Plant Yourself a Bit of Eden
Anyone who has seen our garden knows that describing it as ‘derelict’ is too generous. A decade of getting F minus for our life/work balance has reduced a once-productive herb and vegetable garden, hard-won from our region’s stony and tricky ground, to a slug and weed fest. But there IS a bit of our patch that has become more productive as the years go by, where nightly slug hunts and endless weeding don’t seem to be needed – our mini forest garden.
Forest gardening is a way of designing your garden to mimic a young woodland, planted up with edible or useful plants. It has a top storey of fruit and nut trees, with under-storeys of shrubs, herbaceous perennials, herbs, annuals, root crops and climbers, all planted to make a wonderfully productive, naturally fertile landscape.
With only the effort of wandering out to see what I fancy for tonight’s meal, since early April I’ve been harvesting a range of salad leaves from our forest garden for which I would have to pay an arm and a leg in the shops – sweet cicely, lovage, wild garlic, tarragon, rocket, watercress, salad burnet and masses more (and not a limp lettuce leaf amongst them).
Later on, I’ll have soft fruits, nuts, crops for hedgerow jellies and wines, a bit of willow for my first attempts at basketry, herbs which act as natural fly and moth deterrents, topped with a crop of more apples than I know what to do with. And apart from trimming off the odd nettle (yes, I know, I should be using those too), there’s no weeding required. As an added bonus, the area is heaving with birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
I know you’re thinking ‘I only have a small garden, I can’t possibly do that’, but forest gardens can be cultivated on any scale – including a small back garden. We’re not talking dark, dank and dismal here either – careful design makes sure they are light, abundant garden spaces. If you can’t quite bring yourself to go the whole hog, consider planting up a boozy hedge – with elder, cherry plum, sloe and other goodies to add to your wine and jelly making repertoire.
They say the Garden of Eden was really a forest. Whoever ‘they’ are, from my experience of forest gardening, I can only say that planting a bit of Eden in your own back garden comes highly recommended. It’s not just the apples that are tempting!
blog by Jane Gray
first printed as the Green Scene Column in the Annandale Series newspaper