Forest Gardening, Edible Landscapes and Urban Permaculture

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Forest Gardening, Edible Landscapes and Urban Permaculture

Postby George Collins » Mon Jan 30, 2012 3:48 am
Robert Adrian de Jauralde Hart (1 April 1913 – 7 March 2000) was the pioneer of forest gardening in temperate zones. He created a model forest garden from a 0.12 acre (500 m²) orchard on his farm.[1]

Robert Hart began with a smallholding called Highwood Hill farm at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire. His intention was to provide a healthy and therapeutic environment for himself and his brother Lacon, who was born with severe learning disabilities.

Hart though soon discovered that maintaining large annual vegetable beds, rearing livestock and taking care of an orchard were tasks beyond his strength. However, he also observed that a small bed of perennial vegetables and herbs he had planted was looking after itself with little or no intervention. Furthermore, these plants provided interesting and unusual additions to the diet, and seemed to promote health and vigour in both body and mind.

Noting the maxim of Hippocrates to “make food your medicine and medicine your food”, Robert adopted a vegan, 90% raw food diet. The three main products from a forest garden are fruit, nuts and green leafy vegetables.[2] Hart's forest garden was a vegan organic food production system.

He also began to examine the interactions and relationships that take place between plants in natural systems, particularly in woodland, the climax ecosystem of a cool temperate region such as the British Isles. This led him to evolve the agroforestry concept of the "Forest Garden": Based on the observation that the natural forest can be divided into distinct layers or ‘storeys’, he developed an existing small orchard of apples and pears into an edible landscape consisting of seven dimensions;

A ‘canopy’ layer consisting of the original mature fruit trees.
A ‘low-tree’ layer of smaller nut and fruit trees on dwarfing root stocks.
A ‘shrub layer’ of fruit bushes such as currants and berries.
A ‘herbaceous layer’ of perennial vegetables and herbs.
A ‘ground cover’ layer of edible plants that spread horizontally.
A ‘rhizosphere’ or ‘underground’ dimension of plants grown for their roots and tubers.
A vertical ‘layer’ of vines and climbers.
Hart had a vision for the spread of the forest garden throughout even the most heavily built up areas, as he explains:

Obviously, few of us are in a position to restore the forests…But tens of millions of us have gardens, or access to open spaces such as industrial wastelands, where trees can be planted…and if full advantage can be taken of the potentialities that are available even in heavily built up areas, new ‘city forests’ can arise.

There has been no tool in the Permaculture toolbox that I find more fascinating than that of the forest garden. My opinion is that the forest garden best exemplifies what it means to practice Permaculture. What mulch is to the vegetable garden, forest gardening is to Permaculture. No matter what your problems, an intelligently designed forest garden holds more of the answer than any other single option.

If you have erosion problems, plant a tree that yields a direct or indirect edible.
If you want shade on the east side of your house, plant a fruit tree.
If you need more mulch material for your vegetable garden, plant an oak forest and use the mast to top out your hogs.
If you need a caloric staple to see you through the winter, plant some chestnuts and use the husks to keeps birds out of your freshly planted English peas.
If you have a tree die in your yard, plant a grape vine next to it.
If you need cordage, plant some New Zealand flax.
If you need to reduce your food bill, buy a fruit tree from a nursery that only costs three times as much as a weeks worth of fruit from a grocery store. Use your head, give it some time and your total food bill can plummet.

Geoff Lawton says, "You can solve all your problems in a garden."

I can't help but to believe that he was talking about a perennial based garden when he said so. When Mr. Lawton performed his exemplary work in Jordan which is documented in Greening the Dessert, he wasn't planting cabbages but rather pomegranates, date palms, guavas, figs, mulberries and citrus.

I often find myself getting distracted by the annuals and have to force myself to reconcentrate my efforts on the food forest. From the perspective of self-actualization, the annual garden is every bit as rewarding to me as working with perennials. From a long-term sustainability standpoint, the pears nursed through the upcoming summer will help secure the nutritional future of my legacy for, on average, 5+ generations.

By planting one acre of food forest, the work to calorie ratio is skewed so far to the right of that equation that one must truly wonder why anyone who doesn't have a food forest would even bother with an annual garden until after they have a large forest garden in full production.

I'm not being disrespectful toward you if you have an annual garden. I have one myself. But if I had to choose between the food forest and the kitchen garden, while we still have access to a grocery store, I would put the entirety of my resources toward the forest garden.

Robert Hart did an amazing work when he pioneered forest gardening in the temperate zone. He is truly one of the giants of our movement and the only reason this movement will ever succeed is if we stand on his shoulders and those of a precious few others like him and "just do it.". Get those trees in the ground. Kill a few, save a few, learn a lot, plant some more, go like hell and don't forget to plant some tomatoes because you just can't eat them store bought ones.

That's my philosophy anyway. And if I fail, Y'all can all laugh at me for getting preachy.
"Solve world hunger, tell no one." "The, the, the . . . The Grinch!"

"If you can't beat them, bite them."
George Collins
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