Monday, 31 August 2015

Clare's Forest Garden

In the late summer of 2013, my lovely friend and employer Clare took me to a quiet corner of her garden that had been turned into a compost area and rubbish heap for anything that wanted to be hidden from sight. Having recently introduced her to the idea of forest gardening Clare suggested to me that we turn the space into an experimental plot.

Of course I was thrilled by the opportunity, though even in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined the forgotten corner looking as beautiful, verdant, and bountiful with the fruits, herbs and vegetables that Clare's now harvesting every day.

A great advantage of the site was that there was already a triangle of apple trees to provide the full canopy area for the small space. Now it was just a question of filling in the multi-levelled understory of fruiting shrubs, climbers, perennial vegetables and ground cover herbs that would supply Clare's family with an abundance of delicious fresh food, whilst requiring very little maintenance.

The vision for the garden would grow to let the space serve equally as a sanctuary for humans and wildlife alike to enjoy a peaceful place where the beauty of the flowers, the sounds of the birds and insects and a small pond would provide stillness and nourishment for the soul, as well as the body.

I'm so happy now to be able to share our work with everyone. I hope the following photos and narrative will inspire others to create beautiful forest gardens too and if you'd like any help with that, please do contact me.

Love to All,


Welcome to the garden of food and flowers, a sanctuary for all creatures great and small, a healing space and living lunchbox for humans (and birds)!

Our ground layer design utilises an ocean of wild strawberries - covering the ground effectively against weeds and erosion, whilst taller shrubs, herbs and perennial vegetables grow very happily, like islands among them.

The strawberries started fruiting in the middle of June and as I write this in August, the garden is so full of them that the heady scent of them fills the air as you wander through the plants!

This living mulch means there's very little weeding or maintenance to do, ever - and the system can grow away undisturbed, perennially.

We also planted some cultivated strawberries (pictured right). This variety 'Symphony' has been fantastic, rising above the wild strawberries with its taller foliage and has given us a bumper crop in its second year.

In a Forest Garden we don't ever need to fertilise the ground - we let nature perennially feed the soil for us.

Here a Perennial Lupin in full flower provides nectar for bees whilst powerfully fixing Nitrogen from the air into the Earth. 

Other plants like comfrey and sweet cicely improve soil fertility by sending down deep roots to bring buried nutrients back to the surface that can then nourish neighbouring plants.

The ongoing cycle of growth and decomposition makes the whole system a giant composter, gradually increasing fertility and the number of soil organisms and creating precious hummus and top soil, which will not only benefit us but also generations to come.

Apples growing on a Mashua Vine?!
One of the many joys that emerges when working with a polyculture is how all the different crops begin to merge together so seamlessly.

This Mashua plant has climbed 9ft into the overhead apple tree to mingle with the fruits and soak up some extra sunshine.

Growing different species closely together like this also utilises the virtues of companion planting. Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) is closely related to Nasturtium (Tropaeolum Majus) which is renowned for its ability to repel insect pests - a real asset when growing fruit trees. 

Flowering plants make the garden a real magnet for pollinators and working with such minimal disturbance, the garden provides a safe haven for all kinds of wildlife. Here a Gatekeeper Butterfly forages Oregano flowers, and a Hoverfly feeds on Calendula. Hoverflies are a great example of natural pest control in the forest garden, as their larvae feed off aphids and other plant sucking insects, maintaining a healthy balance in the ecosystem.

Even the shadiest corners of the garden can be turned into beautiful, productive spaces - under the shade of an Apple Tree you can see Smalled Leaved Lime leaves, Siberian Purslane, Hostas, Solomon's Seals and Lovage. Five different leaf crops!

Growing beside the pond - delicious edible flowers of Day Lilly and Musk Mallow, and also Feverfew, a medicinal plant that can cure a migraine! 

The pond serves so many functions... as a beautiful, calming feature of the garden, as a sun reflector, increasing the light and warmth available to surrounding plants, as a habitat for a multitude of insects, and amphibians who are a living part of the system and help to keep pests in balance. It also offers the possibility of growing aquatic crops such as watercress and water chestnuts.

... And the harvest! Great punnets of succulent strawberries, juicy, shiny blackcurrants and a foraged salad. Of course this is one of the most rewarding experiences of having a forest garden, a mouth watering treat you can enjoy every day.


Thankyou to Clare for offering me this dream opportunity, for giving me so much encouragement and enthusiasm all the way, the best boss ever!

Thankyou to my close friend Sagara Vajra of The East Devon Forest Garden for his constant inspiration - a guiding light in forest gardening -

And Thankyou to Nature - the gardener of gardeners. The One who makes all this possible, The One who grows all of this for us, so effortlessly. We are but her humble servants.

I hope you've enjoyed these pictures.I feel it's just a tiny taste of what's possible in the world of forest gardening, and what we can go on to do is as limitless as our imaginations. Once again, please get in touch if you feel inspired to, my email address is:


  1. hey nice maintained, i would like to recommend you to grow some plants like Acers, Shurbs, Bamboos, i am doing in my garden at it was looking just amazing to watch it

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  3. Very inspiring! I have tried with my "forest" and haven't had much success. We have large old black walnut trees in the back and I would love to do what you have done, but everything seems to die off. Any help?

    1. Walnuts release an Allelopathic chemical called Juglone into the surrounding soil, inhibiting neighboring plants - not good companions! I just did a quick search and found some great research on plants more tolerant of neighboring walnut trees -
      Good Luck!