Forest Garden Design – From 1: Vision, goals and find the right place

There are many ways to go from the dream of a forest garden into reality. I use a fairly structured process in designing my forest garden. The process is inspired by the design process used in permaculture (se t.ex. [1] and [2]) and has been a great help to maintain focus and avoid unnecessary mistakes and too many sidings. The process is circular and iterative and consists of seven steps, as illustrated below. The smaller circle in the middle illustrates that it is important to stop periodically to consider what you are doing outside, reflect on it and possibly revise any.

The design process that I use to realize Putt Myra Forest Garden.
The design process that I use to realize Putt Myra Forest Garden.

Formulate goals

Many start with the mapping step, but I prefer to first formulate a vision and objectives, because for me it's easier to do the mapping when I know where I'm heading. Formulating a written vision is most important if one is not alone in developing a site and if you want to talk about his place for the second. The more people involved in the creation of the forest garden, the more complex the process is to develop a vision. Once you have agreed on a vision know what to strive for and it becomes easier to know what to do at each step in order to advance. A good vision is quite short-form and describes a condition in the future (and is therefore formulated in the present day) as one wishes to achieve. The vision for Putt Myra Forest Garden, we have formulated several times during the trip (because the design process is iterative) and the current vision sounds in the following manner:

Putt Myra forest garden is a tranquil and peaceful place. A place without noise where you can experience the natural beauty and astonished with its shades of colors and shapes. It is instructive place for forest gardening enthusiasts where new knowledge for our climatic conditions are developed and disseminated on to the many visitors who come to the forest garden every year. Forest Garden houses the largest collection of perennial, edible plants that are hardy in our growing zone. It produces more fruit, nuts, bear, nuts and perennial vegetables than we can eat and is a haven for biodiversity.

The vision is usually supplemented by goals, which can be seen as milestones along the way towards the realization of the vision. A good way to create useful goals is to formulate them as so-called SMART objectives, an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Anchored (Agreed Upon), Realistic and Time-Limited. Examples of goals that we have set for Putt Myra Forest Garden is:

  1. Within three years of producing forest garden a surplus of raspberries, blueberries and currants.
  2. Within three years, attracting forest garden at least 100 visitors per year.
  3. Within five years sold an excess of perennial vegetables.
  4. Within five years, requires forest garden no more than one day's work per week on average.
  5. Within five years, forest garden produces a surplus of hazelnuts, apples, plums, cherries and pears.

If you have a relatively limited area, working alone or in a small group, do not take more than a few hours to formulate the vision and objectives. For a larger place with high complexity or if you work in a group, it may be worth spending a day or two on goal-setting stage [3]. It sounds like a lot of work for something rather abstract, but from my experience with Putt Myra forest garden I can say that it helps enormously to have both a long-term vision and shorter-term goals to maintain focus.

There's a lot to consider when choosing a location for a forest garden.
There's a lot to consider when choosing a location for a forest garden.


The next step in the design process is about gathering as much information as possible about the place where you want to construct their forest garden. The aim is to create a broad basis for the design phase to take such wise design decisions as possible. But what if you do not already have a place to build his forest garden? Jacke ochToensmeier [3] mentions a number of criteria that may help identify the most suitable location:

Essentiella kriterier:

  • Closeness: Depending on the scale of a forest garden to work best if it is in close proximity to the dwelling, especially kitchen. It's good to be able to see his forest garden from the windows of the home and to go through it automatically makes maintenance easier.
  • Six to eight hours of sun: Although there are many useful plants that produce well in shade are good solar radiation is very important for the plants in the forest canopy that will produce fruit or nuts. Although most nitrogen-fixing plants need plenty of sun.
  • Access to water: Soils with good water holding capacity and good potential for irrigation is the best combination in terms of water availability. It requires a lot of irrigation work during the first few years of establishment.
  • Access to nutrients and organic matter: To create a forest-like environment and the ecosystem dynamics of this environment means required especially in the early years both continuous supply of nutrients and organic matter in the form of compost, stalk, hay, ensilage, woodchips, bark mulch and the like.

Very important criteria:

  • Deep, well drained soils: The woody plants do best in deep soils. In our northern climate, it is especially important to have good drainage, so that plant roots can not stand wet and suffer from the.
  • Fertile soils: These lands provide opportunities for healthier and faster growing plants that provide a greater return. It also reduces competition for nutrients between plants in fertile soils.
  • Long-term: It takes a long time for a forest garden matures and the site must function in the long term. Therefore it is best to avoid places where there is risk of building- Public Works and other major disturbances in or near the forest garden.
  • Reset: A forest garden are most useful in places that have low species richness or who have been disturbed in some way. In such places can forest garden help create a more stable, more productive and healthier ecosystems. Places that are already healthy and beautiful is left anywhere in peace. These can also be an important complement to the habitat as forest gardens provide.

Important criteria:

  • Links to other habitat: Small woodland gardens may find it difficult to sustain their species richness and ecosystem dynamics if they are isolated from other, species-rich or additional habitat. Having naturally rich habitats close will make it easier to succeed with his forest garden.
  • Diversity of Habitats: The greater diversity of habitats that exist throughout the site where forest garden will be, the greater the chance of having a healthy forest garden. So it may be worth looking for a place where there are a variety of topography, conditions in water availability, earth, microclimate and vegetation structure.
  • No troublesome weeds: Avoiding places where there are troublesome weeds, such as park suffer (Fallopia japonica), bitterskråp (Petasites japonicus) eller jätteloka (Heracleum mantegazzianum) can facilitate the establishment of forest gardens. Is the purpose of the forest garden to restore a site, it may be precisely in those areas where there are troublesome weeds that forest garden created.


  • Future building plans: It is good to think through whether it will or may be built in future on or near the place where the forest garden to be constructed. Think of access roads, respite and similar.
  • Contaminated sites: Think of runoff and pollution from roads, pesticide use in the immediate area, possible leakage at the site from machines, vehicle and dwelling and historic contamination which may be left in the ground.
  • Poor soils: It takes time to create good soils. Founding, unfruitful, dry soils or soils with high groundwater mirror is generally less desirable woody plants.
  • Too much shade: Very shade severely limits the range of possible crops and reduce productivity.
  • Competing use: Football fields, Vegetable Garden, temporary car parks, piles of snow in the winter, storage sites and other competing ways of using the site limits the possibilities for establishing a forest garden. While it may be quite possible to integrate some of these uses of a forest garden, you just have to be aware of the challenge.
  • Aesthetic and social aspects: It's important to think through how a fully grown forest garden will affect the location. Is it appropriate to 25 m tall walnut tree on the house's south side? What will the neighbors think? How will the forest garden to blend in with the rest of the environment?

I 2 of the series of forest garden design, I will go further into the mapping step and what can be done to collect all relevant information for the analysis- and design phases.


[1] Whitefield, P., Earth care manual: a permaculture handbook for Britain & other temperate climates. Portsmouth: Permanent Publications, 2011.
[2] Gold, Permaculture design: a step-by-step guide. Hampshire, England: Permanent Publications 2012.
[3] Jacket, D. and E. Toensmeier, Edible forest gardens. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 2005.




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