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….

jamesandbeckshole 009

….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…………………………

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