One of my reader’s, Helen from Silverbells, asked if I would do an update on our forest garden as I describe on Murtagh’s Meadow about page. Really the forest gardening I leave to my husband, while I concentrate on the vegetable patch, and the flower garden, though it doesn’t stop me using the produce.
To quote the Agroforestry Trust in the UK , forest gardening is a designed agronomic system based on trees, shrubs and perennial plants. The idea being that you try and re-create a sustainable natural forest with all it’s complex product producing layers. So food products may include fruits, nuts, leaves, and possibly medicinal plants and spices. In addition, you may have plants that produce fodder for animals or resources such as bean poles, wood for fuel and so on.
From our point of view it has been a bit of a struggle. To start with you are constantly battling with weeds and in our case grass, and until we get some kind of canopy cover this will continue. So any low growing shrubs have really struggled to get a foot hold. And even plants such as raspberries, which are naturally a woodland edge plant, struggle to keep going. Perhaps, if we had more time (this is supposed to be a low maintenance form of gardening) it would be better, because in reality you’d need to be out every few days cutting the grass back from spring right into late autumn.
Somethings have done well, such as the chokeberries. But then the birds come along and eat them all before they are even ripe!!! We have Nepalese raspberries which are good ground cover. They certainly are, and they try to take over. What is more I have yet to find any fruit – though the carder bees do seem to appreciate the flowers.
The cobnut shrubs look good and are healthy but we have yet to get more than a handful of nuts. The nuts we did grow this year were nearly all empty and those that had fallen to the ground has been opened by mice (but I wonder if they found them empty too?). Though this coming year we should have some very decent bean poles.
The slugs loved the bark of the Szechuan pepper (a substitute for black pepper) and ring barked it a couple of times before we put it in a pot.
The autumn olive flowered but did not set fruit this year, but there were some fruit last year (see photo). We had a good crop of sea buckthorn which again are thriving (though last year did not crop so well). And this is the first year we have had quinces (a grand total of six!).
In general, success has been better with the more traditional orchard trees, apples, plums and to lesser extent pears. Having a number of varieties seems to be the key, as not all well fruit well every year.
In terms of work, you need to be prepared initially to do a lot of maintenance. And it is certainly trial and error with what will crop well in a given year.