Forests aren’t the first thing that one thinks of when one mentions a garden, but, close observation of a forest will make it clear that a forest can be a garden. The trees provide protection and shade and have smaller trees beneath them. Then comes some shrubs below those smaller trees, followed by some large plants that like light. Close to the ground are the ground covers and shade loving plants. Fungi live underground and through all of those various plants run some vines and other long trailing plants. These are the seven layers of a forest.
A back yard often doesn’t have these layers, and if it does it doesn’t necessarily provide food, or at least food that one wants to eat. We were lucky that we had some mature fruit trees already on the property when we moved in. It only took a few small steps to get a forest garden going.
After our third year hear the forest garden has really taken off. We currently have a canopy, a low tree layer, a shrub layer, a herb layer, some perennial rhizomes, and some ground covering plants. This year we are planning on introducing some ves into the garden to see what happens. Last year some edible mushrooms were introduced. We don’t know if they have survived yet, this spring we will know.
OUR TREE INVENTORY
- Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)
- Apple (Malus pumila)
- Pear (Pyrus communis)
- Plum (Prunus domestica)
- Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
- Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
- Locust (ornamental Robinia sp.)
- European Linden (Tilia cordata)
- American Linden (Tilia americana)
- Box Elder (Acer Negundo)
- Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
- Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
- European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)
- Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
- Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
- Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)
- Norway Spruce (Picea abies)
- Blue Spruce (Picea pungens)
- Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)
- Gooseberry (Ribes grossularia)
- Red Currant (Ribes rubrum)
- Rose of Sharon (Hybiscus syriacus)
- Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
- Forsythia (Forsythia ovata)
- Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea var. edulis) 2010
- Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) 2010
Permaculture defines grouping of plants in a forest garden as guilds. These plants work together at different times of the year and provide at least one beneficial quality to the garden. Selecting the right plants to go underneath a tree is essential. One of the best ways to learn this is to go into nature herself and look. See what is growing underneath a specific tree and see if there is a domestic variety that can be useful. Ideally these plants should also be perennials so they don’t have to be replanted every year.
For example the most common guild example in permaculture is the apple tree guild.
Some of the plants that can go under an apple tree include:
- daffodils (squirrel deterrent)
- onions and garlic (edible roots)
- comfrey (healing herb)
- yarrow (healing herb)
- nasturtium (edible flower)
- dill and fennel (edible herbs)
- dandelions (healing and edible wildplant)
- chicory (edible wildplant)
- plantain (healing and edible wildplant)
- clover (tea herb & nitrogen fixer for soil)
- strawberries (edible)
- shade beans (edible)
Some of these are edible, some make good teas, and others keep out unwanted squirrels. All are useful and can help nourish the tree.
There are some one-hundred foot spruce trees on the property which are our large trees. There was already a small orchard with apples, pears, and plums so at least we had the first and second layer provided for us. At the edge of this is also a maple tree that will eventually be used for syrup. In the spirit of not wanting to waste anything and trying to reuse as much as possibly we decided to save some shrubs that our neighbour was getting rid of and re-plant them.
This is what our main forest gardens consists of:
- apple trees
- pear trees
- plum trees
- red currant bushes
- gooseberry bushes
- onion garlic bulbs under one tree
- attempted to train a squash to climb up one tree
At the edges of some of the gooseberry and currant bushes we also planted some strawberries we also saved. There are two more guilds that we would like to establish with a Red Mulberry tree, and and Red Oak tree and the centre.