Forest Gardening

I’ve just returned from Devon after being on a forest gardening course at the Agroforestry Research Trust with Martin Crawford.

It was probably one of the most inspirational courses I’ve been on. Martin’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject is relentless. He has researched into thousands of different plants with many different uses from food, dyes, medicine, cordage, teas, nitrogen fixers, beneficial insect attractants, companion plants, saps and resins.

On my way home I stopped off in Bristol. Whilst walking to the pub through the city I was amazed at how many varieties of trees and shrubs I saw that were also planted in Martin’s forest garden.

On one street in inner city Bristol I saw Eleagnus multiflora, a nitrogen fixer that produces edible fruit, beech and small leaved limes (edible leaves),  Sorbus aria, a Whitebeam producing edible fruit, Quercus ilex – Holm oak with edible acorns. In the university accommodation gardens were planted some medlars, by a cash machine was growing Rosa rugosa (a common vigorous rose with lovely edible flowers and large rosehips that are high in vitamin C . Maybe Bristol is a good city to be in if we have a food crisis!

I have been asked to design a forest garden in Bristol. Here’s what it looks like at the moment….

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….a bit of a state!

The design brief is that the clients want  a space that can be used for entertaining, is good for wildlife, is a calm and relaxing space, looks good, and above all else, produces a considerable amount of edible plants for their kitchen.

The site has an open aspect to the east and south and at the moment three large Leyand cypress are on the north western boundary.

As the property is in a conservation area, planning permission is needed to remove any large trees. All the neighbours (and there are plenty of them)are in favour of their removal as long as something replaces them in order to retain peoples privacy.

The idea at the moment is to dismantle the Leyand cypress to a height of about 2-3 feet, then inoculate the stumps with edible mushroom spores (probably oyster mushroom). This will not only provide a useful crop, but by inoculating the stumps immediately after felling, it will help to prevent the invasion of parasitic fungi (such as honey fungus) which could prevent the healthy growth of any further tree planting at the site.

The idea at the moment is to replace the Leyand cypress with 3 Tilia cordata (Small leaved lime). These trees will be grown flat against some framework to a height of roughly 15-20 feet. Small leaved lime has edible leaves and flowers that not only make a nice tea but are also fantastic for bees.

 This would require some pruning over the season to keep it in check. The pruning will also reduce the amount of flowers that are produced. I’ll have to look into that one.

Shrub layer ideas at the moment are bamboos (edible shoots), Cystisus scoparius (Broom) that produces flowers for wine making and is also nitrogen fixing, so will feed the plants around it, rosemary.

This project is in it’s very early stages. Watch this space for further developments…………………………

Nearly finished wall

Here’s the wall at Eryrys nearly finished…….

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The wall is nearly finished. Lookin’ good I reckon!

We won’t be there for a week. I’m gonna be down in Devon on a course at the Agroforestry Researc Trust….

Sample orchard surveys

Below are two examples of surveys I have carried out  recently. The first survey was done in Cheshire at a site of an existing orchard.

The second survey was undertaken at a site where the client wanted to plant up a new orchard.


Orchard Report

for ____________



Compiled by Tom Adams

on date 





At the request of name I visited the orchard at The Farm, on 25-04-09.


The orchard consists of three areas;

Area 1. A small orchard in the farm house gardenorchardcourse5 002 (picture1)






Area 2.  A small orchard in the picnic area.


Area 3. The main orchard to the south west of the farm yard. 


The purpose of the visit was to advise Mr name on the potential for developing the orchard and maintaining the existing trees. The Farm is under a HLFS and in order to qualify for grant aid a management plan needs to be produced for DEFRA.





Area 1.  In the grounds of the farmhouse is a large mature apple tree (picture 1) which I understand from the owner is the variety Newton Wonder.

Across the access driveway is a solitary mature pear

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Area 2. This orchard consists of a picnic area and four newly planted trees, Bee Bench, Lord Combermere, The Lemon Apple and Wareham Russet


Area 3. The main orchard consists of a mixture of mainly pears with one apple tree and two plums.


The trees are as follows –


Pear 1 – in flower, half of trunk missing. Diameter at breast height (DBH) 4’7”


Pear 2 – 60% death of crown, some flower. DBH 6’9”


Pear 3 – in flower, small amount of dieback. DBH


Pear 4 – in flower, 60% of trunk missing, a large split down the trunk and 30% of bark missing. DBH 4’4”


Pear 5 – in flower, reasonable condition, some of the top is missing. DBH 5’9”


Pear 6 – in flower, very tall (possibly 70 foot), good condition. DBH 7’2”


Pear 7 – in flower, half of original crown missing. DBH 5’4”


Apple 1 – in flower, half of original crown missing. DBH 5’4”

Plum 1 – reasonable condition. DBH 2’5”


Plum 2 – reasonable condition, dual stemmed.


The south facing site is enclosed to the north by a recently constructed breeze block barn. On the southwestern side is a hawthorn hedge . The eastern boundary is delineated by a trackway and a hawthorn hedge. The site is essentially triangular in shape with the narrow end further from the farmyard.

The ground flora of the site is grass and broadleaved weed species. There has been some recent oversowing of relandscaped area.




Orchard 1


The apple tree is in relatively good health and would benefit from some sensitive pruning to reduce the number of branches within the crown to allow better air circulation and light penetration.

