What is a forest garden?

When people learn that I'm about to build a woodland garden, I often hear, Well, and what you grow in your forest? Once, an elderly couple through past here at home and told me that they had a forest plot where they wanted to start growing and they had come to take inspiration from my forest. Often those little disappointed when I tell him that I really grow wood- and herbaceous perennials (perennials) on a normal field.

The misunderstanding is based enough in the very concept of forest gardening, which is translated from the English forest garden. The terms food forest and edible forest garden is established in the English-speaking world. These concepts teaches in turn descended from the descriptions of the forests with many edible plants that are common in the tropics. At tropical latitudes, these systems are relatively densely planted trees that yield valuable to protect certain crops from the strong sunlight is around 7-8 times stronger than in our latitudes [2]. Forest Gardens is a growing technology that can fit within the broad field Agroforestry, denoting the cultivation of trees and shrubs in agricultural- or pasture.

Martin Crawfords skogstrdgård
This is how a childhood, 20 year old forest garden look. Hos Martin Crawford i Dartington.

To a forest garden to work in our latitudes, ie. if the sun should be able to reach down to the vegetation layers near the ground must the trees be planted much sparser. We have therefore grove or forest edge as a model for our northern forest gardens. Gustav Mandel Mann has proposed the concept of nyttolund in lieu [1]. But the basic idea is the same as in the tropics: We resample featuring perennial crops and trees in different layers in the same place to get overall higher returns than a pure monoculture had given. Additionally, we try designates forest garden, so that the components interact, support each other and reduce the workload for us humans. Forest Garden will create their own fertility and by the high biodiversity also achieved a good balance pests, so that pest control is usually not necessary. Picture Perfect is that after the establishment phase only needs to walk around and reap, with minimum effort for maintenance.

Forest Garden at Holma
The forest garden at Holma is a little brighter. It started to be constructed 2004.

Forest garden's seven layers

According to most sources (t.ex. [2], [3]) forest garden can consist of up to seven different vegetation layers, see illustration below. The reason for planting in multiple layers is that the incoming light can be used more efficiently by a three-dimensional structure than in a monoculture where all plants are equally high. The canopy is the largest trees. In our climate, it may be about different kinds of walnut or strong growing pear- and apple trees. The second layer consists of the lower trees, such as hazelnut, serviceberry or weak growing fruit trees. In the third layer are shrubs like currants, raspberries or blueberries. The fourth layer is the herbaceous plants. Common plants in the layer is sweet cicely, comfrey and funkia. In the root zone or rhizosphere under the ground we find the roots of Jerusalem artichoke, sockerrot or Korogi. The ground is covered by the plants in the sixth layer, so as favorite, hasselört or vårsköna. Finally, there climbers in a seventh layer which can grow across the other layers. Common examples of vines in forest garden context, mini kiwi, wine and rank spinach.

Forest garden's seven layers
Forest garden's seven layers (Illustration av Daniel Larsson)

In a forest garden, we try thus to mimic the structure of a grove or forest edges, but replaces those common species with such species as we find useful.

What can you grow in a woodland garden?

Most people choose to focus on edible plants in a forest garden. In Putt Myra Forest Garden, we grow over 150 various species of both woody and herbaceous edible plants. But you can of course also growing medicinal plants, color plants, flowers and plants that can be used for firewood or building materials. Forest Garden also creates an environment that is ideal for mushroom cultivation, beekeeping and “culture” of beneficial insects that help keep pests away. There may also be scope for the ordinary annual vegetables in sunny glades. Most staple crops such as potatoes, wheat with more need much light and therefore can be grown in a sunny glade if you have a large enough forest garden. Many times there are ponds in woodland gardens used for fish farming.


[1] Mandelmann, M., G. Mandelmann, and T. Mandelmann, Catering on Djupadale. Stockholm: Bonnier Fakta, 2013.
[2] Crawford, M., Creating a forest garden : working with nature to grow edible crops. Totnes: Green Books, 2010.
[3] Jacket, D. and E. Toensmeier, Edible forest gardens. White River Junction, Vt.: Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 2005.

5 thoughts on “What is a forest garden?”

  • Hi!
    Very interesting text. very instructive. I'm trying to grow in this way in my garden and it is soooo lush.

  • Lovely article, the forest edge makes a lot of sense! It seems to me according to what I’ve read that one might propose a few other layers: the mycelial or fungal layer (mushrooms); the layer of plants that live on plants (like orchids and such, I forget their name) but it could also include mosses and some of the mushrooms that grow on trees; and also should we not understand the layers of aquaculture? e.g. grow cattails along the pond edge and watercress or lilies on the surface of a pond?

  • Thanks for the inspiring blog post. In Örnsköldsvik, we will probably next year have a pilot project to build a forest garden at one of our schools. There, the book Skogsträdgården and this post are a nice support in the back.

  • Already, and then I wonder if I can use the nice sketch of the seven layers of the forest garden on my blog, see the link above.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.