Ten years ago, I started experimenting with forest garden techniques in my allotment. It’s been a long process. Along the way I’ve discovered a few things not mentioned in the breezier forest garden books, like that most of the UK research has been done in the South West of England and doesn’t necessarily translate to the North East of Scotland, or that a lot of the species described as ‘edible’ are edible only in the technical sense of ‘you can swallow them and not die (quickly)’, or that many of the species extolled will take years of detective work to track down and acquire.
However, I have finally arrived at something that I’m willing to claim as a forest garden: an edible ecosystem to delight the eye, mouth, stomach and heart. An arrangement of useful plants, each in the ecological niche that it likes best – niches created in many cases by the other plants.
I have also realised that I have managed to extend the art in a few small ways. One is by testing what works well in Aberdeen. The situation these days is much better than when I started reading about forest gardens, when practically all the examples were from Australia, but there is still an ongoing need to develop experience in all parts of the country. This is my point in that dataset.
I also think that my forest garden is unusual in its allotment scale. Most forest gardens I have seen or read about have at least a field to play with. I have had to squeeze things in. I’m jealous of course, but I also think that many more people have an allotment or small garden than have a field, so I hope the experience will be useful to others.
My forest garden isn’t finished yet – I don’t think I’m even half way. But I have been asked to share what I have learned and a blog seems perfectly adapted to recording such a messy, ongoing, experimental, evolving process. So here goes…