The pear tree across the drive is healthy but would benefit from the removal of the building material stacked near the base. This would improve the ease of fruit picking.

The growth from the base of the tree is from the rootstock and needs removing so the tree can concentrate it’s energy where it needs it.


Orchard 2


The newly planted trees are protected from the sheep by netlon guards. They would benefit greatly by being mulched around their base to reduce the competition for water and nutrients, and from staking and tying in order to ensure they grow upright.

These trees will need checking on a regular basis to ensure their continued development and protection.



Orchard 3


The trees in this orchard I would estimate to be around 120 years old.

The apple trees that would have originally been present have died out due to their relatively short lifespan.

It is my professional opinion that the pears were originally propagated on the rootstock seedling pear. This would be bourn out by their general size and longevity. The healthiest have the potential to live for another 100 years provided that the site conditions are maintained in their present state.

The pears show evidence of having been pruned approximately 50 years ago as a measure of crown reduction but since then have had no regular maintenance.

The pears showing extensive trunk decay would be best left alone to continue to decline. They show evidence of woodworm activity and as such represent a valuable ecological habitat for saproxylic insects and insectivorous birds.

The single apple tree would benefit from the removal of damaged wood.

The two plum trees are reasonably sound and do not require any work.


The planting distances of the present trees would indicate an original scheme of trees planted at approximately 20 foot centres. Any new planting should be positioned with similar spacing. This would maintain the ethos of the original scheme.


The ground could be cleared of building debris and rubble to reduce the risk to livestock and humans, particularly visitors.




I would recommend –


1. Carrying out the suggestions made in the conclusion and generally leaving the trees to continue to develop or decline according to their condition.


2. Planting a range or varieties of apples and plums to extend the variety of fruit available and extend the cropping season. All varieties to be on vigorous rootstocks and grown as traditional standards.


Survey 2

Compiled by Tom Adams on 05-05-09




At the request of name I visited his land at address, on 05-05-09 to assess a one quarter piece of land for a potential orchard site.




The one quarter acre plot  is situated at the eastern end of the property, adjoining a recently planted (12 years) mixed broadleaved woodland to the east and to the south.


The site has an open aspect to the west. The northern boundary is delineated by a mature hawthorn hedge with many standard ash and sycamore trees.




The site, which has been a field as long as name can remember, is mown on a monthly basis by a contractor.

The ground vegetation is predominantly grass and creeping buttercup, with a few patches of dock and nettle.

This suggests plenty of moisture and fertile soil.


A soil profile pit was dug to a depth of 3 feet, to where the water table was found (pictured).


The first 12” is top soil, with about 10”below that being a sandy clay subsoil , followed by 10” of course sand with a small layer of clay below that.




The soil was found to have an excellent texture and structure, Bring a free draining rich sandy/clay loam. The water table, at 3 feet (after a very wet spell), is low enough for fruit trees to thrive.

The texture will facilitate easy drainage and root penetration.

This area is not a frost pocket and is also relatively sheltered from the wind.



Overall I would say this is an excellent site to plant an orchard.

I would recommend planting up the site with a mixture of hardy top fruit on semi vigorous rootstock (MM106 for apples, quince A for pears, St Julien A for plums) with a spacing of 15-20 foot between trees. This will allow space for the trees to mature fully and allow access for mowing the sward.

With this spacing there is room for up to 18 trees.


Trees should be bought bare rooted, ideally as one year old maidens.  

Planting should be carried out on a cool still day. The roots of the trees are fibrous and will dry out very quickly in the wind. Keep them moist in a plastic bag right up until the second before planting.

A hole should be dug with a spade just big enough to take the roots without having to bend them to fit.

Knock a tree stake into the hole, then place the tree in position in the hole, planting it the same depth as it was in the nursery. (There should be a clear soil mark).

The only soil to go into the planting hole is the soil that was dug out.

Compost and manure are fine as a mulch on top of the soil but are too rich for young roots to cope with in the planting hole.

Whatever you mulch with make sure it is thick enough to suppress any growth around the base of the tree to a diameter of 1 meter and that it isn’t piled up against the stem of the tree.

Once the tree is planted it will need protecting from rabbits.

There is no plan for stock to be in the field so fencing isn’t required.


I would suggest you make a plan of the orchard to keep for your records.


Trees can be obtained mail order from:

Frank Matthews, Berrington Court, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, WR15 8TH

Tel – 01584 810214 


I would recommend you choose a range of varieties to give you a plentiful supply of fruit throughout the season.


In order to process the fruit, I would recommend looking on of the fruit dehydrators that can be found at

For juicing, Vigo make a good press and accessories.

First blog for this luddite……

There is not much call for orchard work at this time of year. I spend some time maintaining my nursery stock , which doesn’t take much time as I have a tiny nursery space (am looking to expand the nursery from tiny scale to small scale! If anyone knows of any land for sale in the north shropshire/north wales area then I’d be grateful if you could let me know).

My summer work involves making greenwood structures (fences, gates bridges, treehouses etc), and stone work.

At the moment I’m working with my brother, Mark,  in North Wales building a large semi circular retaining stone wall.  It’s retaining a huge earth bank so we’ve built a very solid (and very environmentally unsound) breezeblock wall filled with concrete and re-bar. We’re now in the process of facing the wall with some lovely limestone. Although not today ‘cos it’s pouring down!

Here are some pictures….

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