with Moroccan mint and Nepalese raspberries delivering groundcover, yacón, oca and mashua offering me underground harvests, and climbers these kinds of as kiwi and akebia. It took time and effort and hard work in the beginning. Developing the groundcover — by using thick card to mulch out any weeds and grass if required before planting—is essential, but get that right and you have a clear base on which to create.


Woodland is the purely natural vegetation of significantly of the nation, which means that, at the time set up, forest gardens are in harmony with Nature’s trajectory and accomplish a organic equilibrium with constrained servicing. The blend of groundcover and perennial planting does absent with the common kitchen area-garden cycle of sowing, hoeing and watering that usually takes up so considerably of the gardener’s time.

These rules implement commonly to a smaller area, also. I have designed city forest gardens at the domestic scale and I am employing the exact same rules in my individual garden. The essential is to omit the cover layer that may possibly or else dominate and steal mild and plant trees on dwarfing rootstocks or practice them as followers, cordons, espaliers and pleaches to enable a wide selection of fruit and nuts to be developed, as properly as maximising the total of light reaching the lower levels.

Martin’s forest back garden now has the search and feel of a diverse woodland, with paths and clearings punctuating the whole. There is an air of Willy Wonka’s chocolate manufacturing unit about it: in summer time, you can get to up for a pear or apricot in autumn, Sichuan pepper and walnuts cling from the trees early spring delivers sweet cicely and Solomon’s seal shoots. Flavours abound and, even at his two-acre scale, ongoing get the job done is nominal.

Martin runs classes ( isles), retains open up times at his south Devon locale and his guides on forest gardening are the essential tomes. If you’d like to see a youthful forest backyard obtaining its ft, pay back a check out to RHS Rosemoor, Devon, where by the fantastic staff is producing a forest garden that acts as a changeover in between the much more formal spots and the glorious woodland placing in which Rosemoor sits.

Mark Diacono grows edibles, equally typical and unusual, at Otter Farm in Devon ( kingdom). His latest reserve is From Scratch: Ferment (Quadrille, £12.99)

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