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The idea behind a forest garden is that the constituents of the garden will compliment one another, each doing different jobs, in order to prevent disease, provide protection from the elements, and help the growth of other plants. Another element behind the concept is that the majority of what grows in the forest garden can be harvested and eaten, all of which is organic.
There are seven layers to a forest garden. Starting on ground level, some creeping plants should be put down. These will spread over the floor of the garden very rapidly, thus deterring weeds. The next layer is the herb layer. Once ready for use, herbs can be picked and used in many different types of cookery. Next you will need a root layer, such as Jerusalem artichokes, which are quite happy growing low down, requiring very little light. The fourth layer is the bush layer, gooseberry for example, which can be grown in partial shade. The fifth layer comprises a small tree layer such as hazel, and the canopy layer should be a fruit tree. A climber such as Nasturtium should be encouraged to grow up this fruit tree and this comprises the seventh layer.
So the fruit tree is the canopy layer just as the larger trees are in the forest. This provides protection from extreme weather conditions to the plants below it. It grows best given plenty of sunlight though so is ideal as the top layer. The climber brings nutrients from further down in the soil to distribute in the garden, which otherwise would not be present. It also provides annual leaf mould. The hazel tree might not survive if the fruit tree didn’t protect it, and because the bush layer requires little light it is an ideal addition in the lower areas of the forest garden. In turn the creeping plants protect the root and herb layers from the detrimental effects of weeds.
The added bonus of having a forest garden is that it is environmentally friendly, and you have a constant supply of organic produce. You don’t need a huge garden space to realise such a project so give it a go!